Prep Rally: The Times’ All-Star football team


Hi, and welcome to another edition of Prep Rally. My name is Eric Sondheimer. The high school football season lasted only six weeks in the Southern Section and four in the City Section. In honor of the players’ sacrifices for an abbreviated season, The Times has come out with a spring All-Star team. I tried to choose players who made an impact regardless of how many stars next to their name. The clear best player in Southern California was sophomore tight end/defensive end Matayo Uiagalelei of St. John Bosco. He’s the player of the year. He earned it with fantastic performances.

Baby Gronk

Matayo Uiagalelei at school. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)
Bellflower, CA, Monday, April 26, 2021 - St. John Bosco high sophomore tight end Matayo Uiagalelei at school. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

To see 6-foot-5, 263-pound sophomore Matayo Uiagalelei line up as a receiver against a college-bound cornerback, then run down the field and catch the ball for a touchdown as if he were rising up to grab a rebound will be among the lasting memories of the 2021 COVID-19 spring football season in Southern California.

Uiagalelei resembled a young Rob Gronkowski, the NFL tight end who never stops amazing fans.

“Baby Gronk,” the nickname Uiagalelei earned, twice proved unstoppable with critical touchdown catches for Bellflower St. John Bosco against Anaheim Servite and Santa Ana Mater Dei. Then he returned to create more havoc playing on the defensive line.


Here’s the link to the profile of the younger brother of Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei.

Here’s the link to stories on the back of the year, lineman of the year, coach of the year and the 22-man All-Star team.

Boys’ basketball

City Section teams from the Los Angeles Unified School District finally got to practice in gyms this past week and started to play games.

I went to see Westchester open with a victory over Venice. But it’s going to be touch and go. A Saturday game was canceled against Cleveland because of testing issues. Westchester coach Ed Azzam is going with the flow. Here’s the link to a story about the Comets’ opener.

Crenshaw’s Kevin Bradley started his senior year with a 38-point performance against Gardena.

Boys’ rankings

A look at the Times’ rankings of the top boys’ basketball teams:

Rk. SCHOOL (W-L); Comment; last week’s ranking


1. SIERRA CANYON (7-0); 32 points for Amari Bailey vs. Crossroads; 1

2. ETIWANDA (6-0); Darvelle Wyatt made buzzer beater vs. Damien; 2

3. MATER DEI (18-0); Harrison Hornery came through vs. St. John Bosco; 3

4. ST. JOHN BOSCO (12-2); Braves avenged earlier loss to Santa Margarita; 5

5. CORONA CENTENNIAL (12-1); Huskies are surging; 6

6. RIBET ACADEMY (3-0); Centennial at Ribet on Monday; 9

7. SANTA MARGARITA (9-2); Tough losses to Mater Dei, Bosco; 4

8. DAMIEN (20-2); Only losses to Etiwanda; 7

9. HARVARD-WESTLAKE (12-2); Close calls in Mission League; 8

10. BIRMINGHAM (3-1); Start league play this week; 10

Click here for the rest of the top 25

Scoring 62 points

Jed Miller of Agoura came through with a 62-point performance in a win over Calabasas.

He has been known for his shooting skills, but 62 points is quite an achievement. Calabasas coach Jon Palarz told the Daily News it was the best shooting performance he has seen in 25 years of coaching.

Santa Ana Mater Dei won its big Trinity League showdown with St. John Bosco 57-54 after trailing by as many as 10 points in the second quarter. USC-bound Harrison Hornery led the Monarchs with 24 points, including six threes.

Etiwanda remained unbeaten after a buzzer-beating win over Damien.

Darvelle Wyatt made the three at the buzzer.

Paying top hoop prospects

There’s a new Overtime Elite league coming that will pay top high school talent an annual salary of $100,000 “to step out of the mainstream as pioneers on a new path to the NBA.”

Who will be the first takers?

There’s lots of risks involved. Brady McCollough offers insights with this great piece. Here’s the link.

