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LOREN KOPFF CELEBRATES 25 YEARS AT LOS CERRITOS COMMUNITY NEWS-Rise of Artesia Punishers, CGSA All-Stars, plus more high school titles headline next five years





By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

Editor’s note: This is the second part of a series looking back at the past 25 years as a member of the Los Cerritos Community News.

As I enter my sixth year at the Los Cerritos Community News, which would be the start of 2002-2003 winter season, it became obvious that I was beginning to love writing for a weekly community newspaper. My dream had always been to work for a daily paper, and in my earlier years at the LCCN, I was approached by a staff writer from the Long Beach Press-Telegram to see if I was interested in joining that publication. I’m glad I didn’t as over the years, daily newspapers have gone through numerous turnovers in their personnel.

The basketball season proved to be another busy one as the Artesia High girls team won its third straight CIF-Southern Section divisional championship, this time a 57-55 win over Santa Margarita High at The Pyramid on the California State University, Long Beach campus. The boys would fall to Harvard-Westlake High 80-62 the same day but at the Long Beach Arena.

My first feature of 2003 came in the Feb. 6 issue and was on Cerritos High three-sport star Lauren Kamiyama, who doubled as a basketball and soccer player in the winter, a rarity for any high school athlete in the same season and was on the softball team.

The Norwalk High girls basketball team ended a seven-year losing skid to its city neighbors from the east and knocked off John Glenn High 39-23, Earlier in the day, the Glenn girls soccer team got past Norwalk 6-5 in a rare high-scoring affair for the sport.

The 2002-2003 Valley Christian High girls soccer season would also be the first of 18 full campaigns for head coach Kim Looney, one of the best coaches around Southern California. After going 16-5-3 and a trip to the semifinals the previous season as co-head coach with Jane Kors, Looney went 20-2-2 in the 2002-2003 season and advanced to the quarterfinals. In her 19 years as head coach, Looney guided her teams to 12 Olympic League titles, a pair of Division V co-championships and one Division 6 title.

Artesia’s baseball team pulled off one of the biggest upsets around when it stunned La Mirada High 6-5 in eight innings on April 3, courtesy of a three-run home run from Josh Banda in the bottom of the seventh inning, which tied the game. The Pioneers would end the season at 18-11, co-champions of the Suburban League and advance to the quarterfinals in Mike Gaoghagen’s first as head coach.

In the pool, the Cerritos boys team, two-time defending Division IV champions, came in third place in the Division III finals while in track and field, the Gahr High girls came up short in making it three straight Division II championships. But Gahr’s Demitri Mosby and Nicole Duhart advanced to the state preliminaries.

The V.C. baseball team would win the Division V championship with a 4-0 win over top-ranked La Salle High at Blair Field in Long Beach behind a stellar performance from Taylor Cameron. All he did was pitch all seven innings and strike out 11 batters. The Crusaders finished the season 17-14-1 and were second in the Olympic League.

The summer of 2003 would see Jason Kapono, ex of Artesia and UCLA, get drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round of the NBA Draft. He was the 31st player selected. That was also the same draft that saw LeBron James go number one.

The Cerritos Synchronettes would win a silver medal in the Esynchro Age Group Championships, held in Gainesville, FL and advance to the United Airlines Open Championships. Also in the summer, I did a feature for the July 24 issue on Cerritos native Ben Howland, who had been hired by UCLA three months earlier.

For the Aug. 21 issue, I did a story on a trio of swimmers from the Cerritos Aquatics Club-Zachary Abelsen, Kirstie Chen and Alvin Firmansyah. The future stars at their respective area high schools were competing in the United States Western Zone Championships.

The fall season would see Artesia football change head coaches after two games with Norm Flowers taking over in the third week. The Pioneers, Glenn and Norwalk would combine to go 4-26 and hold down the last three spots in the Suburban League while Cerritos (6-4) would claim fourth place. Gahr would enjoy its second straight winning season as a freelance team.

In girls volleyball action, V.C. would begin a stretch of four straight seasons finishing in second place in the Olympic League and was in its third of five straight seasons of going to the quarterfinals. Kim Holliday, who lasted three seasons, would be the program’s fourth head coach in as many seasons.

The Glenn girls basketball team would see good things come to the program in the 2003-2004 season, especially after the Eagles got past Cerritos 45-43 late in the season to improve to 15-7 overall and 5-3 in the Suburban League at the time. Glenn would go 3-2 the rest of the way and get to the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2000.

The Artesia boys soccer team won the Suburban League for the third time in seven seasons and went all the way to the semifinals. The program would not get that far until this past winter.

