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Column: QB duels, shooting stars and spring sensations highlighted prep sports

Westchester basketball players celebrate winning the City Section Open Division championship after upsetting No. 1-seeded Fairfax.
(Nick Koza / For The Times)

Southern Californians have made it through earthquakes, mudslides, wildfires, floods, smog alerts, heat alerts and Sigalerts. Now we’re enduring our first pandemic in 100 years. Bring it on. The people born and raised here always know there’s a chance for hard times, but nobody is deterred.

There’s sadness that the 2019-20 high school sports season came to an official end last week, but in the tradition of California Strong, let’s celebrate those who made the most of an abbreviated school year.

In the fall, the Southland was treated to the best quarterback duo since the days when John Elway and Tom Ramsey went at it 40 years ago while playing for neighborhood rivals Granada Hills and Kennedy. Bryce Young of Santa Ana Mater Dei and DJ Uiagalelei of Bellflower St. John Bosco were gunslingers in the mode of the Wild West. Their rivalry ended with Uiagalelei rallying St. John Bosco from a 23-point deficit to defeat Mater Dei 39-34 in the Southern Section Division 1 final.

The Corona del Mar trio of Ethan Garbers, John Humphreys and Mark Redman proved that going to your neighborhood school can still lead to success and happiness. They helped the Sea Kings go 16-0, with each earning a college scholarship. They’ll be hometown heroes for years to come.

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Redondo Union showed what talent and chemistry means on the volleyball court, winning the Southern Section Division 1 girls’ championship behind junior Kami Miner, whose father, Harold, was once the NBA dunk champion.

Eagle Rock stunned 30-time City Section champion Palisades to win the Open Division girls’ volleyball title, bringing tears to the eyes of coach Tim Bergeron, who had been trying for 12 years to have his program reach the top.

In cross-country, no runner in the nation was better than Nico Young of Newbury Park. Anytime he wanted to set a record, he did. He ran the fastest three-mile high school race while winning section, state and national titles. Gatorade honored him as the national runner of the year.

In basketball, the individual talent was off the charts. It was so good that NBA players were showing up to watch high school games. Chatsworth Sierra Canyon had McDonald’s All-Americans Brandon Boston and Ziaire Williams. Seven-footer Evan Mobley stood tall for Temecula Rancho Christian. Joshua Christopher was entertaining for Lakewood Mayfair.

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There were so many outstanding sophomores that people couldn’t help but predict greatness for the likes of Amari Bailey, Skyy Clark, Dior Johnson, Dylan Andrews, Kijani Wright and Tajavis Miller.

The girls’ season brought forth a 14-year-old freshman phenom, Juju Watkins of Los Angeles Windward. She averaged 21 points playing against the best teams. There was junior Kiki Iriafen of Studio City Harvard-Westlake, who averaged 23.3 points and 15 rebounds. Santa Ana Mater Dei won the Southern Section Open Division girls’ title with largely talented underclassmen.

The baseball season lasted less than a month, but No. 1 Orange Lutheran won its first eight games and a crowd of more than 1,500 filled the Great Park in Irvine to see the pitching matchup of Max Rajcic vs. Jared Jones of La Mirada. It was No. 1 vs. No. 2 and Orange Lutheran won 2-0. Rajcic gave up one hit in a complete game.

Three-time defending City champion Lake Balboa Birmingham started the season with a loss to Burbank Burroughs. Just when everyone thought there might be a new champion, Birmingham handed San Juan Capistrano JSerra its first defeat 2-1. Albert Garcia was the leading candidate for comeback player of the year, returning to the form of his sophomore season on the mound.

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In softball, Los Alamitos won its first 10 games and appeared ready to challenge 11-1 Norco for Southern Section supremacy.

Lacrosse finally got approved to be an official Southern Section sport. Then the coronavirus struck. End of season.

It’s been weird, strange, frustrating. We’re stuck at home with social distancing and self-isolation using the computer and smartphone to stay in touch while waiting for the all-clear sign to resume sports. Be patient. Be California Strong.


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