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Top 10 Sports Stories of 2017: Golden Knights overcome semifinal hurdle

Top 10 Sports Stories of 2017: Golden Knights overcome semifinal hurdle
St. Francis High football coach Jim Bonds, left, congratulates Luke Hunter, right, after the Golden Knights defeated El Toro, 52-17, during a CIF Southern Section Division III semifinal game on Nov. 24. The Golden Knights advanced to their first title game since 1964. (Photo by Libby Cline Birmingham)

Chosen by the Glendale News-Press sports staff, here are the top 10 sports stories of 2017.

1 St. Francis football advances to CIF Southern Section Division III title game: There was no more of a historic season in the 17-year coaching career of Jim Bonds than what took place in 2017.

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Led by dynamic standouts such as quarterback Darius Perrantes, receiver Greg Dulcich, linemen Matt Barriga and Gabriel Grbavac and running back Elijah Washington, St. Francis marched to a CIF championship game for the first time since 1964.

"Fifty-three years is a long wait," Washington said.

Bonds' Golden Knights finished with a 12-2 record, which included winning streaks of nine and three games. One of those setbacks was a 28-16 loss to Cathedral in an Angelus Leauge championship game at Friedman Field on Nov. 3.

St. Francis recovered from that loss and was ranked seventh headed into the CIF Southern Section Division III playoffs and made a historic run.

St. Francis defeated La Serna, 31-27, in the first round of the playoffs to exorcise some demons versus the Lancers, who ousted the Golden Knights in the postseason in 2014 and 2015.

That victory was followed by a 30-20 upset over second-seeded host Citrus Hill in the quarterfinals.

After years of frustration in the semifinal round and a 0-5 record for Bonds, the Golden Knights enjoyed a special evening at Friedman Field on Nov. 24.

On that night, St. Francis defeated El Toro, 52-17, in the semifinals to advance to the program's first championship game in 53 years.

"I think it always takes a little bit of luck and we've been on the other end of that a few years," said Bonds, whose team lost to Palos Verdes, 38-37, in the Division III first round the year prior. "And also, I think, a great work ethic and team chemistry. I think those things improved over the year.

"It just started to click."

St. Francis' magical season ended via a 44-42 loss to Rancho Verde in the championship at Friedman Field on Dec. 1 on a last-second 37-yard field goal.

Los Angeles Chargers cornerback Michael Davis signed with the football team on Sept. 16 and has played ever since.
Los Angeles Chargers cornerback Michael Davis signed with the football team on Sept. 16 and has played ever since. (John Cordes/Associated Press)

2 Michael Davis makes the Los Angeles Chargers roster: The story of Michael Davis is an incredible one given the 22-year-old lost playing time in his senior year at Brigham Young University at cornerback to a freshman, but ended up on the Los Angeles Chargers roster as a rookie.

"I'm living the dream," Davis said. "Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to play in the NFL. First you want to make it in college and now the NFL. It's amazing."

Davis went undrafted in the NFL Draft, but signed a free-agent contract along with 14 players with the Chargers on April 29.

Davis impressed during summer training camp, but played poorly in the second-to-last game of the preseason, which left him on the bubble.

Davis was informed that he was waived on Sept. 2 as the Chargers cut down to the league-mandated total of 53 players.

The following day, Davis inked a deal to join the Chargers' 10-man practice squad.

Davis' patience and persistence paid off when Los Angeles signed him on Sept. 16. He made his debut on special teams the following day versus Miami and has played every week ever since.

Davis is Glendale High's first athlete to reach the NFL this century.

The Glendale High girls' tennis team enjoyed a historic season that included the school's first-ever CIF Southern Section championship in any girls' sport.
The Glendale High girls' tennis team enjoyed a historic season that included the school's first-ever CIF Southern Section championship in any girls' sport. (Tim Berger/Staff Photographer)

3 Glendale High tennis wins first girls' CIF title in school history: Glendale High's girls' tennis team hadn't even made the postseason over the previous two seasons, never mind that the program nor any other girls' team in school history, had won a CIF Southern Section team championship or advanced to a final.

In the regular season, Glendale, coached by Tom Gossard and led by the Guzman sisters in doubles, took its lumps during Pacific League play, finishing 0-6 versus Arcadia, Burbank and Crescenta Valley to end fourth in league, but earned a spot to the Division IV postseason.

Starting in the wild-card round, the Nitros made a historic run with five straight victories, including a 12-6 triumph over Hemet on Nov. 11 at home in the semifinals.

The win was momentous as only two other Glendale girls' teams had ever reached the semifinal round, but none had advanced to a title game.