Friday Night Live

This week’s guest was Chatsworth Sierra Canyon guard Amari Bailey.

Bailey talked about why he chose UCLA as his college choice, how he was able to improve during the COVID-19 sports shutdown and how he deals with spotlight.

Watch it here.

Girls’ basketball

Juju Watkins of Windward is the latest top girls' basketball player for the Wildcats.
(Nick Koza / For The Times)

Juju Watkins, the No. 1 girls’ basketball player in the nation from the class of 2023, has been sidelined with an injury. But she returned for Windward on Tuesday against Sierra Canyon, and what a performance she gave.

Watkins scored 44 points and pulled down 22 rebounds in a 66-61 Windward victory.

Corona Centennial is 11-0 and traveled to La Jolla to defeat Country Day 89-56. The Huskies are one of the best three-point shooting teams in the Southland.

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Woodland Hills Louisville softball standout Grace Luderer smiles during a signing day ceremony for Seattle University.
Seattle University-bound Grace Luderer has 53 strikeouts in 30 innings, an 0.48 ERA and 4-0 record for Woodland Hills Louisville this season.
(Ashley Luderer )

Grace Luderer of Woodland Hills Louisville is one tall redhead in the pitcher’s circle.

At 5 feet 10, she looks a little menacing.

“I’ve been told that,” she said. “I’ve never felt very tall unless I’m standing next to somebody who is short. I feel powerful [pitching]. Sometimes if I’m really into a game, I’ll stare at the batter’s eyes and give myself confidence. I try to talk myself up to remind myself I can do it.”

She’s also the only redhead among the 23 granddaughters of Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully. She’s had quite a career at Louisville.

Here’s the link to a profile.

On Thursday, there was a great matchup of Louisville vs. Sherman Oaks Notre Dame for first place in Mission League. Notre Dame’s Ella Parker outdueled Luderer 2-0. Parker hit her ninth home run of the season and pitched Notre Dame to victory. She’s the niece of Dodger manager Dave Roberts.


JSerra left-hander Gage Jump
JSerra left-hander Gage Jump, signing his letter of intent to UCLA with his parents watching, should be one of the best pitchers in 2021.

JSerra was everyone’s No. 1 team to start the baseball season. Then the Lions started looking like the struggling Dodgers. Well, now they’re back to looking like a No. 1 team with 12 consecutive victories. The pitching staff, as expected, has come on strong.

Last week a three-game sweep of Santa Margarita, which had won 13 consecutive games, showed how well JSerra is playing. Pitcher Eric Silva, a UCLA signee, threw a no-hitter in a 7-0 victory. In fact, JSerra started three UCLA-bound pitchers: Gage Jump, Silva and David Horn. That’s the Lions’ playoff rotation.

Hart and West Ranch finally faced off in the Foothill League. Hart won the first game 2-0 with a great closer performance from Massimo Vega, who struck out consecutive batters with the bases loaded in the seventh to save the victory. West Ranch won on Friday 6-4.

Orange Lutheran is 19-2 and showing great pitching depth.

Matt Quintanar is player to watch

Hart High catcher Matt Quintanar waits in the on-deck area before an at-bat.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Matt Quintanar of Newhall Hart High is a 17-year-old junior destined to play baseball for as long as he wants. He loves sweating, spitting, sliding and getting dirty behind home plate playing catcher.

If he isn’t calling the umpire by his first name by the game’s conclusion, it surely won’t be his fault because he’s a nonstop talker with the kind of enthusiasm and personality that’s noticed by opposing players.

When Blake Schroeder of Santa Clarita rival West Ranch walked into the batter’s box last week, he was greeted by a handshake from Quintanar. What catcher shakes hands with a rival before the biggest game of the year?

“That’s Matt,” said Schroeder, who played summer ball with Quintanar. “That’s all him. He just talks a lot. It’s his life.”

For a profile on a future college or pro player, here’s the link.

Venice neighbor troubles

Venice High’s baseball team received a new field this season as part of a campus-wide improvement construction project.

