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Football, cross country seniors to have one last memory in COVID-19 season


March 18, 2021

By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter


Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of recognizing the area high school seniors of the fall season sports who have had their seasons cancelled or limited because of COVID-19.


High school athletics recently started and while the fall sports for this season in the area (boys and girls cross country, football, gymnastics, girls volleyball and boys and girls water polo) did not have a chance to compete for a CIF-Southern Section or state championship, some are able to play. The fall season will come to an end anywhere from Mar. 20-Apr. 17, depending on the sport, and most of the seniors of those fall sports will be able to put on their uniforms one last time.

In 2019, the Gahr High football team went 3-8 overall and won just one San Gabriel Valley League game. But the Gladiators somehow found their way into CIF-SS Division 8 playoffs where they were blasted by Santa Barbara High 44-0.  Gahr scored only 97 points in that season and were shutout five times, three of them coming in the final three games.

Although Gahr will not play all five league teams, it will play at least three of them prior to the end date of Apr. 17 including a home game against Dominguez High scheduled for Mar. 26 and an Apr. 9 road game at Warren High.

The seniors on the team are Adrian Ayala, Abraham Delgadillo, Anthony Dixon, Sean Harbin, Anakin Larrabee, Eloy Mendoza, Josiah Morris, Kyle Nwosu, Johnny Robinson IV, Gavin Salceda, Tevita Toliseli, Rudy Vasquez, Joiseppe Walker, and Rashaad Willis II.

The Gahr girls volleyball team went 18-5 in the 2019 season, including 10-0 in the San Gabriel Valley League. It was the first time since the 1998 season that the Lady Gladiators had gone undefeated in league action and the program’s second straight 18-win season. The 18 victories in each of the past two seasons are the most for any Gahr team in any season in over two decades. However, the Lady Gladiators were unable to get out of the first round of the Division 4 playoffs for a third straight season.

The lone two seniors on this season’s team are Kymberly Arevalo Roussal, who is a versatile athlete, works hard and loves to compete, according to Iris Najera, Gahr volleyball director of operations, and Maya Leopold, whom Najera says is a great teammate and friend and is a utility player who leads by example. The end date for girls volleyball, according to the CIF-SS athletic calendar is Mar. 20 while the lone Gahr cross country runner is Carlen Penuliar.

The end date water polo is also Mar. 20 while the end dates for cross country and football are Mar. 27 and Apr. 17 respectively.

Three area high school football programs have first-year head coaches who have been waiting even longer to begin their seasons. One of them is John Glenn High’s David Cruz, who was hoping to give the Eagles consecutive 605 League championships in the fall of 2020.

For the second straight season, Glenn went 6-5 in 2019 and won all three league contests. The Eagles fell to Nordhoff High 56-24 in the first round of the Division 12 playoffs. In five of their games, they scored at least 30 points. But the now-shortened season was originally one of uncertainties as three of the four league teams have first-year head coaches.

The Eagles have seven seniors, including quarterback Matthew Huxtable, who completed 89 of 174 passes last season for 1,725 yards and 16 touchdowns. Right tackle Gabriel Pasillas and left tackle Joe Varoz anchor the offensive line to give Huxtable the protection he needs. Last spring, Varoz has signed a letter of intent to play at Minot State University, a NCAA Division II institution.

The other seniors are Matt Cervantes, Manny Chavarria, lineman Anthony Lira, who had 21 tackles last season, and Carlos Valdez. Glenn will host Cerritos High on Mar. 26, then visit Pioneer High on Apr. 1 before entertaining Artesia High on Apr. 16.

The Glenn girls volleyball program has missed the playoffs 10 straight seasons and went 11-12 in 2019. Second-year head coach Daniel Reyes will have to wait until the fall as Mar. 20 marks the end date for girls volleyball. That means a dozen seniors did not have an opportunity to compete in either the fall of 2020 (normal season) or the first three months of 2021 (revised season). Those seniors are Nancy Alejo, Andrea Arias, Priscilla Cardenas, Flor Castillo, Daisy Chiquito, Karina Flores, Areyanna Garcia, Erika Hernandez, Sofia Mancilla, Arlett Renteria, Monica Reyes and Zoey Williams.

