This is the first in a four-part series looking back on the sports accomplishments of the four local high schools over the past school year. This installment is Bellarmine-Jefferson High:
There were some impressive individual performances turned in this past school year by Guards athletes. Standout efforts in football, girls' and boys' basketball, girls' volleyball, baseball and softball highlighted the school's top efforts.
But more than just individual accolades, there was also a group of Bell-Jeff teams which enjoyed their share of success during the 2010-11 campaign. One of those squads, the softball team, even advanced to a CIF Southern Section championship contest.
When it came to outstanding individual contributions, however, no one stood out more than senior Micah Shirley. Along with being a standout in football at multiple positions, he was also a big force on the basketball court for the Guards.
In football as a running back, Shirley rushed for a Santa Fe league-best 1,210 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging more than 10 yards a carry. As a receiver, he had 24 receptions for 402 yards and eight touchdowns. As a quarterback in the wildcat offense, Shirley passed for 200 yards and a touchdown. And, while leading the league in scoring, he threw just one interception and had just one fumble.
A standout as well on the defensive end, Shirley totaled 122 tackles, a sack, three fumble recoveries and four interceptions as a defensive back.
For his efforts, Shirley made the All-CIF Northeast Division first team as a defensive back.
Unfortunately for Bell-Jeff (2-8), it finished last in the five-team Santa Fe League. Only Shirley and senior lineman Eric Lopez made the all-league first team. Senior wide receiver-cornerback Kevin Yuenyongsakul was a second-team choice.
It was a different story in basketball. Behind the athletic senior, the Guards put together a winning campaign that included a Santa Fe League championship. It was Bell-Jeff's first league title in 13 years.
With that success, it's was not surprising that Bell-Jeff had five athletes who were honored on the all-league list. Leading the way was Shirley, who earned Santa Fe League Player of the Year honors.
Shirley averaged 16.6 points a game and scored 24 in a game against St. Genevieve on Feb. 10 to help the Guards secure the league crown.
The Guards (12-13) couldn't carry over their success in league into the CIF Southern Section playoffs, however, as No. 14 Bell-Jeff was defeated in the first round by visiting Chadwick, 58-56.
Shirley was an All-Area honoree in both sports
Another fine effort during the fall season was turned in by Jocelyn Cervantes, a dominating junior outside hitter for the Guards' girls' volleyball team.
Cervantes was a terror at the net, tallying 317 kills this past season. Along with her kill total, Cervantes made good on 52% of her kill attempts, had 44 aces, 22 blocks, 165 digs and 30 assists to pace Bell-Jeff to its fifth-straight Santa Fe League championship.
She was rewarded by being named the league's player of the year. Cervantes received another honor when she earned a CIF Southern Section Division IV first-team accolade. It is the second season the Guard was named to the All-CIF squad.
Behind Cervantes — an All-Area honoree — Bell-Jeff (17-7) advanced to the Division IVAA semifinals, losing to No. 1 Hemet, 25-16, 25-11, 25-14.
In just three seasons Cervantes has put up impressive numbers, as she will go into her senior season with 731 career kills and 166 aces.
During the winter season, both of Bell-Jeff's basketball teams flourished.
The Guard girls had a talented team, as it landed two players on the All-CIF Division III-A first list. Juniors Rishonda Napier and Jasmine Smith were the latest in a string of Guards who have won the award the past few seasons.
Earning All-CIF accolades is nothing new for Napier (13.7 points last season) and Smith (12 points). As a freshman, Napier was a first-team selection and Smith earned second-team honors during the 2009-10 campaign as a sophomore.
The two were also pivotal members of a Bell-Jeff team that captured CIF Southern Section Division VA and state Division V championships in 2009.
This past season, the Guards (23-8) won a league title and advanced to the Division III-A semifinals, losing to Orange Lutheran, 43-40. The team also made it to the second round of the state playoffs.
The spring season saw the Bell-Jeff softball team make history.
The Guards posted an undefeated record in the Santa Fe League to claim their second straight championship.
It was indeed a breakthrough campaign under Coach John Castaneda. The Guards won their second consecutive Santa Cruz League title and enjoyed a historic march in the Division VII playoffs, advancing to their first-ever CIF championship game.
Unfortunately, the Guards (22-6) fell short of the title, losing, 7-6, against Pomona Catholic at Deanna Manning Stadium in Irvine.
Since his arrival two seasons ago, Castaneda and his staff have been able to transform the Bell-Jeff into a winner in very little time. The coach took over a program that hadn't won a league crown in more than a decade and a half and hadn't got past the second round of the playoffs.
The team was led by freshman outfielder Jaylen Watson, sophomore infielder Monique Landini and senior infielder Maddy Gionoli, who all earned first-team all-league honors.
Gionoli hit .523 with 22 runs batted in, 37 hits, six doubles and four home runs, Watson batted .503 with 42 RBI, 35 hits, six doubles, seven triples and 16 home runs and Landini hit .475 with 28 RBI, 27 hits, five home runs, three triples.
Teammate Amanda Maalouf, a freshman pitcher, was the Santa Cruz Pitcher of the Year after posting a 15-1 record.
In baseball, senior Philip Diaz-McTague helped lead the Guards (11-9) to a second-place finish in the
Santa Fe League and a berth in the playoffs. Bell-Jeff was the only city team to make the postseason.
Diaz-McTague played wherever the Guards needed him, seeing time at pitcher and in the infield.
He finished the season hitting .492 (30 for 61) with 27 runs scored, 15 RBI, one home run and four stolen bases (on five attempts). His six doubles, three triples, on-base (.549) and slugging percentages (.738) were all team highs for the Guards.
He was also one of Bell-Jeff's go-to pitchers, even though he had limited experience on the mound coming into the season. He tossed the second-most innings for the Guards (28 1/3).
For his efforts, Diaz-McTague was voted the Santa Fe League Player of the Year. It was the sixth time a Bell-Jeff player captured the award during Coach Hector Perez's 11-year tenure that ended last season. He was also an All-CIF first-team selection for the second time in his career.