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LOREN KOPFF CELEBRATES 25 YEARS AT THE LOS CERRITOS COMMUNITY NEWS – Several athletic programs end long league title droughts while more champions are crowned


By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

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

 The 2012-2013 girls basketball season was beginning to have some blowout games in late December and into January. Gahr High would fall to J.W. North High 73-39 in the championship game of the Gahr Winter Classic while Norwalk High would pick up a rare big win over Cerritos High in a 57-37 decision. Later in the season, both Norwalk basketball teams would upset Mayfair High with the girls moving into a first place tie, a position it would have when the season was over. It was the first time since 1995 that the Norwalk girls program had won a league title and the first since 1992 for longtime Norwalk head coach Richard Drake, who also coached John Glenn High.

The Artesia High girls soccer team had won 10 straight games ahead of its first place battle with La Mirada High as the first round of Suburban League action was coming to an end. The Pioneers put up a good fight but could not get a hold of first place all alone as the game ended in a scoreless tie. When the season was over, Artesia had won 19 games and advanced to the quarterfinals, both of which were, and are still, bests in the program’s history.

In the playoffs, the Gahr girls basketball team advanced to the CIF-Southern Section Division III-AAA championship game where it fell to Agoura High 60-39 as the Gladiators were seeking the program’s fourth title.

For the first time since 1993, Gahr and Norwalk met on the softball field as the spring season was getting started. Norwalk blasted the Gladiators 12-3, highlighted by a Viviana Gomez grand slam in the first inning. And for the second straight season, La Mirada’s softball team spotted Cerritos a 4-1 lead before rallying for a 5-4 victory. The 2013 version was the league opener for both while the 2012 contest was on the last game of the regular season.

The Artesia baseball team would reach double figures in victories (10) for the first time since 2007 but missed the playoffs for the sixth straight season while the softball team also won 10 games, the most in the program in over 15 seasons. In his only two seasons coaching the program, Jeff Hovis won 18 games. In contrast, the program had won 19 games the previous six seasons.

In the first of two straight seasons, Gahr baseball head coach Gerardo Perez won 22 games and took his team to the quarterfinals while the Gahr softball team missed the playoffs for a fourth straight season. That would be the last time the Gladiators would miss the postseason.

In the pool, the Cerritos girls swimming team won the Division IV championship while the boys finished in fourth place.

My first feature in 2013 was on former Cerritos softball slugger Sarah Smith who was making an immediate impact at Baylor University. Smith would complete her first season in Waco, TX batting .365, and hit five home runs, both of which were good for second on the team.

Valley Christian High’s football team held its first ever spring game as the Crusaders welcomed Woodie Grayson as its new head coach.

I would make a road trip to Denver where I attended the Tough Mudder race and interviewed my cousin, Steven, who was taking part in the event at Beaver Creek for the second straight summer. Prior to making the trip to the Rocky Mountain state, the Cerritos Girls Softball Association was making history yet again, this time sending three teams to the state tournament.

The Artesia Punishers 18-Under travel softball team hosted the Shanghai National Team for three games at East Los Angeles College while weeks later, his team was invited to play in the Premier Girls Fastpitch National Championships, something that has been a recurring theme every July.

Prior to the beginning of the football season, Jon Nielsen resigned as Gahr’s offensive and college recruiting coordinator. All he did for the past 10 seasons with the Gladiators was get several players signed to some of the top college programs and see his quarterbacks rank among the best in the state and CIF-SS with several records.

The 2013 football season would see the return for the Cerritos varsity team and was knocked off by V.C. 42-28 in the season opener. The Dons would go 2-8 that season, the first time since 2010 they had experienced a victory. One of those wins came against Glenn in a 36-29 conquest, which snapped a 16-game Suburban League losing streak.

Artesia would capture the Silver Milk Barrel for the first time since 2008 with victories over ABC Unified School District rivals Cerritos (43-32) and Gahr (29-27). But the biggest news in the area coming from the gridiron would be Norwalk, which won 13 straight games in emphatic fashion on its way to the Southeast Division championship game. Then, in front of a packed crowd at Titan Stadium on the California State University, Fullerton campus, the Lancers lost to La Serna High 41-38 in double overtime. The 13-1 record would mark the program’s best and the second time in at least 25 seasons Norwalk would post double digit victories.

In girls tennis, Cerritos defeated Redlands High 10-8 in the Division IV championship match, winning four of the final six sets. It was the second straight title for the program.

