La Cañada High quartet represents historic two-year run

LA CAÑADA — In 2006 and 2007, La Cañada High athletics created an awful lot of history in the pool and gym that are still talked about and used as comparisons for today’s Spartans teams.

A quartet of former Spartans largely responsible for creating those memories were inducted in the school’s athletic hall of fame Sunday during the La Cañada Thursday Club’s first annual “Honor the Spartan” program put on by the school’s athletic leadership council.

A trio of 2007 graduates from La Cañada — Devon Borisoff, Spencer Tompkins and Adam Malik — and 2006 alumni Jordan Thompson were all added to the list of the school’s greatest athletes.

The elite Spartans foursome had a hand in a host of Rio Hondo League championships and a number of CIF Southern Section Division championship runs, and each looked back fondly on the two-year run the Spartans put together in the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 seasons.

“I thought it was pretty cool at the time,” Borisoff said. “I don’t think La Cañada has seen any amount of success like that since 2007. It was a lot of fun.”

Thompson and Borisoff provided the La Cañada boys’ water polo program with some of its best years, as they led the Spartans to a CIF title in 2005 and earned co-Rio Hondo League MVP awards, along with teammate Gamal Rady, in the process.

“We had an incredible team that year,” said Borisoff, recalling Rady and Doug McNeese. “I think we were easily one of the top five teams in high school water polo that season. … That’s the only CIF championship I’ve ever won in water polo at La Cañada. It’s probably the most special championship I’ve ever won in my entire career, including the ones I won at USC.”

Thompson swam and played water polo all four years at La Cañada and was a three-sport athlete when he wrestled in his junior year. He was at least an All-Rio Hondo League first-team and an All-CIF selection from 2004-2006 and an All-American as a junior and senior under former La Cañada water polo coach Larry Naeve. He was also an All-Area Boys’ Water Polo Player of the Year.

“Honestly, the coolest part is I’m being inducted with Devon because we grew up together,” said Thompson, who played alongside Borisoff for about 12 years. “Without getting too heavy, coming from a separated household I spent more time with Devon Borisoff than any person on the planet over the last decade basically. It’s really neat to be doing this together.”

Borisoff earned all-league honors all four years in water polo and All-CIF and All-Area recognition from his sophomore to senior year, in which he was the league co-MVP. He also led the Spartans to a runner-up finish in CIF and earned the league’s MVP honor as a senior and the All-Area Player of the Year.

In the spring, Borisoff helped the Spartans win a pair of CIF Southern Section Division II championships in 2006 and 2007. In 2007, he posted All-American times in three swimming events.

Thompson said a recent email he received from Naeve credited him and Borisoff for a culture change in La Cañada water polo. In one of their early seasons together, the Spartans took their team picture in business suits.

“We said, ‘This is our job and our business is winning, and we’re going to go do our job and win this game right now,’” Borisoff said.

It became their motto and pre-game chant and still is for the Spartans today.

“That has lived until now, which is really neat, I never really thought about what we did on a larger scale,” Thompson said, “and it’s kind of wild to think back on it as something that had a lasting impact.”

Thompson and Borisoff played water polo together for about 12 years, including a three-year run at USC. They led USC to a pair of NCAA Division I championships, which makes them a truly historic pair of Spartans, hall of fame organizer James Harvey said.

“That water polo team was just amazing,” Harvey said of the 2005 La Cañada team. “I believe they’re the only two players from La Cañada to be on a NCAA Division I championship team. I can’t think of anyone else off the top of my head.”

While Tompkins preferred the individual sport of wrestling, he still excelled on the football field. He was an All-Rio Hondo League first-team defensive player and named the school’s defensive player of the year in football. He repeated that feat as a senior and earned All-CIF first-team honors in the process. He also won the Steve Gunderson award for inspirational play in 2007.

Tompkins made history by becoming one of three wrestlers in school history to win a CIF Northern Division individual championship in 2007 at the 160-pound weight class. He was the first Spartan in more than 20 years to do so.

He wrapped up the title with a 5-3 overtime win over top-seeded Evan Coles from Laguna Hills.

“It went to overtime and I beat him in the last 10 seconds in overtime, so that was probably the best match I ever had for sure,” said Tompkins, who went on to compete in the CIF Masters and state tournaments.

“I believe that I am one of the best, if not the best, wrestler in La Cañada history but having that experience of then losing [at Masters and state] was good, too, to get that humility in there.”

While it didn’t end with a championship, Malik led the Spartans boys’ basketball team to one of its most memorable postseason runs and is remembered as one of the greatest players that’s ever graced the La Cañada High hardwood.

It took a pair of future NBA All-Stars to end the Spartans’ incredible season, as Jrue Holiday-led Campbell Hall to defeat La Cañada in overtime in the CIF Southern Section Division III championship (61-57) in 2007.

“It would have been the greatest upset probably in CIF history and it should have happened,” Harvey said.

An Artesia team that boasted future NCAA Division I talent, including future NBA superstar James Harden, ended the Spartans’ year in the CIF Southern Section Regional State Playoffs.

Malik had 36 points in a second round win over Crossroads, 25 in quarterfinal and semifinal wins over Santa Clara and Price, respectively, and 31 in the Campbell Hall loss.

“It’s the best experience I've ever had playing with a group of players,” Malik said of his senior season. “My teammates were my brothers, my family and coach [Tom] Hoffman is just a great coach. That year was very successful for us and we looked at it as a huge accomplishment, because we weren't expected to go anywhere far.”

Malik finished his Spartans basketball career by putting his name up as the second-leading scorer in school history with 1,500 points. During his senior year, he set the single-season scoring record with 821 points. He is seventh in career rebounding. Malik received a scholarship and played basketball at UC Davis in college.

“Just all around it was just a great year for La Cañada athletics, a lot of teams reaching CIF and making a name for ourselves,” Malik said of the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 seasons. “Granted, we were already a pretty notable school, but athletically, I think we put ourselves on the map a bit more. A couple years later La Cañada basketball wins CIF, softball wins CIF and there’s a lot of recognition. I’m not saying we started it or anything, but it was just a really good year.”

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