Basketball took center stage — or court — in La Cañada Flintridge this year. Flintridge Prep and La Cañada High's gyms always seemed to be filled to capacity when the Rebels and Spartans tipped off for postseason action.
Depending on the game, the Prep or Spartan faithful could be heard chanting the names of their star athletes. Both teams ended the season with a championship, La Cañada winning a CIF Southern Section Division III-AA title and Flintridge Prep a Division V-AA crown.
The two squads found success in different ways. Prep boasted the biggest and most dominant threat in Division V-AA, while La Cañada's unlikely championship cast consisted of a group of gifted athletes who pulled out several dramatic, underdog victories.
Of course, there were plenty of other local teams and individuals that experienced success this year, from James Knowles leading an incredible run through CIF for St. Francis track and field to the Golden Knights soccer squad, Prep's volleyball team and La Cañada's golf and soccer team.
Each team had at least one athlete to turn to when the pressure was turned up and their performances in those situations and throughout the entire year led to plenty of individual honors.
Here are the Valley Sun top-10 male high school athletes of the year:
1 — Kenyatta Smith, Flintridge Prep basketball and volleyball, senior
Smith was the most feared athlete in the area this year. The 6-foot-8 senior was nearly always the tallest player in the gym and he dominated on both the Rebels' basketball and volleyball squads from the center and middle blocker positions.
Smith's presence on the basketball court led Flintridge Prep to its first CIF Southern Section Division V-AA championship. He averaged 19.6 points, 14.8 rebounds and 4.8 blocks per game this season and was named the All-CIF V-AA Division Player of the Year, the John R. Wooden High School Player of the Year for CIF Southern Section Division V and the All-Area Boys' Basketball Player of the Year.
"I've had guys who could score in the past, but his all-around game, from scoring to rebounding to blocking shots, was incredible," Flintridge Prep Coach Garrett Ohara said. "He alters shots and he's been a force on both ends of the floor."
When it came to volleyball, Smith earned his first All-CIF Southern Section Division V honor as a senior.
"It's no surprise that he was one of the top players in our division," said Jared Norsworthy, Smith's volleyball and basketball teammate.
Smith led the Rebels to third place in the Prep League and the CIF Southern Section Division V quarterfinals. Flintridge Prep lost in the quarters when an injury kept Smith out of the game.
"With him in there, it changes things," said Flintridge Prep volleyball Coach Sean Beattie after the quarterfinals loss. "I can't say the match would have been any different, but he brings a presence to our lineup on offense and defense."
The Harvard-bound Smith had 198 kills and 73 blocks, which were both team highs, in his senior season. There's no doubt both squads will miss Smith's presence next year.
2 — Matt Faber, La Cañada basketball, volleyball and football, senior
It didn't matter if Faber was playing his favorite sport of basketball or trying his hand at volleyball for the first time. Either way, he was a force to be reckoned with.
His ability to outrebound nearly any other big man, step back and hit a three pointer or pick up some easy points in the paint helped La Cañada's basketball team cruise through the Rio Hondo League and battle its way to the program's first CIF Southern Section championship since 1992.
The All-CIF Southern Section Division III-AA co-Player of the Year and first-team All-Rio Hondo League selection averaged 9.1 points and 9.1 rebounds a game this year. Faber stepped up his game in the playoffs, averaging 13.2 points and 9.1 rebounds in the postseason. His 331 rebounds this season set a single-season school record.
"I think what impressed me the most was the way he rebounded," La Cañada basketball Coach Tom Hofman said. "We knew he was a good rebounder, but we didn't know he'd be that good."
When Faber joined the volleyball team, his primary concern was having fun. While doing so, he proved to be the Spartans' most dominant force even though he'd never played the game before. He finished the season with a team-high 148 kills and a second-best 29 blocks as a middle blocker.
"With Matt's athletic ability, he was a natural," Spartans volleyball Coach David Woo said. "If he would have played all four years, I think he could play in college if he wanted to."
3 — James Knowles, St. Francis track and field, junior
Knowles won Mission League championships in the 110- and 300-meter hurdles on his way to advancing to the CIF Southern Section Masters Meet, where he was the only area athlete to qualify for that meet. It was the first time that a St. Francis athlete qualified for the meet since Andrew Steben, a former two-time All-Area Boys' Track and Field Athlete of the Year, took part in the pole vault in 2006.
"My goal coming in was to have a great season and I had a better understanding of the things I could do," Knowles said. "I had started earlier with my training because I wanted to have more endurance for this season.
"I also had some goals, like winning league and going far in CIF. I'm very proud of myself. It's one of the best years I've ever had in track and I'm looking to use it to help me for next year."
Knowles did not disappoint, setting a school record in the 110 hurdles and he was named the 2011 Boys' Track and Field Athlete of the Year.
4 — Jay Lim, La Cañada golf, senior
Lim's swing may be unconventional, but it took him all the way to the CIF Southern Section California Regional final and he came one stroke away from reaching the CIF State Championships.
"It's still a tremendous accomplishment getting there [to the Southern California Regional]," La Cañada Coach Richard Tetu said. "The banquet room [there] was filled with the top 80 or 100 golfers in Southern California."