Also, at Glenn, the lone senior cross country runner is Kaitlyn Martinez and the senior cheerleaders are Melanie Blake, Kasandra Flores, Jaileen Martinez, Juliana Manzanares and Maria Villanova. Cross country will still go on for Glenn with 605 League meets on Saturday, Mar. 20 and Mar. 27.

The Norwalk High football team went 3-7 in 2019 and did not win a Suburban League contest. In fact, after the Lancers program had gone to the playoffs 11 straight seasons, it has gone 3-17 in the past two seasons and winless in six league games. The Lancers have a scrimmage at Dominguez High on Saturday before visiting Downey High on Mar. 19. Norwalk will then open league play at Bellflower High on Mar. 26 before hosting Chaffey High on Apr. 2 at Excelsior Stadium. The next week, the Lancers will entertain La Mirada High before concluding the season against Mayfair High on Apr. 16. The two games at Excelsior Stadium are scheduled to begin at 3:30 p.m. while the games against Bellflower and Mayfair will be at Ron Yary Stadium.

The 34 seniors on Norwalk’s team are: Jaden Camacho, Ivan Cardenas, Erick Carrera, Connor Castaneda, Joseph Chafino, Jeremy Cisneros, Fernando Cortez, Rogelio Edeza Jr., Leroy Espinoza, Miguel Esquivel, Daven Fernandez, Daniel Gutierrez, Oscar Gutierrez, Christopher Hernandez, Diego Hernandez, Jovanni Jasso, Brandon Lucas, Ethan Monier, Ruben Munoz, Kevyn Padilla-Torres, David Palomo, Fernando Peralta, Juan Picado, Joshua Pineda, Davin Portillo, Xavier Rampersad, Jonah Rivera, Angel Rodriguez, Milton Roman Jr., Daniel Silva, Jorge Soto, Alejandro Tiaseca, Joshua Venegas and Eric Vizcaino.

The girls volleyball team went 8-22 overall last season and 2-7 in the Suburban League. The program had gone 28-44 the past three seasons under the tutelage of former head coach Eric Lorn. Paola Nava, an ex-Lady Lancer standout, is now the new head coach and has 11 seniors on the team. They are Marie Abrina, Sahray Benitez, Amy Chacon, Gabriela Cruz, Alyanna Dorado, Aryssa Eslava, Laura Gonzalez, Arleen Lopez, Jazmin Martinez, Arianna Ortiz and Jazmin Rojas.

The Norwalk boys cross country seniors are Felix Diaz, Jose Garcia and Jose Espinoza while the girls cross country seniors are Zania Cannady and Sara Portillo.

Another first-year football head coach is Valley Christian High’s Kevin McCarthy, and he will have the longest wait to coach his first Olympic League game with his new team. The defenders decided not to put together a schedule once it was announced that fall sports could resume.

V.C. went 7-4 overall last season and won all four league games, marking the program’s fourth league championship in the past five seasons. McCarthy also becomes V.C.’s fourth head coach in as many seasons.

“We went through a difficult time waiting…but it was an amazing experience with these boys every day,” McCarthy said. “We have several four-year players in the group and a few of them that have the potential to play at the next level.”

The V.C. football seniors are: Bo Adkins, Diego Albanez, Luca Caldarella (37 receptions, 537 yards, six touchdowns and 29 tackles on defense in 2019), Austin Chamberlain, Noah Ferinac (seven rushes for 44 yards), Brenden Fletchell, Connor Gerdes, Carson Hogan, Austin Horio, Ryan Solomon-Mills, Caden VandeSteeg and Jordan Wade.