In the spring, Artesia, Cerritos, Gahr and Norwalk would get new softball head coaches with Randy Herschler of Cerritos the only one getting to the playoffs, and as far as the quarterfinals.

On Mar. 25, Norwalk dedicated its baseball field and named it Bales Field in honor of longtime former head coach Terry Bales. The 1961 Norwalk graduate won CIF titles in 1978 and 1982.

The V.C. softball program was in the middle of four-year stretch in which the Crusaders went 81-30-1. In 2004, the team went to the quarterfinals and was paced by sophomore stars in Melissa Dykema, Kristel Eddington and Erin Halma.

I did a feature on ex-Cerritos softball star Jessica van der Linden for the June 17 issue as she capped off her four years at Florida State University by winning the USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year. In the July 8 issue, I featured Kamiyama again as she was battling her recovery from two torn ACL’s from the basketball season while waiting to showcase her talents at Chapman University.

One of the biggest stories from the summer would be the Artesia Punishers winning the Amateur Softball Association Western Nationals in Sacramento. I did a feature for the Aug. 19 issue on Cerritos resident Natalie Farah, who went to St. Joseph High, but was one of many stars for several club teams in the city coached by her father, Joul. While playing for the Dream Team, as it was called, from Jan. 1998 to June 2000, she scored 367 of the team’s 599 goals as the Dream Team went 148-4-4.

A week later, former Gahr baseball standout Eddie Murray signed with UCLA, one of many Gahr players over the years to play with the prestigious collegiate program.

The fall season began and for the Sept. 30 issue, I interviewed Cerritos resident Roger Lodge, who once hosted “Blind Date” and at the time was talking sports on 1540 AM’s The Ticket Morning Show.

For the Oct. 21 issue, not only was there a story on the V.C.-Brentwood High girls volleyball match, but a small debate from Holliday and longtime Brentwood head coach Jeff Porter on why the Olympic League’s two best players-Melissa Boer (V.C.) and Jessica Fishburn, both of whom were seniors, should win the league’s MVP.

Cerritos resident and former Bell High athletic administrator Sue Kamiyama, who was well-respected throughout the Southland, passed away on Oct. 26. Kamiyama also worked with the CIF-Los Angeles Section.

Highlights of the fall season were the Artesia football team beginning a stretch of three straight seasons of going to the playoffs, all under Flowers, the V.C. football team advancing to the semifinals as part of an 11-2 season, and the fourth straight quarterfinal appearance for the V.C. girls volleyball program.

One of the wildest girls basketball games came towards the end of the regular season and involved Cerritos hosting Glenn. The Dons needed a win to lock down third place while the Eagles needed to defeat Cerritos to pull within a game of third place. The game featured two buzzer-beaters to end quarters, a nine-point lead blown in five minutes and three free throws in the final 18.1 seconds to seal the decision, which favored Cerritos 49-46.

The Suburban League title went to both Artesia teams with the boys going 12-0 and getting as far as the III-AA finals while the girls lost in the quarterfinals. The Cerritos girls were enjoying its best season since 1988-1999 and despite finishing in third place, got to the semifinals in Holly Matchett’s fourth season as head coach. And, in her final full season of coaching girls basketball at V.C., Eleanor Dykstra sent her 21-9 team to the semifinals.

The fourth place Glenn girls upset fifth-seeded Magnolia High 55-42 in a second round game but would lose the next game while in girls soccer, the V.C. girls tied Oaks Christian High 2-2 in the Division V championship game, the first title for the program.

The 2005 baseball season would be the first for Gahr’s Gerardo Perez, who is still the head coach for the Gladiators, and took his 23-6 team to the semifinals. Norwalk ended the first round of league play with a 5-1 mark before eventually finishing in third place. Still, the Lancers advanced to the playoffs for the first time since 1999.

The Cerritos boys volleyball team dropped a four-set match to Mayfair High on the last day of the regular season, the lone league setback for the Dons. Earlier in the season, Cerritos had snapped Mayfair’s 63-match winning streak in league.

History was made for the Norwalk track and field program as Delana Minnis qualified for the Masters Meet in the in the long jump and triple jump, becoming the first Norwalk female track and field athlete to get past the CIF divisional finals. One week later, she would advance to the state preliminaries.

Whitney High was also making its own history as the boys tennis team lost to Viewpoint High 13-5 in the Division V finals. It was the first time in school history that any Whitney tennis team had played for a divisional championship.

I interviewed former V.C. pitcher and current Texas Christian University head coach Kirk Saarloos for the July 29 issue when he was playing for the Oakland A’s as they were visiting the Los Angeles Angels. The late summer would see a quartet of Artesia Punishers travel softball teams compete in some type of national tournament. The 12-Under team won the United States Specialty Sports Association Elite World Series, played at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando.