The Rio Hondo League champion led the Spartans to their seventh straight league championship and an undefeated 19-0 (8-0 in league) regular season. Lim did so by posting a 70 scoring average, a team low, and he's headed to play for the University of California San Diego.
Lim's senior season earned him the title of All-Area Boys' Golfer of the Year.
5 — Cameron Meeker, La Cañada soccer and track and field, senior
La Cañada's soccer team had plenty of talent and goal scorers this year, with three players scoring more than 20 goals this year. There was no Spartan stronger or more dominant than Meeker, though.
Meeker scored a team-high 24 goals and added 19 assists this season, even after missing the first four games of the season.
"He's a big, strong boy who understands the game and can bring the other kids into the play," La Cañada Coach Barry Ritson said. "He was kind of the leader in the final third. He has outstanding goal-scoring ability and was really crucial to the way we played this year."
Meeker, who is headed to play for Sacramento State, was named to the ESPN Rise All-State list and the CIF Southern Section Division V first team, as the Spartans went 23-1-3 overall, 10-0 in Rio Hondo League play, and reached the CIF Southern Section Division V quarterfinals.
6 — Mike McGlashan, La Cañada basketball, senior
Whenever the Spartans needed a bucket, whether it was an exhibition, league or postseason game, McGlashan was there to answer the call. In return, he was named the Rio Hondo League's Most Valuable Player and the CIF Southern Section Division III-AA co-Player of the Year.
McGlashan's team-high averages of 17.1 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game also make him one of the best Spartan guards ever.
"No question, he is one of the top guards of all time in La Cañada history," Hofman said. "This year, he really emerged and played as well as anybody in school history."
There's no doubt the Spartans had plenty of heroes, talent and essential role players this season, but it's likely they wouldn't have won the CIF Southern Section Division III-AA championship and reached the CIF State Division III Southern California regional finals without McGlashan's ability to score one-on-one with anyone.
7 — Mark Verso, St. Francis soccer, sophomore
Coming off a stellar freshman season, the sophomore forward refused to rest on his laurels. He hit the weight room intent on improving his conditioning and the result was a 22-goal, six-assist season (50 points) for the Mission League's Offensive Player of the Year.
Verso, who shared All-Area and ESPN Rise All-State nods with his older brother Eric, was named to the All-CIF Southern Section Division I first team after helping St. Francis finish second in league with a 9-3 record.
"I wanted to help us win a league championship, but this is a great achievement and honor," Verso said. "It's a great honor to get this award because there are a lot of incredible players that come out of the division. I wanted to be an impact player and I had to do that by coming out and playing hard."
Verso helped St. Francis post a 15-10 record. The Golden Knights saw their season come to an end in the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Division I playoffs.
8 — Eric Kazangian, Flintridge Prep football, soccer and tennis, senior
Though he played three sports for the Rebels, Kazangian's biggest contributions came on the tennis court.
Along with partner Kent Byun, Kazangian helped play a pivotal role in the emergence of the tennis program, which went 29-21 over the last three seasons and won the Prep League crown in 2009 for the first time since 1939.
"They were huge," Rebels Coach Ron Catano said of the tandem. "Those two guys ... were the reason why we had a such a good record the past three years. They were all talented and experienced for tournament play and they were just really tough when they would get out there.
"They were our good core guys that just put up wins like crazy. They're just super talented and they're great athletes. Without those guys, we wouldn't have been doing so well the past few years."
Kazangian and Byun were voted the All-Area Doubles Team of the Year. Kazangian also was an All-Prep League soccer player at defender. And as a running back/linebacker, he made the All-Prep League and All-Area teams.
9 — Brett Nelson, St. Francis football, senior
Though he spent only one season as a varsity starter, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound senior helped captain a prolific Golden Knights offense.
In 11 games, he completed 168 of 292 passes and averaged 251 yards per game, tallying 2,765 at season's end. And he threw for 28 touchdowns and only eights interceptions, with 14 touchdowns and only two picks over the final seven games.
For his contributions, Nelson was a unanimous pick for the All-Area Football Player of the Year.
"I thought he had a phenomenal year," St. Francis Coach Jim Bonds said.
Indeed, Nelson was also named to the All-CIF and All-Mission League teams, as the Golden Knights rallied to make a playoff push and almost upset second-seeded Dominguez in the playoffs before falling, 28-25.
10 — Jared Norsworthy, Flintridge Prep basketball, volleyball and football, senior
Norsworthy was a solid contributor for both the basketball and volleyball Rebels teams. On the basketball court, he was an All-Prep League second-team selection and an All-CIF Division V-AA first-team pick. He averaged 12.3 points, 2.3 assists, 6.3 rebounds and 2.2 steals per game for Flintridge Prep this season.
When the volleyball season rolled around, Norsworthy emerged as a first-team All-Prep League opposite hitter. He had 106 kills, 43 blocks, seven aces and 24 digs.
Honorable mentions: Jack Depew, La Cañada water polo; Matt Cannatta, La Cañada soccer; Patrick Carroll, St. Francis football.