Prep Rally: The biggest Final Four of the year is here

Andre Nickerson (left) and Ty Law celebrate during Gardena Serra's 38-28 win over Los Alamitos.
(Craig Weston)
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Hi, and welcome to another edition of Prep Rally. My name is Eric Sondheimer. It’s Final Four week in the high school football playoffs. There are some great matchups that have been anticipated for weeks.

It’s showdown time

Centennial running back Cornell Hatcher, Jr., right, celebrates with Wade Helton
Centennial running back Cornell Hatcher, Jr., right, celebrates with Wade Helton following a fourth quarter touchdown during the season opener against Mater Dei.
(Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

Ever since August, the top four teams in Southern Section football have remained the same and now it’s time to see if anyone is going to deter the expected final game between St. John Bosco and Mater Dei. The two contenders are Corona Centennial and Sierra Canyon. Centennial plays at St. John Bosco on Friday in a Division 1 semifinal and Sierra Canyon takes on Mater Dei at Santa Ana Stadium in the other semifinal. The winners advance to the final on the day after Thanksgiving at the Coliseum.


Centennial’s offense has been improving. Quarterback Husan Longstreet and running back Cornell Hatcher are standous. But the defense will need to improve against a balanced St. John Bosco attack. Mater Dei seems to have regained its focus after a 38-0 opening playoff win over JSerra. Sierra Canyon’s defense is very good. The Monarchs will need to grind out a victory.

In Division 2, Gardena Serra is reaching peak form and gets the nod in a semifinal game against Servite. Murrieta Valley and Mission Viejo face off in what should be an exciting offensive game. In Division 3, St. Bonaventure plays at San Juan Hiils and Chaminade is at Warren. Both are tossups.

Newbury Park received 14 receptions, two interceptions and four touchdowns from Shane Rosenthal to defeat Foothill and set up a match against rival Thousand Oaks in the Division 5 semifinals. Newbury Park coach Joe Smigiel said, “It’s a dream and I’m not ready to wake up.”

In the City Section, Birmingham continues to be a strong favorite to win the Open Division and will host Carson. The Colts’ speed could be the one ingredient to give the Patriots a challenge. The other semifinal has Garfield hosting Gardena in what figures to be a low-scoring game on a muddy field. The winners will play at Valley College in the championship game.

Here’s the complete schedule for this week.


Football rewind

Freshman Duvay Williams of Gardena Serra makes a spectacular catch in the fourth quarter
Freshman Duvay Williams of Gardena Serra makes a spectacular catch in the fourth quarter at the one against Los Alamitos’ Taedan Rogers.
(Craig Weston)

Gardena Serra running back Cincere Rhaney put on a show in his team’s 38-28 win over Los Alamitos with 203 yards rushing. Here’s the report.

Sierra Canyon’s first appearance playing in the Division 1 playoffs was a success. Here’s the report.

Simi Valley coach Jim Benkert became the 14th head coach in California history to reach 300 coaching victories with a playoff victory over Crean Lutheran.


Six No. 1 seeds were beaten last week in the quarterfinals, almost half of the 14 divisions. It shows that being No. 1 seed is meaningless in a format where computer rankings are used to create brackets based on competitive equity.

In the City Section, Garfield defeated San Pedro behind a 233-yards rushing performance from Damian Cornejo. Here’s the report.

Gardena was able to get past Palisades. Here’s the report.

Here’s the quarterfinal scores.

Here’s the top performers from the quarterfinals.

Peyton Waters legacy

Peyton Waters, the reigning City Section player of the year, will try to leave Birmingham as a three-time City champion.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Two students at Birmingham High were trying to set up a canopy to give the flag football team relief from the afternoon heat. That’s when Peyton Waters, the reigning City Section football player of the year wearing his Washington Huskies shirt, stepped forward to lend a hand.

There are simple gestures, such as picking up a piece of trash in a locker room or a star player carrying water bottles without being asked, that offer a glimpse into a teenager’s character. Waters is just weeks away from leaving high school to start college classes in Seattle, and his parents, Paige and Jeff Waters, should be proud of how well prepared he is as his journey to adulthood takes another big leap.