Now the Gondoliers have been told by the Los Angeles Unified School District not to use the field for games or practices after complaints by a neighbor. You’d think someone who buys a house near a high school baseball field might realize an occasional ball could come into the yard, right?

Venice has a large fence around its outfield, but left field is a little shorter under the new alignment, causing issues.

School board member Nick Melvoin has now gotten involved, which is good for the team and parents. His statement: “I share the frustrations of the Venice High community that after a multi-million dollar renovation and a year of students not being able to use the baseball field, the use of the field is in jeopardy for the remainder of the season. This is not fair to the students and as the District pursues a long-term solution, I’ve insisted that staff do everything possible in the short term. I’m hopeful this will be resolved in the coming days and I look forward to cheering on the Gondos in the coming weeks.”


Birmingham (12-0-1) and El Camino Real (11-1-1) are on a collision course to meet a third time in the City Section Division I playoffs that begin Friday. Seedings will be announced on Monday. The girls’ tournament begins on Thursday.

Their game last week ended in a 2-2 tie. it was like a playoff game, the intensity level, the quality of the play, the celebrations after goals.

David Diaz of Birmingham had a spectacular flip back pass to assist Enrique Pineda on a goal.

Pineda finished with two goals and survived relatively unscathed in a collision with El Camino Real’s goalie. Nobody tell me how much less physical soccer is than football after seeing this collision.

Southern Section playoffs begin

The Southern Section Division 1 boys and girls soccer seedings came out on Saturday, and you can say they are loaded with elite teams.

Unbeaten L.A. Cathedral is No. 1 seed in boys, with Servite, Loyola and JSerra right behind.

In girls, unbeaten Harvard-Westlake is the team to beat with opponents still trying to figure out how to stop the Thompson sisters.

Here’s the link to pairings.

There could be one big problem. Los Angeles County health officials have not aligned with state guidance and continue to ban teams from playing opponents not within a bordering county. Will L.A. County teams have to forfeit games? Here’s the link to the problem.

Los Angeles County announced on Monday they will align guidance with state, clearing the way for all sports team to play even outside an adjacent county.

Sister Act

Harvard-Westlake’s unbeaten girls’ soccer team has five sets of sisters.

Jade (Jr.) and Brooke Stanford (Sr,), Dani (Soph) and Ally Lynch (Clemson Soccer committed Sr,), Dani (Jr.) and Natalia Quintero (CIF/State level XC and track stars, Sr.), Bella and Ella Ganocy (Jr. twins committed to Princeton for Field Hockey), Giselle (Fr.) and Alyssa Thompson (Soph), both committed to Stanford.

Track finals will have four sites

The Southern Section announced that June 12 will be the day for its divisional track and field finals. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, holding at one site is not permitted. There will be four sites: Trabuco Hills (Division 1), Moorpark (Division 2), Estancia (Division 3) and Carpinteria (Division 4).

The prelims will held the week before at the same sites. Spectators will be allowed but tickets must be purchased in advance.

Here’s the link to information.

The City Section will hold its track and field finals on June 15 and 16 at Birmingham. The girls will go on June 15 and the boys on June 15. Both days will be 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Arcadia Invitational

It was a great night for track and field at Arcadia High. The atmosphere was a little different (fans were not allowed), but the Arcadia Invitational still lived up to its annual hype producing top performances.

Nothing was quite like the boys’ 3,200, where 15 runners broke nine minutes. The Newbury Park duo of Colin Sahlman and Lex Young finished one-two.

Here’s my report with highlights.

And here’s a look at the 3,200 greatness.

More football

Sophomore Dijon Stanley of Granada Hills rushed for 1,009 yards and scored 14 touchdowns.
(Courtesy of Bucky Brooks)

Let’s start a weekly look at players who made a positive impression during the spring football season.

First up is sophomore running back Dijon Stanley of Granada Hills. In four games, he rushed for 1,009 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Birmingham coach Jim Rose said he was very impressive. Twice he rushed for more than 300 yards (against Taft and El Camino Real).

