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Prep Rally: Some fearless predictions for high school sports in 2022

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Prep Rally. My name is Eric Sondheimer. Goodbye 2021. Welcome 2022. Classes resume, which means more testing for the coronavirus amid a surge in positive cases. It could be a bumpy January for basketball teams trying to build up momentum as games are postponed or canceled. As the saying goes, stay positive, test negative. And let’s look ahead to 2022.

It’s predictions time

Brothers Jared (left) and Kyle Karros project as baseball standouts at UCLA in 2022.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Every year about this time, I offer my predictions for the coming year. Some are outrageous thoughts designed to entertain, others are serious attempts of projecting what could happen in high school sports and among graduates.

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It’s time to peer into my crystal ball to see what 2022 has in store for the Southland’s high school athletes (and a few former ones), coaches and fans.

The Manhattan Beach brother duo of Jared and Kyle Karros will be the talk of college baseball, with a healthy Jared throwing shutouts and a muscular Kyle hitting home runs for UCLA. …

Justin Campbell, a 6-foot-7 right-handed pitcher at Oklahoma State and a Simi Valley High graduate, will be so fired up after throwing a shutout he’ll go find a basketball rim and dunk a baseball to release even more energy. …

Venice football coach Angelo Gasca, after seeing defensive end Thomas Kensinger’s blond hair grow so long that he started calling him Thor, predicts, “Maybe he’ll bypass college football and go straight to action hero.”

For more predictions, you can go here.

Looking ahead

Dillon Klein of Loyola is committed to USC.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Let’s look ahead to some spring sports.

For baseball, teams generating buzz in the Southern Section are Harvard-Westlake, Orange Lutheran, Santa Margarita, JSerra and Corona. In the City Section, Granada Hills looks like the team to beat with Birmingham in close pursuit.

For softball, it’s the usual suspects: Norco, Los Alamitos, Villa Park, Corona Santiago.

In track and field, Newbury Park’s cross-country standouts will be ready to perform well in the distance races. The sprints will be outstanding. The triple jump has lots of promising athletes. The Arcadia Invitational is set for April 9. The state track and field championships resume after a two-year absence May 27-28 at Buchanan High in Clovis.

In volleyball, Chatsworth is the team to beat in the City Section. Loyola aims to win it all in the Southern Section behind USC-bound Dillon Klein, but will receive competition from Corona del Mar, Newport Harbor and Mater Dei.

In golf, there’s some terrific individual players ready to do battle, such as Eric Lee of Sunny Hills, Lincoln Melcher of Burbank Burroughs and Ivan Barahona of Crespi.

In lacrosse, beware of Jake East of Agoura and USC-bound Asjia Roberson of Redondo Union.

In boys’ basketball, Corona Centennial and Sierra Canyon are the clear favorites in the Southern Section, with Harvard-Westlake, Riverside Poly and Damien right behind. In the City Section, it’s wide open with no definite favorite. In girls’ basketball, Etiwanda is No. 1 but Sierra Canyon, Windward, Corona Centennial, Rosary and Mater Dei all have strong teams in the Southern Section. Granada Hills, Palisades and Westchester look strong in the City Section.

This week, there’s big games. On Tuesday, Etiwanda is at Damien. On Wednesday, Mater Dei is at St. John Bosco. On Friday, Sherman Oaks Notre Dame plays at Harvard-Westlake.

In girls’ basketball, no one has played better than Gabriela Jaquez of Camarillo. She has scored 30 or more points in nine consecutive games and her team starts 2022 at 17-0.

In boys’ soccer, defending Southern Section Division 1 champion Mira Costa is off to a good start but watch out for Servite. In the City Section, Birmingham and El Camino Real are set for their annual league and playoff encounters. El Camino Real beat the Patriots 2-1 last week in the championship of the Brandt tournament.

In girls’ soccer, Harvard-Westlake is hoping to get the Thompson sisters available for the playoffs. Villa Park defeated the Wolverines in a nonleague game. In the City Section, El Camino Real, Granada Hills and Cleveland look to be the teams to beat.

Basketball rewind

Jared McCain of Corona Centennial.
(Jeremiah Soifer )

The Classic at Damien produced two teams to watch: Corona Centennial and Riverside Poly. Centennial went 4-0. Poly went 3-0 with three freshmen in the starting lineup and knocked off previously unbeaten Damien.

Crean Lutheran also showed it very much is in the running to make the eight-team Open Division with a win over previously unbeaten Rolling Hills Prep.

Foothill won a division championship in San Diego and is 14-1.

Mater Dei coach Gary McKnight passed 1,200 victories, the most in California history.