The boys basketball season would begin with Artesia winning the Garden Grove Tournament and started a season with six straight wins for the first time since the 2006-2007 campaign. Then, the Pioneers won the Calvary Chapel Downey Grizzly Classic, defeating El Rancho High 48-46 in the championship game.

The Whitney High girls basketball team, behind Rachel Nagel and Reyna Ta’amu, had no problems with South Torrance High, 53-36 in the championship game of the Glenn-Norwalk Tournament.

Towards the end of the 2013-2014 basketball season, Glenn girls head coach Linda Parra announced she was stepping down after 12 seasons and a 156-163 record, one Suburban League title and six trips to the playoffs.

The Glenn boys basketball team ended a 13-season playoff drought, despite finishing the regular season with a 7-19 record. The Eagles would be bounced out in the first round by La Canada High, 59-39 and would not get back to the postseason until this past winter.

The Whitney girls basketball team would post what is believed to be the program’s best record at 25-4 and went to the quarterfinals for the third straight season, two of them by former head coach Jeff Day. The Wildcats were capping off their fourth straight 10-0 Academy League record and in just his second season at the helm, Day already had a 46-9 record.

In soccer action, the V.C. girls won the Olympic League for the sixth straight season but was eliminated from the playoffs in the second round after getting the quarterfinals the previous two seasons. Meanwhile, the V.C. boys captured their second straight league crown and advanced to the semifinals for the first time since 2000. The Crusaders also advanced to the state playoffs.

The big story early in the spring was a doubleheader between the Cerritos and Gahr softball teams where the Dons swept the Gladiators 3-1 and 12-10. It was the first time since Mar. 16, 2006 the two programs had met and when the season was over, both would win their respective leagues with Cerritos winning 20 out of 24 games played.

For the second straight season, the Gahr baseball team got to the quarterfinals and posted its 10th season of at least 20 victories since 1998. And, for the first time since 2009 and only the third time in the past seven seasons, Glenn reached the postseason as the Eagles had an 18-11 record.

I would do a feature late in the spring season on Cerritos softball batterymates Heather Cameron and Jennifer Iseri, both of whom were juniors and have been best of friends for a long time.

In the summer, a pair of Artesia Punisher 14-Under teams faced each other in the PGF National Championships in an elimination game. Danny Guerrero’s team would double up Anthony Medina’s group 8-4. The two teams would then head to San Diego a week later to take part in the Amateur Softball Association’s 14-U ‘A’ National Championship.

A third 14-Under team, this one coached by Junior Vasquez, would win the Triple Crown Sports Western World Series in Park City, Utah while the 18-Under team, coached by Bob Medina, would also play in the PGF National Championships.

Late in the summer, tragedy struck the Artesia and Cerritos College girls soccer programs as prolific goal scorer, Jasmine Cornejo, passed away due to complications of a seizure. Cornejo had just turned 20 years old and was about to begin her future at California Polytechnic Pomona. In three seasons at Artesia, Cornejo scored 77 goals.

In the fall, Jesse Ceniceros, who put Norwalk football on the map with his double-wing offensive attack, coached his last season with the Lancers and went 7-4 with a first round loss in the playoffs. Ceniceros had a 58-28 with Norwalk and went to the playoffs in all seven seasons he was there.

I did another profile on former Cerritos softball pitcher Jessica van der Linden, now Jessica Boulware, as she inducted into the Florida State University Hall of Fame on Sept. 6.

In late October, Norwalk baseball head coach Ruben Marquez was ousted after a controversy involving the usage of the high school’s baseball field. He coached only one season at Norwalk, going 6-19.

In early November, I covered San Diego State University’s football game with the University of Idaho as former Norwalk stars Elijhaa and Rashaad Penny were facing each other with the latter a freshman at SDSU. The fall season would wrap up with the Cerritos boys water polo team losing to Righetti High 8-4 in the Division IV finals.

In the 38th annual V.C. girls basketball tournament, the host team edged Whitney 31-21 in the seventh place game while Cerritos moved to the semifinals of the Gahr Varsity Winter Classic where the Dons easily defeated J.W. North 62-39.

One of the highlights of the 2014-2015 boys soccer season came from Gahr, where the Gladiators knocked off Lynwood High 4-0 for their first San Gabriel Valley League win since Jan. 19, 2010. Gahr had gone 51 straight games without recording a league victory. In fact, in the 25 years of covering Gahr boys soccer, the program has won 55 SGVL contests.