Here’s the link to what he did.

Also, the Angelus League came out with its all-league team.

Rams Academic Challenge winners

Granada Hills Kennedy’s football team was the winner of the Rams’ Academic Challenge having the highest team grade-point average among nine participating Los Angeles Unified School District teams. Kennedy will receive an equipment grant of $2,500 from the Rams.

Also honored was Fairfax, which had the most improved team grade-point average.

Both teams participated in a video call presentation on Thursday.

Paul Knox retires

Paul Knox, the football coach at Washington Prep
Paul Knox, the football coach at Washington Prep, embraces his former Dorsey player, Johnathan Franklin, at an awards banquet.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

City Section Hall of Fame coach Paul Knox has announced his retirement from coaching. He was head coach at Washington Prep the last five years. Before that, he was the legendary coach at Dorsey for 32 years, winning three City titles and sending athlete after athlete to college and pro ball.

From the archives

It’s always good to find success stories out of the City Section, and two new ones are Ghalee Wadood and Courtney Morgan.

Wadood went to Dorsey in the early 1990s, then played cornerback at San Jose State. Morgan graduated from Westchester in 1999, then was an offensive lineman at Michigan.

Now both are working at the college level. Wadood is director of player development at Arizona State after being head coach at Adelanto. Morgan is director of player personnel at Michigan after previously working at Fresno State and UCLA.

“To me, I’ve always been one of those people who, when I put my mind to something, it’s over,” Morgan told the Los Angels Sentinel in 2013. I’m going to do it, no matter what it is. It’s helped me throughout my whole life. I get in a zone, and I just block everything else out and I do everything that I need to do to achieve my goals. That’s what I try to teach these kids.”

From a 2010 ESPN story, Wadood said, “”Sports changed everything. Sports is what’s real and gang banging is what’s fake. You go through everything with your team and you become family. Gang banging is just a real sad brainwash.”

Girls’ volleyball

Gatorade announced UCLA-bound Jessica Smith of Aliso Niguel High School as its 2020-21 Gatorade California Volleyball Player of the Year.

The 6-foot senior outside hitter averaged 5.7 kills and 3.7 digs per set along with a .331 hitting percentage, leading the Wolverines to a 5-0 record during a pandemic-shortened season. A returning First Team All-State honoree, she was named 2020 AAU Beach Volleyball Player of the Year after winning her third consecutive junior national title. Smith was the South Coast League MVP as a junior and led her indoor club team to a 16U national championship in 2019.

800 wins for Tom Harp

One of the most versatile, valuable coaches in City Section history has been Tom Harp, who has coached football, girls’ soccer, boys’ and girls volleyball at Granada Hills.

If you add up all his victories, it reads 800. That milestone happened with a girls’ volleyball victory last weekend. Harp won a City Section football championship when he was coaching with Darryl Stroh in 1987. Volleyball has been his specialty in recent years.


It was a matchup of No. 1 Loyola vs. No. 7 Palos Verdes last week in boys’ lacrosse. Loyola prevailed 11-8.

Aidan Lee had four goals and Trent Turner had four assists for Loyola.


Palisades’ boys’ tennis team will be heavily favored to win its 12th consecutive City Section championship this week. Coach Bud Kling has won 27 City titles since 1979.

Archer’s girls’ tennis won the Liberty League title for the third year in a row.

Four sisters from Archer will be playing in the Southern Section individual competition. Lexie Ben-Meir is going to singles competition for the fourth straight year. Sister Naya is playing No. 1 doubles.

Here’s a story from 2018 when Archer had eight sets of sisters playing.


From the Seattle Times a look at defending boys and girls state basketball champion Garfield High finally getting started in its basketball season.

From the Dallas Morning News, a story on a high school baseball player needing a kidney, and a teammate’s mom stepped in to donate.

From the San Jose Mercury News, a story on a Mountain View High pitcher who struck out 17 and threw no-hitter.

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Until next time...

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