Prep Rally: Mason Graham is the high school football player of the year

Servite's Mason Graham during the CIF Southern Section division 1 championship last month.
Servite’s Mason Graham during the CIF Southern Section division 1 championship last month.
(Kyusung Gong / For the Times)

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Prep Rally. My name is Eric Sondheimer. It’s football awards time. The Times’ all-star team has been released, and the player of the year is a lineman. Yes, Servite’s Mason Graham made that big of an impact to earn the award. The last lineman to be selected player of the year was Wyatt Davis of St. John Bosco in 2016.

Michigan Man

Servite's Michigan-bound Mason Graham is The Times' player of the year.
(Kyusung Gong/Kyusung Gong)

There was one character trait almost everyone used to describe two-way line starter Mason Graham of Anaheim Servite this season: Relentless.

Whether he was chasing down quarterbacks as a defensive lineman (he had 14 sacks) or protecting his own quarterback as a starting offensive tackle, Graham somehow found a way to have the stamina and fortitude to never take plays off. Maybe it was from his own conditioning. Maybe it was from being a heavyweight wrestler. Maybe it was from a desire to prove he could play with the best.

“The guy made huge plays in every game,” coach Troy Thomas said. “He’s the best lineman I’ve ever coached and might be the best player. We’ll see how it ends up. He’s special.”


Graham is The Times’ player of the year. Headed to Michigan, he leads The Times’ All-Star team.

Here’s a rundown on the impact Graham made this season.

Here’s the link to The Times’ All-Star team.

Here’s The Times’ back of the year, Arlis Boardingham of Birmingham.

Here’s The Times’ lineman of the year, Earnest Greene III of St. John Bosco.

Here’s The Times’ coach of the year, Jeff Kearin of Taft.

Here’s the final top 25 rankings.

Boys’ basketball

Damien coach Mike LeDuc is approaching 1,000 career coaching victories.
(Nick Koza)

Mike LeDuc had great teams at Glendora, with the likes of Tracy Murray and Casey Jacobsen. Since leaving to become the basketball coach for a second time at Damien, the winning has continued. The Spartans are 12-0 this season, and he hasn’t been back to Glendora in seven years, so this week’s appearance there Wednesday night could be historic.

LeDuc’s teams have won 998 games, according to Damien plays Temecula Valley on Tuesday night, followed by a last-minute add to the schedule, Glendora, on Wednesday night. A win at Glendora would be 1,000 victories for LeDuc, who’s No. 2 all-time behind Gary McKnight of Santa Ana Mater Dei.

King/Drew and Crenshaw appear to be the teams to beat in the Coliseum League. King/Drew’s Kalib LaCount, a returning All-City point guard, had 42 points and nine assists in a 97-33 win over View Park Prep. Crenshaw routed Dorsey.


Cooper Lucas of Newbury Park set a school record by scoring 51 points in a 75-71 overtime win over Pasadena Poly. He made 10 threes. He’s only a junior.

Top 25 rankings

Sierra Canyon remains No. 1 in this week’s top 25 basketball rankings.

A look at the top 25 high school boys’ basketball teams in the Southland:

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

1. SIERRA CANYON (10-1); Bronny James leads opening win in Hawaii (1)

2. CORONA CENTENNIAL (8-1); Getting ready for Classic at Damien (2)

3. DAMIEN (12-0); Coach Mike LeDuc goes for win No. 1,000 (3)

4. HARVARD-WESTLAKE (12-1); Brady Dunlap is greatly improved (4)

5. ROLLING HILLS PREP (10-0); Still need to face top teams (6)

Here’s the link to the remaining teams

Girls’ basketball

Windward coach Vanessa Nygaard has her girls' basketball team playing well.
(Nick Koza)

One thing can be counted on every season in high school girls’ basketball. Beware of teams coached by Vanessa Nygaard at Windward and Kevin Kiernan at Santa Ana Mater Dei.

Mater Dei won the Southern Section Open Division championship but lost its No. 1 player, Brooke Demetre, who is now at Stanford. Windward lost its No. 1 player, Juju Watkins, who transferred to Sierra Canyon. When the season began, those two schools were largely forgotten.

Except it’s December, and look who’s doing well. Mater Dei is 6-0, knocked off Corona Centennial in the Troy tournament and is coming after No. 1 Etiwanda. Caia Elisaldez, a junior point guard, has been igniting the Monarchs. Windward is 9-2 and flourishing behind standout junior guard Skye Belker, who had 24 points Tuesday night in a 60-54 win over Chaminade.

Here’s a look at other teams and players off to fast starts.

Most of the top teams are in Arizona this week for the Nike Invitational.

Gabriela Jaquez is star

Gabriela Jaquez, a senior, forward on the Camarillo High School girls' basketball team.
(Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)

The superlatives swirl around Gabriela Jaquez, clinging to her like the 4 on the back of her Camarillo jersey.

Gritty. Tough. Ferocious. Jaquez averages 31 points a game, and yet when praised, her scoring prowess seems to take a backseat to her sheer intangibles.

The senior UCLA commit puts gusts of wind between herself and the rest of her teammates when running full-court sprints. If she loses a single shooting drill in practice, nobody’s beating her the next time it’s played. In a press drill, as Camarillo girls’ basketball coach Mike Prewitt barks at his players to not let Juarez touch the ball, she evades a triple-team trap to snatch a pass and dribble away.