Yes, he can do laundry. Yes, he can cook a little. What about those daily admonitions from Mom?

“Honestly, my mom is good at reminding me things to do; and being on my own, it’s not going to be like that,” Waters said. “I’ll have to set reminders.”

The 21st century has seen the rise of Birmingham football in the City Section, with the Patriots having won seven City titles while producing such exceptional players as Milton Knox, Dennis Keyes, Malik Jackson, Mason White and Arlis Boardingham. None, however, won three consecutive City titles, something that Waters is trying to pull off this month before he exits stage right for college football.

“It’s win-or-go-home time, so I have to do everything,” he said.

Here’s a profile of lessons learned.



Ava Tibor of El Camino Real has returned to soccer after missing last season following surgery for a torn ACL injury.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Distinctive scars from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament are visible around Ava Tibor’s right knee. There’s one crossing the knee and another on the side. They represent the agony of a terrible setback but also the hope of a terrific comeback.

Tibor was set to become the best player in City Section girls’ soccer last season after scoring 26 goals as a sophomore for El Camino Real High. Then everything came crashing down during a November club game.

“I decelerated in one big step instead of multiple steps,” she said. “I felt the pop. I heard the pop. I didn’t know how serious it was.”

She’s back from surgery and ready to become the best player in the City. A look at her comeback and what to watch for in boys and girls soccer.


The high school basketball season moves into high gear this week.

Westchester will be the site for a series of games, including the clash between West Ranch and Corona Centennial on Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m.


Here’s a link to tournaments.

Palisades will be directed by athletic director Rocky Montz when it opens the season at Sherman Oaks Notre Dame on Monday. Its former staff is not with the program. This appears to be the fallout from having nine transfer students, several of whom were declared ineligible after a City Section investigation.

Three former girls’ basketball stars from the Southland return on Friday when Princeton plays UCLA at Pauley Pavilion. Skye Belker (Windward), Ashley Chea (Flintridge Prep) and Kaitlyn Chen (Flintridge Prep) will have a homecoming.

Harold Abend of Cal-Hi Sports has put together a Southern California top 20 for girls basketball teams.

1. Etiwanda

2. Sierra Canyon

3. Mater Dei

4. Sage Hill

5. Ontario Christian

6. Corona Santiago

7. Orange Lutheran

8. Rosary

9. Brentwood

10. Windward

11. Westchester

12. Granada Hills

13. Bishop Montgomery

14. Harvard-Westlake

15. Los Osos

16. Marlborough

17. Leuzinger

18. San Juan Hills

19. Village Christian

20. Hart

Early signing day

Corona Centennial coaches Josh Giles (left) and Shannon Sharpe with Carter Bryant and Eric Freeny,
Corona Centennial coaches Josh Giles (left) and Shannon Sharpe with Carter Bryant and Eric Freeny, who signed with Arizona and UCLA, respectively, for basketball.
(Corona Centennial)

Last week was celebration time for dozens of high school seniors signing early letters of intent for all sports but football.


One of the big surprises was Loyola volleyball star Sean Kelly. He had been committed to Princeton but ended up signing with UCLA. He’s considered the No. 1 player in the nation.

Here’s a rundown on celebrations around the Southland.

Cross country

Max Fields of Palisades is the City title favorite in cross country.
(Steve Galluzzo)

The City Section and Southern Section cross-country championships will take place Saturday.

The City Section final will be at Pierce College, where Max Fields of Palisades is the heavy favorite to win the boys’ title after running 15:28 at the prelims last week. In the girls’ race, Samantha Pacheco of Granada Hills is a sophomore who has won four invitational titles.

At the Southern Section championships at Mt. San Antonio College, keep a watch on Cathedral’s Manny Perez. He ran the fastest time at the prelims at 14:39.