With a shot at even a higher spot in the Glendale High sports pantheon, the Nitros took advantage with a 10-8 victory over Rancho Mirage at the Claremont Club on Nov. 10 for the first girls' CIF Southern Section championship in any sport.

"This is more than just a win for our girls' tennis team," Emi Guzman said. "In a world where sexism is still pertinent, this is a win for the entire community of female athletes at Glendale High School because, as mentioned before, we are the first female sport to ever win a CIF championship at our school."

The Glendale Adventist Academy girls' volleyball team and coach Gared Luquet, right, celebrate their CIF Southern Section Division IX championship after besting Santa Clarita Christian, 3-1, at Cerritos College in Norwalk on Nov. 10, 2017.
The Glendale Adventist Academy girls' volleyball team and coach Gared Luquet, right, celebrate their CIF Southern Section Division IX championship after besting Santa Clarita Christian, 3-1, at Cerritos College in Norwalk on Nov. 10, 2017. (Raul Roa/Staff Photographer)

4 Glendale Adventist girls' volleyball reaches new heights: Glendale Adventist Academy had no CIF championships to speak of or even CIF finals appearances. But this year's Cougars, keyed by Paige Singleton and Elyse Knipschild, changed all that when they won the school's first Southern Section title in any sport and achieved the Cougars' initial state playoff berth.

Glendale Adventist's strong regular season, in which it tied for second in the Liberty League, was rewarded as the Cougars were named the top seed in Division IX and lived up to their No. 1 billing.

The Cougars sweep through the first three rounds of the CIF Southern Section playoffs before running into adversity at Canoga Park Faith Baptist in the semifinals on Nov. 7.

Despite falling behind, 2-1, Glendale Adventist rallied for two straight victories, including a clinching 15-13 triumph in the fifth set to earn the school's first advancement to a CIF Southern Section title match in any sport.

Three days later, the history continued for Glendale Adventist, which defeated Santa Clarita Christian, 3-1, at Cerritos College for the Division IX championship.

Glendale Adventist's wild postseason ride continued into the state playoffs, where the Cougars picked up playoff victories over Maywood CES (3-0) and Riverside Carnegie Schools (3-1) in the CIF State Division V playoffs.

Glendale Adventist suffered its first postseason loss in eight matches with a 3-1 defeat to San Diego Marantha Christian at Providence High in the CIF State Division V Regional Championship on Nov. 25, concluding its season with a 24-6 mark.

"There are no words to describe how grateful we are to be here and how hard we worked to get here," Camille Pizarro said. "We didn't think this was possible for us. It's all just amazing."

The Crescenta Valley girls' tennis double tandem of Marina Saroyan, in the foreground, and Leah Baghdassarian helped lead the Falcons to the CIF Southern Section Division III Championship match.
The Crescenta Valley girls' tennis double tandem of Marina Saroyan, in the foreground, and Leah Baghdassarian helped lead the Falcons to the CIF Southern Section Division III Championship match. (Raul Roa/Staff Photographer)

5 Crescenta Valley girls' tennis reaches CIF finals for first time: After advancing to the CIF Southern Section Division III quarterfinals the previous season, Crescenta Valley returned the bulk of its squad with the hope of an even deeper postseason run.

Under the direction of coach Sam Hyun, Crescenta Valley finished 15-4, 10-2 for second in the Pacific League behind Arcadia and returned two of its top doubles teams in Michelle Jung and Rachel Shin and Camille Gibney and Kiran Hamkins. The Falcons also boasted a singles lineup of Melissa Rosa Muradoglu, Victoria Borkowski and Polin Crete.

Crescenta Valley received the top seed and went to work in the Division III playoffs, registering wins against Marymount (12-6), Atascadero (15-3), Pasadena Poly (14-4) and Brentwood (12-6) to advance to the championship match for the first time. The Falcons' previous best run in the postseason came in 2003, when they reached the semifinals.

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Crescenta Valley punched its ticket into the title match against second-seeded Redlands at the Claremont Club on Nov. 10. Unfortunately for Crescenta Valley, its title bid was derailed in a 10-8 defeat.

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6 Trenton Julian concludes amazing career at Glendale: A legacy that had already been cemented by the end of his junior year continued to grow for Nitros champion Trenton Julian.

The Glendale resident captured his third consecutive All-Area Boys' Swimmer of the Year award and was voted the James H. Jenkins Boys' Athlete of the Year after another outstanding season.

Julian captured the 100-yard butterfly title at the Pacific League championships at Burbank High on May 3 in 49.56 seconds, which set a league record. He also claimed the league's 200 freestyle title and aided the 200 medley relay team's qualification to the Division II preliminaries.