There’s a new No. 1 team in The Times’ top 25 rankings. Corona Centennial moves ahead of Sierra Canyon after winning the Damien tournament and playing a much tougher overall schedule. Sierra Canyon is No. 2 and has been taking it rather easy while waiting to get to full strength. The Trailblazers figure to be a full strength starting this week when Amari Bailey returns from an ankle injury and joins transfer students Isaiah Elohim and Jeremiah Nyarko.

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

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

1. CORONA CENTENNIAL (12-1); Donovan Dent led team to Damien tourney championship (2)

2. SIERRA CANYON (14-1); Schedule hasn’t been very challenging (1)

3. HARVARD-WESTLAKE (13-1); League showdown with SO Notre Dame on Friday (4)

4. RIVERSIDE POLY (16-1); Three freshmen starters playing great (10)

5. DAMIEN (17-1); Spivey Word has become standout (3)

Here’s the link to the remaining teams.

Jewish Jordans

Brothers Jon (left) and Jac Mani are Beverly Hills High hoopers known as feisty and tough.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Tough and feisty. Those are words that best describe brothers Jac and Jon Mani.

A T-shirt that reads “Beverly Hills Ballers” would be appropriate for each to wear.

When an opposing player decided to give a little push during postgame handshakes last month, Jac decided to push back. Jon, in street clothes while recovering from an ankle injury, immediately entered the fray in case big brother needed help.

Except Jac, 18, needs no help. At 6 feet 9 with a scholarship waiting for him at UC Davis, he’s a senior who has improved with every season as he gains strength and molds his body. He averaged 20 points and 11 rebounds per game last season. He’s a determined rebounder, can block shots and is adding repertoire to his inside game.

Jon, 16, a 6-5 sophomore, injured his ankle in the first game this season and is expected back this week, giving the Normans a formidable brotherly duo. They’re Jewish Jordans, meaning basketball is their love.

Here’s the link to a profile.

Girls’ water polo

Ava Knepper (12) of Laguna Beach
Ava Knepper (12) of Laguna Beach, side swims her defender and fires in her third goal against Newport Harbor during the Bill Barnett Holiday Cup tournament on Thursday at Newport Harbor High.
(Don Leach/Daily PIlot)

Laguna Beach keeps winning even if teams are coming close.

The Breakers won the Bill Barnett Holiday Cup with competitive victories over Foothill and Newport Harbor.

Laguna Beach is 12-0 and has won 42 consecutive matches since 2020.

Here’s the link to story from Daily Pilot.

Mater Dei president leaves

The president of Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana is leaving in the wake of an alleged hazing scandal involving the school’s storied football program.

Father Walter E. Jenkins, who was hired last year, is stepping down from the school at the end of the winter break, school spokeswoman Allison Bergeron said Saturday. She said he was not fired.

His departure follows weeks of controversy over a lawsuit filed in late November, filed by the parents of a former football player. The complaint accused Mater Dei and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange of trying to cover up a brutal locker room altercation that left the player with a traumatic brain injury.

Here’s the link to the story.

Coronavirus challenges

It’s going to be a tough January for sports teams because of the surge in coronavirus. New rules are going to be required in Los Angeles County that could result in disruptions.

Here’s the link to the rules update.

Notes . . .

Kaleb Smith, a 6-foot-8 senior at Damien, has committed to UC Riverside for basketball. . . .

Joe Smigiel, a former Newbury Park assistant, has been selected to be head coach of the Panthers. His son, Brady, is a class of 2026 quarterback prospect. They’ll be throwing the football. . . .

Gabe York has become the first former Orange Lutheran basketball player to reach the NBA. He signed a 10-day hardship deal with the Orlando Magic. . . .

Junior Tim Grack of Fountain Valley has committed to San Diego for baseball. . . .

Katie Gomez of Birmingham won the 121-pound championship for girls’ wrestling at the Queen of the Hill finals. . . .

Arlis Boardingham of Birmingham said he has football recruiting visits to Oregon and Florida this month.

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From the archives: Jarod Lucas

Oregon State's Jarod Lucas, right, celebrates with teammates after defeating Colorado.
Oregon State’s Jarod Lucas, right, celebrates with teammates after defeating Colorado in an NCAA college basketball game in the championship of the Pac-12 men’s tournament Saturday, March 13, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
(ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Former Los Altos guard Jarod Lucas leads Oregon State in scoring, averaging 12.9 points.

He played for his father, Jeff, in high school, starting every game for four years and finishing with 3,356 points, the third-most in California state history.

Here’s a column from 2016 describing how Lucas had been preparing for years to play for Los Altos.

Recommendations

From the Dallas Morning News, a story on how a female kicker at Vanderbilt helped change the minds of Texas high school football coaches.

From the San Diego Union-Tribune, a story on the Sweetwater basketball coach entitled, “For the love of the game.”

From the Tucson News, a story on how Arizona was able to recruit Servite’s Tetairoa McMillan.

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 eric.sondheimer@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latsondheimer.

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