“She plays with a fire in her belly,” Prewitt said.

Last season, Jaquez dropped 52 points in a playoff game, the second-most ever in Ventura County girls’ basketball history. This season, she’s spearheaded Camarillo to an 11-0 record. Next season, she’ll look to carve out playing time amongst a talented UCLA freshman class.

In brief moments of quiet when she’s not powering through defenders, Jaquez absentmindedly runs her fingers over a silver crucifix looped around her neck.

Her parents got the necklace for her when she was just a baby. She wears it because it’s cute, Jaquez says. But it’s also a reminder of where her tenacity came from – of the family she carries as close to her heart as the cross.

Here’s a profile on a player who’s wanted to become a Bruin for years and is the sister of UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez.


Early football signing day

Servite quarterback Noah Fifita signed with Arizona.
(Devin Ugland / For The Times)

The Southland is sending top high school football prospects to programs across the country as another busy national signing day passed Wednesday, with dozens of local players signing national letters of intent.

While USC secured the top local signees in Mater Dei running back Raleek Brown and Mater Dei defensive back Domani Jackson, Arizona brought in one of the largest Southland hauls by signing 10 local prospects. Servite quarterback Noah Fifita headlined the group after committing to the Wildcats in April and worked his recruiting skills by luring teammates Jacob Manu, a linebacker, and tight end Keyan Burnett to Tucson.

Here’s the link to other signees.

Historic foursome to Arizona

Servite receiver Tetairoa McMillan signed with Arizona.
(Dylan Stewart 1550)

Arizona has pulled off the greatest one-team talent steal of Southern California football players since Pete Carroll and USC did the trick in taking away the Long Beach Poly foursome of Darnell Bing, Hershel Dennis, Winston Justice and Manuel Wright after the 2001 season.

Arizona was able to sign four Servite seniors after wide receiver Tetairoa McMillan, a longtime Oregon commit, announced he had signed with the Wildcats. He joins quarterback Noah Fifita, tight end Keyan Burnett and linebacker Jacob Manu in becoming the Servite of the desert.

Here’s the report.

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Girls’ water polo

It was the battle of two undefeated teams when Laguna Beach took on Mater Dei last week. No. 1 Laguna Beach held on for the victory 7-6.

Charlotte Riches had two early goals for Laguna Beach, but Mater Dei rallied to tie the match 5-5 behind Grace Klingler. That’s when Lela McCarroll stepped forward to deliver two fourth-quarter goals for the victory. Laguna Beach has won 37 consecutive games.

Here’s a report from the Daily Pilot.


Down goes No. 1. It was the week No. 1 Servite lost its first boys’ soccer match and No. 1 Harvard-Westlake lost in girls’ soccer.


Servite was beaten by Huntington Beach 2-0.

Reid Fisher and Kalani Delarole scored goals for the Oilers, who are 6-1-1.

Another upset in boys’ soccer came when L.A. Cathedral was routed by JSerra 5-0.

Moorpark is starting to generate a positive buzz with an 8-0 record. Justin Conyers is emerging as one of the best players in the Southland.

Hamilton is 6-2. Omar Garcia has nine goals and seven assists.

In girls’ soccer, Harvard-Westlake was looking as strong as ever despite the unavailability of the Thompson sisters. Dani Quintero, a cross-country and track standout, scored three goals in a 4-1 win over Downey.

But then the Wolverines were beaten by Villa Park 2-1 in a rematch of last year’s Division 1 final.

In the Best of the West tournament championship, Temecula Valley won the title with a 2-1 victory over Los Alamitos.

Notes . . .

Sophomore pitcher Vinny Hudson from Ayala has committed to Arizona. . . .

Junior soccer player Jack Flanagan from Palos Verdes has committed to Notre Dame. . . .

Long-time Sherman Oaks Notre Dame girls’ golf coach Ann McClung has announced her retirement after 37 years of coaching, the last 15 years coaching golf. The golf team won three Southern Section championships . . .

Olympian Michael Norman, the former Vista Murrieta standout, has joined USC’s track and field program as a volunteer assistant. . . .

Danilo Robinson has resigned as football coach at South Hills. . . .

Lance Mitchell is the new football coach at Muir. He played at Muir and Oregon State. . . .

Bob Stangel is the new football coach at Redlands. He was offensive coordinator.

From the archives: Robert Woods

Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Robert Woods (17).
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Former Gardena Serra wide receiver Robert Woods is recovering from knee surgery with the Rams, but he continues to support the Cavaliers. He bought each Serra player Beats headphones with their numbers engraved and had them presented to each player before they boarded the bus to their state championship Division 1-A game.

It was just another example of Woods’ character and appreciation for what Serra did to prepare him to play for USC and the NFL.

I’ll never forget my 2008 column on Woods, where I first learned about his inspiration in life, his sister, Olivia, who died that year of cancer at age 17. Here’s the link.

Woods was such a prolific athlete in high school as a football and track performer. He led Serra to a 2009 state football championship, then starred at USC and has become one of the Rams’ most consistent offensive players.


From the Washington Post, a story on how cross-country traveling has returned for high school basketball teams.

From the Dallas Morning News, 10 players to watch at the Texas high school football championships.


From the Seattle Times on how a high school wrestling tournament might have resulted in dozens of COVID-19 cases.

From the New York Times the Bishop Sycamore story does not have a happy ending.

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Until next time...

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