Water polo

El Segundo coach Nila Ward leads a celebration into the pool at Mt. San Antonio College after a 15-7 win
El Segundo coach Nila Ward leads a celebration into the pool at Mt. San Antonio College after a 15-7 win over Anaheim Canyon in the Division 3 water polo final.
(Craig Weston)

It was a memorable moment for Southern Section championship water polo teams on Saturday at Mt. San Antonio College.

Two unbeaten teams stayed unbeaten in winning championships.

JSerra improved to 27-0 in avenging a loss to Newport Harbor in last year’s Division 1 final by beating the Sailors.

El Segundo is 32-0 after winning the Division 3 championship with a victory over Anaheim Canyon. Here’s the report.

Palisades won another City Section championship. Here’s the report.

Here’s the link to regional pairings.

Girls’ tennis

Members of Westlake's Open Division championship girls' tennis team.
(Westlake tennis)

Westlake is celebrating a Southern Section Open Division championship in girls’ tennis by the slimmest of margins. Westlake and Mater Dei finished tied 9-9 but Westlake won the championship via a tiebreaker on games won 82-80.

For coach Scott Yasgoor, senior Alison Lian won all three singles sets. Ariana Liu and Megan Sun also won two sets each. Other contributions came from the doubles teams of Alex Marco and Liv Nardiello and Michelle Qi and Sophia Tyoran.

Flag football

The first City Section championship in girls’ flag football will take place Saturday at 3 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. at Birmingham.

The semifinals in the Open Division tournament are set for Wednesday, with No. 1 San Pedro hosting Eagle Rock and Birmingham hosting San Fernando. In Division I, it’s Sylmar hosting Garfield at 6:30 p.m. and Cleveland playing at Verdugo Hills.

Here’s a look at last week’s quarterfinals.

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Notes . . .

Etiwanda girls’ basketball star Kennedy Smith has committed to USC. . . .

Legacy High football coach Steve Medina has died. He was 48. He had been battling cancer. He was head coach for three years. He graduated from South Gate, played at Santa Monica College and once served as an assistant at South East under Derwin Henderson. . . .

Former UC Irvine coach Marc Hunt is the new girls’ water polo coach at Corona del Mar. . . .

Junior swimmer Teagan O’Dell of Santa Margarita has committed to Cal. . . .

Dilan Clark has resigned as football coach at Pasadena. . . .

Adam Coleman has resigned as football coach at Burbank. . . .

Mario Robinson has resigned as football coach at Carpinteria. . . .

Former Newbury Park and MLB player Robert Fick is the new baseball coach at Bishop Diego. . . .

Chargers general manager Tom Telesco, who has a son playing football at Corona del Mar, will be the featured speaker at the Southern Section championship luncheon on Nov. 20 in Long Beach. . . .

Huntington Beach offensive lineman Justin Tauanuu has changed his commitment from Stanford to USC. . . .

Outfielder Brendan McClure of El Camino Real has committed to Sonoma State. . . .

Junior Josiah Hartshorn of. Orange Lutheran has committed to Texas A&M for baseball. . . .

The CIF state championships in girls’ volleyball will be played this weekend in Orange County. Here’s the link to schedule. The Open Division final is at Rancho Santiago College with the regional finals on Tuesday. . . .

Junior pitcher Max Schneider from Vasquez has committed to Loyola Marymount.

From the archives: Cody Fajardo

Former Servite quarterback Cody Fajardo is scheduled to start for the Montreal Alouettes in the Canadian Football League’s Grey Cup on Sunday.

Fajardo has been playing in the CFL for seven years. At Servite, he helped the Friars win the Southern Section Division 1 championship in 2009. He went on the play for Nevada.

Here’s a story from 2009 about Fajardo’s clutch play.


From the Washington Post, a story on how girls are finding football physical and fun.


From the Daily Bruin, a story on how the transfer portal is changing college soccer.

From the Washington Post, a story on a high school football coach who also runs a daycare business.

Tweets you might have missed


Until next time...

Have a question, comment or something you’d like to see in a future Prep Rally newsletter? Email me at, and follow me on Twitter at @latsondheimer.

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