In August, I would do a piece on former V.C. volleyball stars Jennifer Fopma and Stacy Rouwenhorst, who were teammates on AVP Pro Beach Volleyball Tour for the first time. The previous summer, Rouwenhorst paired with club teammate Paola Rodriguez and at the Hermosa Beach Open, they would lose to Olympians Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh.

On to the fall where I travelled to the small Inland Empire town of Azna to cover the Artesia football game against Hamilton High. The bus driver took a wrong turn and instead of arriving in Anza between 2:00-3:00 then have a pregame catered meal, the team arrived at Hamilton an hour before kickoff. Still, Artesia knocked off the defending Division XIII champions 49-28.

In the Oct. 7 issue, I did a feature on Stephanie Brink, the former V.C. volleyball and soccer star who won the Miss Greater Lakewood and Miss California Teen 2005 competitions before winding up as the fourth runner-up in the Miss Teen USA competition in Baton Rouge, LA.

Then there was the biggest girls volleyball story of the 2005 season. It happened on Oct. 14 and involved Cerritos hosting powerhouse Mayfair, which had won 113 straight Suburban League matches. Without head coach Allison Marcroft, who was giving birth to her first child at the time of the match. The Dons prevailed 25-18, 25-21, 38-36 to improve to 6-0 in league play at the time.

Also on the volleyball court, V.C. reached the quarterfinals for the fifth straight season. It would be the last one for Holliday, who won 50 matches in three seasons. On the gridiron, Gahr wrapped up its fourth season as a freelance team and went 22-18 during those four seasons. The program would be denied freelance status for the 2006 season and returned to the San Gabriel Valley League where better days would be on the horizon.

The 2005-2006 basketball season began with the Gahr girls team finishing in third place in the annual Glenn/Norwalk tournament and the Glenn girls team finishing in fifth place in the Cantwell Sacred Heart of Mary Cardinal Classic.

The Norwalk boys soccer team posted a 4-1 win at Artesia, marking the first win for the Lancers over the Pioneers since 2003. One of the biggest upsets for Glenn girls soccer, which hasn’t had too many bright moments, was when it shocked Artesia in a 2-1 decision. Gahr boys soccer won its first San Gabriel Valley League title with a 2-1 win against Lynwood High.

Late in the basketball season, Artesia girls head coach Scott Roczey, who had taken his teams to three straight divisional titles, the semifinals in 2000 and the quarterfinals in 2005, was dismissed from his position less than 24 hours before the Pioneers ended the regular season at Glenn. In addition, Artesia had to forfeit all 20 of its wins when it was determined it had been using an ineligible player who transferred from Los Angeles Jordan High.

At the request of Artesia administration, and with help from Glenn administration, Roczey was denied admittance into Glenn’s gymnasium for the last game of the season, even though he bought a ticket.

The Artesia boys basketball team made its sixth trip back to the Arrowhead Pond in nine seasons and defeated Santa Margarita 74-44. A few weeks later, the Pioneers put an exclamation point to its 33-1 season by defeating St. Mary’s High out of Stockton 60-41. It would be the last game coached by Scott Pera, who compiled a 154-32 mark and four league titles in his six seasons at Artesia. James Harden had a game-high 21 points while Derek Glasser added 11 points. Those two would join Pera at Arizona State University.

In the baseball season, it was father versus son when Norwalk, coached by Jack Brooks who was at the school for one season, hosted La Mirada, coached by Kim Brooks, an icon at that institution for years. La Mirada would clip the Lancers 2-1.

The V.C. softball team made its first appearance in the prestigious Woodbridge Tournament and stunned the host school with a 2-1 win in the second round. The Crusaders would finish in third place in the tournament. Later in the season, V.C. would lose to Pomona Catholic High in the Division V finals and finished a memorable 21-10-1 season that included a fourth straight Olympic League championship.

The Artesia Punishers 18-Under team, coached by Bob Medina, began the summer with an ASA State Championship as the tournament was held at Artesia Park. The 14-Under Punishers team would claim second place in its state tournament, held in Menifee.

The Cerritos Girls Softball Association’s 8-Under All-Stars made history by winning the ASA Los Angeles/South Bay District ‘B’ tournament. At that time, the team was 26-0-3 and became one of the first two 8-Under teams ever to advance to the state tournament. The team was loaded with future area high school stars in Heather Cameron, Jennifer Iseri, Madison Lee, Amanda Lejano, Vanessa Montanez and Melanie Okazaki.