The V.C. girls volleyball team was hoping to repeat as CIF-SS division champions in consecutive seasons. Obviously, that’s not the case. The Lady Defenders went 25-9 in 2019 and head coach Jeff Ornee, who is also the school’s director of volleyball operations, has gone 65-30 in his first three seasons as V.C.’s head coach. He was also the CIF-SS Division 4 Coach of the Year as the Lady Defenders entered knocked off top-ranked Norco High in four sets to claim the title.

V.C. had entered the playoffs ranked sixth in the division, but knocked off third-seeded St. Anthony High in the quarterfinals and No. 10 Saddleback Valley Christian High in the semifinals.

The Lady Defenders have half a dozen seniors on the team, led by Division 4 Player of the Year middle blocker Dakota Quinlan, who will be taking her talents to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas later in the year. Quinlan had been in the program for two years.

Outside hitters Ashlyn Couch and Rachel Gonzales, who have been with the program all four years, were named to the All-CIF-SS Division 4 team last season as selected by the Girls Volleyball Coaches Selection Committee. Couch has committed to NYACK University while Gonzales plans on playing NCAA volleyball, according to Ornee, and says she wants to pursue a veterinarian degree.

The other three seniors are setters Rachel Lim and Emma Taylor, both of whom have been on the varsity team for three seasons and in the program for four seasons and opposite hitter Sarah Vreeke, who also has been in the program for four seasons. Lim has committed to Vanguard University, Taylor will be going to Liberty University to pursue a sports management degree and Vreeke plans on attending Grand Canyon University.

The V.C. boys and girls cross country teams made the most of their shortened seasons as both won the two cluster meets, then recently captured Olympic League championships. There are six seniors on the boys team, led by the number four runner and team captain Isaac Rubio. He was the team’s top runner and MVP during the 2019 season but has been hampered this season due to injuries. According to first-year head coach Craig Henry, Rubio is considering California Poly San Luis Obispo University where he wants to major in Construction Management or Mechanical Engineering.

The number five runner is Pedro Ventura, another captain, and probably the most talented middle distance runner, according to Henry. He also excels on the boys soccer team and the track and field team and plans to major in Psychology at a school within the state.

“In my opinion, if he were to focus solely on running, he would go very far in this sport of cross country,” Henry said.

The number six runner is Thomas Fujimoto, who has been one of the team’s more consistent runners, improving with each race, according to Henry, while Stephen Chang, who plans to attend Purdue University, was the team’s number seven runner.

“He is most likely, in my opinion, our most intelligent student-athletes on our team,” Henry said. “He splits his time with A.P. courses, boy scouts, and a number of other family activities. He still does, similar to Thomas, gets the most out of the talent and fall training that he has.”

The other two seniors, Ian Hinds, who plans on attending California State University, Long Beach, and Nathan Verhoef, were on the junior varsity team. Verhoef will be going to Vanguard University.

The lone senior on the girls team is Angie Prieto, who was the team’s number seven runner. Prieto was one of three team captains and plays on the varsity soccer team. Henry says that Prieto, who is considering UC Irvine or Cal Poly Pomona, is a great team leader when she is at practice, has maturity and with her intelligence, will go very far in life.

The Whitney High girls volleyball team had one of its finest seasons in a long time in 2019, going 18-8 overall and 8-2 in the 605 League. The five seniors on the team are Nika Fedorova, Reese Guitche, Chizaram Izima, Clara Kim and Agatha Manzano.

The five seniors on the boys and girls cross country teams are Yusra Azmi, Christine David, Jeff Fernandez, Julianna Lee and Kritika Pantha while the girls water polo team also has five seniors-Grace Gutierrez, Sriya Kappaagantu, Anastacia Son, Prisca Suhendra and Amrita Vinjamury. Finally, there are four seniors on the boys water polo team-Ayaan Ekram, Dylan Lin, Rishikanth Mannava and Ahaan Rajnekar.