At the CIF Southern Section Division II Championships at Riverside City College on May 13, Julian enjoyed a stellar swansong by winning the 200 IM in an All-American mark of 1:47.35 and finished second in the 100 butterfly in 48.13.

Over his career, Julian finished with four CIF titles, matching the four previous won by the entire swimming program.

After graduating, Julian headed to Cal Berkeley.

7 Flintridge Prep girls' soccer turns in greatest season: There was no denying the talent on the Rebels and the team turned in a season of historic proportions.

Scoring more than 100 goals for the first time in school history, the Rebels traveled further in the playoffs than ever before, led by the likes of All-Area Girls' Soccer Player of the Year Helen Schaefer, former player of the year Julia Gonzalez and other All-Area all-stars such as Mona Cesario and Mikaela Celeste.

Flintridge Prep posted a 23-5-3 mark that included an eight-game winning streak all via shutouts.

The Rebels posted an 8-1-1 mark within the Prep League, which clinched the Rebels an undisputed league title for the first time since 2012.

Flintridge Prep advanced to the semifinals of the CIF Southern Southern Section Division III semifinals for the first time in 15 years.

Unfortunately for the Rebels, they ran into an unbeatable obstacle in South Torrance. The visiting squad defeated Flintridge Prep, 5-2, on Feb. 28 in the semifinals.

Flintridge Prep earned a postseason berth to the CIF Southern California Regional Division III playoffs, where it went on the road and topped Tulare Mission Oak, 2-1, for the program's first-ever SoCal victory.

The win sent the Rebels into the semifinals, where this time they traveled to South Torrance. Again, South Torrance won by a smaller margin, 3-1, on March 9.

8 Flintridge Prep girls' cross-country keeps on rolling: There was a question as to how the Rebels would preform after the retirement of co-coach Mike Roffina and the graduation of top runner Natalie O'Brien.

Head coach Jill Henry also missed an early part of the season due to maternity leave.

Yet, despite those concerns, the Rebels still turned in another season of dominance.

Though the squad lost its Prep League title, it rebounded with postseason dominance that has become a standard.

Flintridge Prep claimed a fifth straight CIF Southern Section Division V Championship via a 55-101 victory at the Riverside City Cross-County Course on Nov. 18.

Then the Rebels closed out the season by capturing a fourth straight state title, 74-120, at Fresno's Woodward Park on Nov. 25 with standouts such as Sophie Gitlin and Sasha Codiga.

9 Sammy Fabian wraps up remarkable career in style: There have been plenty of talented area softball players to grace the diamond through the decades. Glendale High's Sammy Fabian ranks among them following a superb four-year career.

Fabian, who was tabbed the All-Area Softball Player of the Year and News-Press Girls' Athlete of the Year, helped Glendale win its first playoff game this century in a 13-12 come-from-behind victory against Carter, scoring the winning run in extra innings.

Glendale qualified for the playoffs in three of Fabian's four seasons.

In her final thrilling season, Fabian batted .573 with 47 hits, 22 runs batted in, 21 stolen bases and 36 runs.

Fabian, known for her trademark smile, speed and hitting prowess, started her career with the Nitros producing a 61-game hitting streak. In four seasons, Fabian batted .623 average with 184 hits, 146 runs, 82 runs batted in, 56 extra-base hits and 83 stolen bases.

Fabian picked up plenty of postseason hardware during her time at Glendale, including All-Area, Cal-Hi Sports All-State, Maxpreps All-American, All-Pacific League and All-CIF Southern Section accolades.

10 Glendale girls' basketball shoots to semis: A fourth-place finish in the Pacific League didn't slow down Glendale as it headed into the CIF Southern Section Division II-A playoffs looking to win the program's first playoff game this century.

Glendale and coach Tadeh Mardirosian embarked on the most successful playoff run in team history. Glendale (19-12, 7-5 in league) ultimately advanced to the semifinals before falling, 55-46, to Leuzinger. Leuzinger won the CIF championship.

Backed by Sylvia Vartazarian, Jillian Yanai and Claire Yanai, Glendale enjoyed a fantastic postseason that included victories against Whittier (55-46), Notre Dame Academy (53-32) and second-seeded Aliso Niguel (50-49).

Honorable mention: Crescenta Valley girls' diver Katelynn Shaheen wins CIF Southern Section Division II title on final dive; Flintridge Prep's boys' cross-country runner Evan Patinelli wins second straight CIF Southern Section Division V title and notches Division V state crown.

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