In the fall, Gahr’s football team pulled off a rare feat, defeating both Artesia (23-14) and Cerritos (22-0) to claim the Silver Milk Barrel, which goes to the winner of the ABC Unified School District, for the first time since 1998. Also, that season, Artesia and La Mirada were the lone football teams to advance to the playoffs, marking the first time since I joined the LCCN that V.C. missed the playoffs.

The 2006 fall season ended with the Cerritos boys water polo team advancing to the program’s first divisional championship match where the Dons defeated El Segundo High 13-12 in overtime. Before that, no other Cerritos water polo team had reached the quarterfinals.

In a sign of good things to happen for the Glenn girls basketball program, the Eagles won the season-opening Downey Tournament while the Glenn boys won the inaugural Glenn/Norwalk Tournament, which no longer exists.

One of the highlights of the 2006-2007 boys basketball season came when the Artesia boys basketball team squared off against Mater Dei High in the championship game of the Orange Holiday Classic in late December. They were the top two teams in the state according to every publication and were ranked seventh and eighth in the nation, respectively, according to USA Today. Backed by 16 points from Renardo Sidney and a pair of clutch three-pointers from Malik Story in the fourth quarter, Artesia rallied from a 15-point deficit in the third quarter and escaped with a 58-57 victory.

In her final regular season home game of her high school career, Glenn’s Champign Hood scored a career-high 33 points and grabbed 17 rebounds as the Eagles defeated Cerritos 61-55 to claim the program’s first Suburban League title since the 1991-1992 season. Glenn would finish the season with a 23-5 overall record, 10-2 in league action and advanced to the second round of the playoffs. The program would finish in second place once and third place once since then and would go to the playoffs twice since that season.

In the playoffs, Artesia proved that being in Division I-AA was nothing as it eliminated Dominguez High 70-52 in the semifinals to set up a rematch with Mater Dei at the Honda Center. There, the Pioneers would win their second straight divisional championship with a 77-68 win. That would eventually lead to another state title where head coach Loren Grover, in his only season with Artesia, guided his team to a 91-64 win over Oakland-based Bishop O’Dowd High.

The winter season also saw another area team crowned champions as the V.C. girls soccer team tied Oaks Christian for the second time in three seasons for the title.

Gahr’s softball team in 2007 would win its first SGVL championship since 2000 and just like that season, was untouchable in all 10 league games. It would also mark the first of two straight visits to the quarterfinals. The Gladiators won 24 games that season, just the fourth time since 1998 the program had recorded at least 20 wins. That feat would not happen again until 2015.

The 2007 baseball season would see Artesia finish 16-12 overall, tie for third place in league and advance to the second round of the playoffs. Artesia hasn’t reached 16 wins since then and had not had that high of a league finish until this past season.

The V.C. boys volleyball team picked up the program’s first divisional championship in a four-set win over Santa Monica High while the Cerritos boys tennis team failed at its first attempt for a divisional title as the Dons tied Viewpoint 9-9 but lost in games 76-74 in Division V action.

That summer would be one of my best as the CGSA 8-Under All-Stars repeated as district champions and returned to the state tournament in the Lancaster/Palmdale area. The Artesia Punishers 18-Under team repeated as state champions and made the half cross-country trek to College Station, TX for the USA/ASA 18-Under Nationals where they defeated the (Sacramento) California Breeze 6-5 in the championship game. I also made the long trip, leaving Cerritos around noon on Friday, July 27, driving straight through and arriving in the Lone Star state the next afternoon. The tournament began on Sunday, July 29 and ended on Sunday, Aug. 5 with the final game played at the Texas A&M Aggie Softball Complex. I would get back to Southern California Monday afternoon.

Also in the summer, I did another feature on Fopma and Rouwenhorst who were no longer beach volleyball partners, but still having success on the AVP Tour while Artesia hired Kenneth Shyne as its boys basketball head coach as well as Suzanne Murphy as the school’s athletic director.

Khanh Vo became the new head coach of the Cerritos girls volleyball team and would have five straight winning season, including three straight Suburban League titles. Staying with the theme of new head coaches, Erica Streelman took over the V.C. girls volleyball team, Tracy Quitaro took the Glenn girls volleyball to the playoffs in her only season with the Eagles and Ole Nervik was in the first of his 12 seasons as Whitney’s girls volleyball head coach.

On the football field, it was a season to remember for Gahr as state passing records were set, compliments of Corey Nielsen. When the season was over, in which Gahr went 10-3 and got as far as the semifinals, Nielsen passed for 4,363 yards, tops in the state and at the time, was third all-time for a single season. He also threw 35 touchdowns and completed 65 percent of his passes.

Norwalk ended an eight-year playoff drought and began a stretch of 11 straight years of going to the postseason while first-year head coach Erick Streelman guided V.C. to a 7-4 record and a berth in the semifinals.