Another program was snapping its own long losing streak as the Cerritos boys basketball team knocked off Mayfair 86-77 in overtime for its first win over the Monsoons in 33 meetings since becoming a member of the Suburban League.

As the regular season came to a close, I did a feature on Cerritos girls basketball start Alyssa Movchan becoming the newest member of the 1,000-point club for her career, which she achieved on Dec. 23, 2014 against St. Mary’s Academy. Movchan scored 344 points in the regular season as a senior and that feature would give me my first Los Angeles Press Club Southern California award as the best sports story for 2015. That accolade was handed out in June 2016.

The Gahr boys basketball team would head back to the CIF-SS divisional finals for the fourth time since the 1998-1999 season where it fell to Sonora High 66-54 as the Raiders went on a 12-0 run in the fourth quarter.

The top softball story early in the season came from Cerritos and Gahr as the two teams split a doubleheader with the host Gladiators winning the first game 8-7 while the Dons took game two by the same score. Later in the season, Cerritos would record the program’s first sweep over Mayfair since 2006. That feat had also been accomplished in 1999, 2000 and 2001.

Another of my top features in the first half of 2015 was on the up and coming singing star Kenna, who once played basketball at V.C. Her first single from the self-titled album was “Do You Love Me”.

Good things were happening for Glenn’s baseball team, which clinched the program’s first league title since 1990 while at Cerritos, the Dons would finish with a 16-11 record, marking the first time since 1998 that the program did not finish a season with a losing record.

There would be plenty of excitement in the playoffs as the Cerritos girls swimming team won its third straight CIF-SS divisional title, the Cerritos softball team being cheated in the quarterfinals by Grand Terrace High 3-2 as a bases-loaded triple play ended the game and the Gahr softball team losing to Grand Terrace a few days later in the semifinals.

The summer would see the usual happen with the Artesia Punishers 18 Gold team go back to the PGF National Championships and the CGSA 14-Under All-Stars making a return visit to the state tournament. Also in the summer, I did a feature on former Cerritos resident Tim Walton, who was, and is still having success as the University of Florida’s head softball coach. That summer, Walton was also an assistant coach of the U.S. Junior Olympic softball team.

Prior to the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year, I interviewed CIF-SS Commissioner Rob Wigod, as he was welcoming one-on-one interviews with members of the media. We talked about the new playoff groupings along with the ongoing concussion problems with high school football players and the possibility of realignment of schools to make it more geographically desirable, especially for V.C., which travels more for league events than any other area school.

The Cerritos and Norwalk football programs would welcome new head coaches with the latter finishing in third place and falling in the first round of the playoffs. A Week One tilt between Cerritos and V.C. would see the visiting Crusaders score on all seven of the drives in a 48-6 rout. Entering the fourth quarter of the game, V.C. had held the ball for less than nine minutes.

The Gahr girls volleyball team would win the Silver Division of the V.C./Molten Classic in September while for the second time in three seasons, Norwalk was putting together a 16-win season under head coach Jesse Gonzalez. The first one resulted in the Lancers sharing a piece of the Suburban League title. The 2015 team would come in second place and the two 16-win squads would advance to the second round in the playoffs.

In a battle of winless football teams, Cerritos defeated Glenn 22-16 in a Week Nine contest while V.C. claimed the Olympic League title for the first time since 2011 with a 37-6 victory over Maranatha High. It would mark the first of three straight seasons in which V.C. would not lose a league game. However, the Crusaders would fall to Linfield Christian High for the second straight season in the playoffs.

On Nov. 6, the Glenn basketball community would lose one of its former stars as 26-year old Champign Hood passed away due to a blood clot in her heart after she had been admitted to College Medical Center in Long Beach after coming down with pneumonia.

The basketball season began with Cerritos defeating Gahr 83-76 in the championship game of the co-hosted tournament of the two programs. Evan Leonard would pour in 36 points. Six days later in the annual rivalry game, Gahr came through with a 76-66 victory as Marvin Bragg had 21 points. Cerritos would have one of its better campaigns in the past 15 seasons, winning 18 games for the first time since the 2008-2009 season and get to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2011.

Also advancing to the quarterfinals was V.C., which posted a 15-15 mark and finished in fourth place in the Olympic League. In fact, only two area boys basketball teams failed to reach the playoffs in the 2015-2016 season, Whitney and Glenn, the latter losing all 24 games. It would be the first of two seasons during my time covering the Glenn program that the Eagles went winless.

