Top 10 sports stories

As is often the case in sports, the Newport-Mesa landscape in 2011 offered championship celebrations and near-misses by handfuls of local teams.

Similarly diverse among the top 10 sports stories of the year, as selected by the Daily Pilot sports staff, was the opportunity to ponder both what was and what might have been.

Finally, the achievement of myriad milestones should forever make 2011 a year that will linger for a long time to come.

Upon reflection, here's a closer look:


1 – Corona del Mar High football: The Sea Kings won the CIF Southern Section Southern Division championship and finished 12-2.

First-year coach Scott Meyer guided the team, which had been to the section semifinals two of the previous three years, to the program's third CIF title, culminating in a 14-13 win over Pacific Coast League rival Beckman at Orange Coast College. The title-game triumph, secured when the Sea Kings stuffed a two-point-conversion-run attempt with seven seconds remaining, avenged a 42-37 loss to the Patriots in a regular-season-ending showdown for the league title.

CdM was led offensively by senior quarterback Brent Lawson (2,519 passing yards and 27 touchdown passes), senior tailback Erik Fisher (1,697 rushing yards and 18 TDs) and senior receiver Josh Giger (946 receiving yards and 10 TDs). Lawson, the PCL Offensive Player of the Year, set school records for single-season passing yards, TD passes and completions (153).

Defensively, the Sea Kings relied most heavily on the senior linebacking quartet of Aaron White (17 sacks among his 98 tackles), Frasier Anderson (a team-best 100 tackles), Grant Garrett and David Moore.

The 12 wins matched a school single-season record initially achieved by the 1989 CIF champions (12-0-2) and the 2011 squad's 476 points were tops in school single-season annals.


2 – Corona del Mar High boys' volleyball: Coach Steve Conti's Sea Kings claimed the ESPN-RISE mythical national championship after winning CIF Southern Section Division II and Southern California Regional Division II crowns to finish 32-4.

Senior Spencer Haly, a 6-foot-7 middle blocker bound for Stanford, was the Southern Section Division II Player of the Year and he shared MVP honors in the Pacific Coast League.

Senior outside hitter Brennan Anderson (bound for Ohio State) and junior outside hitter Parker Brown were both All-CIF honorees and joined Haly, senior opposite Evan Dean (Pepperdine) and senior setter Nick Curci on the Newport-Mesa Dream Team.


3 – UC Irvine baseball: The Anteaters defeated UCLA to win the Los Angeles Regional and were one strike away from advancing to the College World Series, before No. 1 national seed Virginia rallied to win, 3-2, in the deciding game of the best-of-three Super Regional in Charlottesville.

Junior right-hander Matt Summers earned All-American honors and was the Anteaters' fourth straight Big West Conference Pitcher of the Year, before signing with the Minnesota Twins as a fourth-round draft pick.

Senior third baseman and closer Brian Hernandez, a two-time first-team all-conference choice, was the Big West Defensive Player of the Year who was also an offensive catalyst and finished with 12 saves and three pitching wins.

Senior left fielder Drew Hillman, a former two-time All-American at Orange Coast College, signed with the Phillies, who drafted him in the 18th round, while senior outfielder Sean Madigan, junior shortstop D.J. Crumlich and junior catcher Ronnie Shaeffer (MVP of the regional) were also among the keys for Coach Mike Gillespie, who earned his 900th Division I victory in 2011.

UCI played in its third super regional in five seasons, finished 43-18, and, Gillespie said, came as close to reaching its potential as any team he had ever coached.


4 – Football milestones: It was a record-setting season for Newport-Mesa teams and individuals in 2011.

Running backs Robert Murtha (2,216 rushing yards for Estancia High), Mario Smith (30 total touchdowns for Costa Mesa), Erik Fisher (1,697 rushing yards for Corona del Mar) and Domenic Betts (1,772 rushing yards for Orange Coast College), all set school single-season records.

Smith amassed 2,155 rushing yards to earn Orange Coast League MVP honors and lead the Mustangs to an 8-3 season that included a regular-season-ending league title showdown with crosstown rival Estancia that was dubbed the biggest Battle for the Bell ever. Smith also scored a school-record seven touchdowns in one game.

Estancia, with a 10-3 campaign that included its second straight unbeaten league title, won its first CIF Southern Section playoff game since 1980 and advanced to the Southern Division semifinals for the first time in school history.

CdM quarterback Brent Lawson (see No. 1 above) also shattered several school single-season records.

In addition, CdM (476 points), Costa Mesa (459) and Estancia (410) all established school single-season scoring records.

In the collegiate arena, Newport Beach resident Matt Barkley set USC single-game records for completions (35), passing yards (468), touchdown passes (six), total offense (470 yards) and completion rate (83.3%) on his way to earning third-team All-American honors and finishing sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting.


5 – Surprise departures: Local high school and college programs were forced to deal with the loss of crucial personnel in 2011.

Buzzy Yokoyama, a first-team All-Sunset League tailback as a junior at Newport Harbor High, transferred to Mission Viejo, where he led the Diablos in rushing with 703 yards and 12 touchdowns on 100 carries.

He gained 1,250 yards on the ground with 12 TDs for the Sailors in 2010.

UC Irvine men's basketball star Eric Wise transferred to USC for his senior season, while UCI women's star Mikah Maly-Karros elected not to play her senior season in 2011-12, after being suspended from the team for the latter part of the 2010-11 season for unspecified reasons.

