How Dave Kleckner led Etiwanda to a record-setting season

Etiwanda coach Dave Kleckner poses for a photo.
Etiwanda coach Dave Kleckner led the Eagles to their first regional title this past season.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

For more than a year, Etiwanda coach Dave Kleckner could not let go of his team’s heart-breaking loss to Chatsworth Sierra Canyon in the Southern California regional basketball final on a final shot by Ziaire Williams.

“It used to kill me,” he said. “When people brought it up, I used to feel miserable. I was not able to put it behind me until we started this season.”

Kleckner moved forward. His team began its season by beating 15-0 La Verne Damien. The Eagles won the Baseline League title, then suffered another close loss to Sierra Canyon in the Southern Section Open Division playoffs. It was regroup time. And the Eagles did it.


They got over the hump to beat Sierra Canyon 82-76 in the regional semifinals on the Trailblazers’ home court. Then they won the Open Division regional final, handing Torrey Pines its first defeat after 30 consecutive victories. The Eagles finished 14-2 during a shortened COVID-19 season.

Kleckner has been selected The Times’ coach of the year for finding a way to keep moving forward in a time of uncertainty with a mostly new team.

“Hey, we want to be in the Open Division,” he said. “That means you’re in the top eight teams in Southern California. If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. Our players play with a lot of urgency. We look forward to those challenges.”