As the softball season was getting started, I made the trek to Cathedral City where the popular Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic was going on. It was there where I interviewed former Gahr and CGSA standout Deidra Genera as she was playing for Bethune-Cookman University and having early success as a freshman.

Gahr’s Alyssa Kumiyama would blast a home run on her 17th birthday to help her team get past North Torrance High 7-5 in the championship game of the 5th annual Torrance National Tournament. It would be just the third in-season tournament championship for the program under my watch with the other two coming in 2006 (Downey Tournament) and 2000 (Thousand Oaks Tournament).

Glenn’s baseball team would capture the St. Paul Easter Tournament’s AA Division with a 5-3 win over Cerritos 5-3 while V.C. defeated Bishop Montgomery High 5-3 for third place in the event.

Later in the spring, I would interview former Gahr football starts Joshua Perkins and Dwayne Washington as they were drafted by the Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions respectively of the NFL.

The V.C. softball team would win only four games but still clinched a playoff spot by virtue of a 3-5 league mark and a third place finish. The program would have one more taste of the playoffs since 2016.

Gahr was just getting warmed up under Shawn Quarles and in his second season with the Gladiators, went 24-6-2 and advanced to the quarterfinals while at Whitney, the Wildcats ended a three-year playoff absence by finishing in a tie for second place in the Academy League before falling to Desert High in a wild card game.

In baseball, Cerritos snapped a 17-year playoff drought as the Dons tied for third place in league and finished with a 14-14 campaign while Whitney failed to put a team together. Gahr posted its only undefeated league season in my 25 years covering the program, albeit 10 games, and won 24 games for the first time since 1999.

The V.C. boys volleyball team picked up the program’s third CIF-SS divisional title in a five-set win over Cathedral High while on May 13, I ended the spring season with another feature on Cameron and Iseri, who just completed their first season at the University of Hawai’i.

I would also do an opinion piece on the Gahr baseball and softball programs who have been long overdue for a CIF-SS championship. From 1998-2016, Gahr baseball had been to the quarterfinals and semifinals four times each while softball would reach the quarterfinals three times and the semifinals once. Between the two programs, they had 18 seasons of at least 20 victories.

The PGF was in its seventh season and in all but one, the Artesia Punishers Gold team had taken part in the Southern California Qualifier. However, this was the first time the team went two and out but was later invited to the PGF National Championship. The team would also participate in the PGF Las Vegas Qualifier.

The Punishers 16-Under team finished in fifth place at the TCS World Series in Park City, Utah while the CGSA 14-under All-Stars competed in the ASA ‘B’ Western Nationals, which were held in La Habra.

The summer would mark the end of longtime CGSA board member Lori Williams, who had been with the organization since 1999. And the USA Cal A’s select travel softball team would host the Denso team from Anjo, Japan from July 5-10.

I would interview Whitney pitcher Ashley Iseri, who went to Fukushima, Japan as one of five students nationwide to learn how the residents were coping with the 6.6 earthquake that rocked the region five years earlier.

One of the changes the CIF-SS would make as the 2016 fall season was approaching was the elimination of “named divisions” for football. Now, they are simply Divisions 1,2,3, and so forth. I would venture out of the sports scene to do my first entertainment review, which was on the Go-Go’s Farewell Tour.

Gahr’s football team would win its first seven games and when the season was over, had its first winning campaign since 2011. The 8-3 Gladiators also snapped a six-year playoff drought. But the big football story of 2016 came from V.C., which went 12-3 and won the Division 9 championship, a 59-13 win over Silverado High. It would be the program’s third title and the Crusaders would move on to their first state playoffs where they lost to The Bishop’s School 28-9 in the 3-A regionals.

In cross country action, the Norwalk girls won consecutive league championships while the La Mirada boys won a league title for the first time since 1996.

As the 2016 calendar year was concluding, Artesia, Cerritos and Glenn all put in a proposal to leave the Suburban League after the 2017-2018 school year and join Oxford Academy, Pioneer High and Whitney to form what would now be the 605 League.

On Dec. 17, I went to Las Vegas to cover Rashaad Penny again as his SDSU’s Aztecs were facing the University of Houston Cougars in the Las Vegas Bowl. Penny had 32 yards on carries and ended the season with 1,027 yards as the Aztecs won 34-10.

On January 5, 2017, I covered the Cerritos wrestling meet against visiting Glenn in which history was made. It marked the first girls league meet with Glenn easily winning 60-12 while the boys had no problems in a 66-12 victory.