Newport Harbor boys' water polo coach Jason Lynch was relieved of his duties prior to the 2011 season.

Jeremy Osso was fired as football coach at Costa Mesa just before the summer.

Newport Harbor also lost one member each from its CIF Southern Section finalists in girls' volleyball and girls' tennis, while the CdM High girls' tennis program's uncharacteristically average season was due in part to the loss of a would-be returner.


6 – Toshiba Classic: Nick Price, a World Golf Hall of Famer and 18-time PGA Tour champion led wire-to-wire at the 17th edition of the Champions Tour event at Newport Beach Country Club.

Price, 54, shot a career-best 11-under-par 60 in the opening round to tie a Champions Tour record and create a five-shot lead, just enough cushion, it turned out, to hold off runner-up Mark Wiebe by one stroke.

Price's 60-67-67 total earned him the $255,000 winner's check.


7 – UCI soccer: Though there is no football at UCI, there is most certainly futbol, and both the men's and women's programs continued to distinguish themselves.

The men won the Big West Conference regular-season and tournament titles and were the No. 8 national seed entering the NCAA Tournament. They fell, 2-1, in double overtime to Saint Mary's in the second round to finish 16-6-1.

The Anteaters also claimed the women's regular-season conference crown and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament before finishing 14-4-3.

Senior forward Miguel Ibarra (nine goals and eight assists for the men) and senior defender CoCo Goodson both earned All-American recognition. Ibarra, the Big West Co-Offensive Player of the Year, was a first-team choice, while Goodson, a two-time Big West Defensive Player of the Year, was a second-team pick,

Senior goalkeeper Andrew Fontein, whose nine shutouts in 2011 gave him 29 for his career, was named All-West Region along with Ibarra. Fontein was also the Big West Goalkeeper of the Year.

Seniors Judy Christopher, Lexi Kopf (11 goals) and Sarah Devine, as well as sophomore Natalie Ledezma (12 goals and eight assists) and Big West Freshman of the Year Cami Privett were also key performers for women's coach Scott Juniper.

Seniors Christian Hernandez and Jimmy Turner, junior Everett Pitts and sophomore Marco Franco were among the standouts for men's coach George Kuntz.


8 – Girls' volleyball finalists: Sage Hill School, Newport Harbor High and Corona del Mar High all played for CIF Southern Section crowns Nov. 19 at Cypress College.

Sage defeated Academy League rival and defending Southern Section Division IV-AA champion St. Margaret's, 27-29, 25-21, 22-25, 25-18, 15-9, to earn the program's second section crown.

Senior middle blocker Zoe Kreitenberg, the Academy League Co-MVP, and freshman Halland McKenna earned All-CIF recognition for the Lightning, which lost to La Jolla Country Day in the Southern California Regional semifinals.

CdM was topped, 27-25, 21-25, 23-25, 25-18, 15-12, by Marymount of Los Angeles in the Division I-A final and the Sea Kings were subsequently eliminated in the regional semifinals by Los Alamitos to finish 32-5.

Senior middle blocker Britton Taylor and junior setter Kelsey Humphreys earned All-CIF recognition for first-year coach Marissa Booker.

Newport Harbor fell in three to Los Alamitos in the Division I-AA final and went on to lose to Marymount in the regionals.

Senior Cinnamon Sary and senior libero Tatum Norton were All-CIF picks for the Sailors and Coach Dan Glenn.


9 – Legacy honorees: Newport Harbor High football coach Jeff Brinkley and former Daily Pilot sports editor and writer Roger Carlson were both recognized for their major contributions to Newport-Mesa athletics.

Brinkley was honored for 25 seasons as Sailors head coach on Sept. 17 at the Balboa Pavilion. Nearly 250, including former players, colleagues, and supporters gathered in an event that also served as a fundraiser for the program.

Carlson was recognized on Oct. 6, his 75th birthday, when the press box at the Newport Harbor football stadium was officially named the Roger Carlson Press Box.

Carlson, who worked for 40 years at the Daily Pilot, was known for the passion and compassion with which he covered athletes and coaches in Newport-Mesa and beyond.


10 – Newport-Mesa tennis finalists: Sage Hill School earned the school's first CIF Southern Section title in a boys' team sport by defeating Valencia of Placentia, 10-8, in the Division III final on June 1 at the Claremont Club.

It was the lone tennis crown of 2011, though the girls' teams from Newport Harbor and Sage Hill advanced to their respective CIF Division finals the following fall.

The Sage boys (20-5) used a singles sweep from junior Robbe Simon and doubles sweeps from the tandems of senior captain Andrew Kurzweil and sophomore Ryan Lee, as well as senior Kevin Marshack and junior Alex Manolakas to prevail in an emotional and hard-fought final.

Newport Harbor fell to Santa Barbara, 16-2, in the Division II girls' final in November, on the same day Sage Hill was edged on games by St. Margaret's in the Division III title match.

Newport Harbor finished 20-2, while Sage ended its season with a 21-6 mark, as St. Margaret's won its fourth straight CIF crown and extended its four-year winning streak to 96 matches.


Others – Daily Pilot Cup; Newport Harbor High field hockey wins Tournament of Champions for fourth straight year; Orange Coast College women's basketball coach Mike Thornton gets 500th win at the school; Courtney Conlogue seventh overall on women's pro surfing tour; Vanguard University women's basketball coach Russ Davis earns 400th win at the school.

Twitter: @BarryFaulkner5

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