My first feature of 2017 was on Casey and Corey Nielsen who were taking different paths in their professional careers after college while Suburban League races were heating up. Artesia boys basketball had completed a season sweep over Norwalk to clinch fourth place while the Lancers dropped to fifth place. In girls soccer, Artesia made things interesting when it defeated Cerritos 2-1 to improve to 3-5 in the circuit while dropping the Dons to 4-5. But it would be Cerritos claiming fourth place when the season was over while the Pioneers missed the playoffs.

The Whitney boys basketball team thought it had clinched a playoff berth when it knocked off Oxford Academy in a third place tiebreaker game. Then it was discovered the Wildcats had to forfeit two games and just like that, fell to fifth place in the Academy League and missed the playoffs.

The V.C. girls basketball team won a playoff game for the first time since 2011 and eventually advanced to the Division 4AA championship game where it lost to league rival Village Christian High 49-29.

That wasn’t the only V.C. team making its way to the finals as the girls soccer team, led by the dynamic Kennedy Wesley, defeated Grace Brethren High 3-1 in Division 6 action, the first outright league title for the program. Then the Crusaders defeated Grace Brethren again in the Southern California Division 5 regionals by a 2-1 decision.

What was first discussed in December became official in the spring as the motion to form the 605 League was passed by a 27-16 count from the schools of the Almont, Del Rio, Foothill, Mission Valley, Pacific, Rio Hondo, San Gabriel and Suburban Leagues. The 605 League would start for the 2018-2019 school year.

There would be several top stories from the softball season, and it began with Artesia finishing with the program’s first winning season on over 20 seasons and going to the playoffs for the first time since 1992. Cerritos wrapped up a successful 20-6 season and a Suburban League title in Kim Ensey’s first season with the program and Gahr won 26 straight games before falling to St. Lucy’s High 10-4 in the second round of the playoffs.

Late in the season, I did a feature on a pair of sluggers from Gahr’s softball team as Kumiyama and Malia Quarles were rewriting the record books with their power and in boys tennis, Gahr was shocking the world and Division 5 by first advancing to the quarterfinals for the first time in school history, then upset top-seeded Magnolia High 14-4 for the championship.

The V.C. track and field team broke several personal and school records in the divisional finals while the Cerritos boys volleyball team fell to La Serna High in four sets in the program’s first trip to the divisional finals.

The summer would see Wesley become Gatorade’s National Girls Soccer Player of the Year and mark the first time that the Artesia Punishers program would expand into Nevada with the addition of a pair of teams while back home, the 18 Gold team had to win three straight games in the loser’s bracket on consecutive days to win the PGF National Championships. before being eliminated in the first of those potential games on the first day.

Another Artesia Punishers 18-Under team would win the West Coast American Fastpitch Association Nationals while the 10-Under and 16-Under teams came in second place in the tournament.

I would write features on the 10-year anniversary of the Punishers 18-Under team winning the organization’s only national championship and former Gahr baseball pitcher Jake Faria beginning his career with the Tampa Bay Rays as I interviewed him while the team was playing the Los Angeles Angels.

Gahr’s football team would blast Cerritos 48-0 for the program’s 13th straight win over the Dons in which the Gladiators outscored their city rivals by a combined score of 554-56. One week later, a 47-7 win over Artesia meant Gahr would keep the Silver Milk Barrel while at Norwalk, it knocked off Glenn 20-14 for that program’s 15th straight win over the Eagles. Gahr would advance to the quarterfinals before losing to Dos Pueblos High 35-28 while Norwalk lost in the first round.

In a Week Six game between V.C. and Maranatha, the Crusaders scored on their first seven drives, none lasting more than 1:56, and routed the Minutemen 63-14. At the time, V.C. had reached the 60-point mark five times since 1998.

The fall season would end with a trip to Fresno for the CIF State Cross Country Championships where Misty Diaz of Norwalk earned a medal with her sixth place finish while V.C.’s Josh Ruppercht came in eighth place, also picking up a medal.

I would make another trip to Qualcomm Stadium for a SDSU football game against Colorado State University as Penny was nearing the completion of his collegiate career while the winter girls basketball season would see Gahr fall to Bell Gardens High 48-35 in the championship game of the Glenn-Norwalk Tournament. In boys basketball, Cerritos snapped an eight-game losing skid to Gahr with a 56-52 victory, marking the first time in 10 seasons that the final score was in the 50s.