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Prep Rally: It’s championship week in high school basketball

Harvard-Westlake's Brady Dunlap, right, celebrates with fans after a win over Sierra Canyon on Feb. 18.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
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Hi, and welcome to another edition of Prep Rally. My name is Eric Sondheimer. It’s championship week in high school basketball. The big boys game will be Corona Centennial (29-1) hosting Harvard-Westlake (24-2) on Friday night. There’s every indication it can be a great game. Ditto for the girls game, Sierra Canyon (26-1) at Etiwanda (27-0) on Saturday.

Showdown time

Harvard-Westlake's Brady Dunlap, right, celebrates with fans after a win over Sierra Canyon on Feb. 18, 2022.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

After four months of high school basketball, it comes down to Corona Centennial and Harvard-Westlake deciding which team is No. 1 in Southern Section boys basketball. The Open Division final on Friday night at Centennial has plenty of story lines.

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Centennial has one loss all season, has been No. 1 for weeks and returns four starters from last season’s championship team. Harvard-Westlake has incredibly beaten Centennial in five consecutive games and is coming off an emotional 63-60 win over Sierra Canyon. Here’s a report from the Sierra Canyon victory.

What makes Centennial the favorite is the Huskies’ consistency and having the best guard duo anywhere in Donovan Dent and Jared McCain. Harvard-Westlake presents danger if its two big men, Landon Lewis and Jacob Huggins, can rebound with the aggressiveness and productiveness they did against Sierra Canyon and Brady Dunlap is able to contribute on offense.

“We know it’s going to be a war,” Harvard-Westlake coach David Rebibo said.

The girls’ final matching unbeaten Etiwanda and Juju Watkins-led Sierra Canyon was expected all season. The two teams were supposed to meet in a tournament game earlier but COVID-19 got rid of that plan. Sierra Canyon is coming in with confidence. Etiwanda is coming in with a level of consistency that will be difficult to disrupt. Here are the complete pairings.

In the City Section, it’s down to a Final Four in the Open Division boys, with Fairfax hosting Birmingham on Tuesday and Taft hosting King/Drew. The winners will play on Saturday night at a neutral site. There has been no clear No. 1 team all season, so don’t go betting the house on any one team. For girls, it’s Westchester playing at Granada Hills on Tuesday and Birmingham is at Palisades.

Here’s a profile of Birmingham point guard Kory Blunt, who’s the son of former San Fernando football star and coach Sean Blunt, who died in 2014 when Blunt was 9.

Greatest night for basketball

Chino Hills guard LaMelo Ball pulls up for a shot over Mater Dei’s Michael Wang and Matthew Weyand (21).
Chino Hills guard LaMelo Ball pulls up for a shot over Mater Dei’s Michael Wang and Matthew Weyand (21).
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

One of the most memorable nights in Southern California high school basketball history took place at USC’s Galen Center on Feb. 24, 2017, before a sold-out crowd of 10,258. It was a doubleheader in the Southern Section Open Division playoffs that would feature nearly two dozen future college players and five future NBA players among the four teams participating.

“It was one of the greatest nights in Southern California basketball history considering the quality of the teams and the environment,” Torrance Bishop Montgomery coach Doug Mitchell said.

The games matched No. 1-seeded Chatsworth Sierra Canyon against No. 4 Bishop Montgomery and No. 2 Chino Hills against No. 3 Santa Ana Mater Dei. On Craigslist, two courtside seats that were priced at $40 were offered for $500 each. The future NBA players involved were LaMelo Ball and Onyeka Okongwu of Chino Hills, Bol Bol of Mater Dei, Marvin Bagley III of Sierra Canyon and Jordan Schakel of Bishop Montgomery.

Five years later, everyone claims to have been at Galen Center. The games were that good. The players participating were that outstanding. The drama was that unforgettable.

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A look back at what made that doubleheader so memorable.

Breaking glass ceiling

Brooke Kalama of Roybal coached against Jennifer Crockett of Sherman Oaks CES in a boys' basketball playoff game.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

There was something unusual happening before Thursday’s City Section Division II boys’ basketball playoff opener between Roybal and host Sherman Oaks CES. A female manager for Sherman Oaks CES was knitting on the bench.

“We stay calm here,” coach Jennifer Crockett said.

Equally unusual was the sight of two women head coaches roaming the sidelines. It was a first in City Section basketball playoff history — Crockett and Roybal’s Brooke Kalama — in charge of their respective boys’ basketball teams.

A friend had told Crockett, “I hope you’re wearing the proper shoes with all that glass around,” referring to shattering a glass ceiling.

Here’s a look at the historic game.

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Honor for Alyssa Thompson

Harvard-Westlake soccer players Gisele and Alyssa Thompson.
(Photo courtesy of Nick Koza)

There’s not much junior Alyssa Thompson of Harvard-Westlake High can’t accomplish in soccer.

Thomson was selected to the USA Under-20 women’s national team that will play Feb. 25 to March 12 at the 2022 CONCACAF Women’s Under-20 Championship. The roster consists of 17 college and two youth players as well as one professional.

“It’s an incredible accomplishment as a player for her age,” Harvard-Westlake coach Richard Simms said.

Thompson, 17, was the Gatorade national girls’ soccer player of the year in 2020-21. She and her sister, Gisele, were unable to play for Harvard-Westlake this season because of USA commitments, along with an injury to Gisele.

Baseball

Sierra Canyon (4-0) and Newbury Park (4-0) will meet Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Birmingham in the championship game of the Easton tournament. Both teams have impressive pitching staffs.

Yucaipa will play Orange Lutheran on Monday in the championship game of the PBR tournament at Hart Park.

There were some terrific individual performances this past week.

UCLA commit Christopher Paciolla of Temecula Valley had four hits, including two doubles and a home run, and five RBIs in a doubleheader against Riverside Poly.

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Nick Bonn is 2-0 on the mound for Laguna Beach after striking out seven in his latest top performance.

A healthy Jarrod Hocking led Servite to a 2-0 start.

Here’s the link to this week’s top 25 rankings. Orange Lutheran has moved into the No. 1 spot.

Soccer

No. 1-seeded El Camino Real and No. 2 Birmingham continue on a path to meet for the City Section Division I boys’ soccer championship on Friday night at Valley College. First El Camino Real must get past South East in Tuesday’s semifinals, with Birmingham playing Chavez.

For girls, the Final Four in Division I has No. 1 Cleveland hosting Granada Hills and No. 2 El Camino Real hosting Palisades.

In the Southern Section, No. 1 Servite and No. 2 Mira Costa have both reached the semifinals. One more win and the championship game should be a great one. Here’s this week’s complete pairings.

For girls, defending champion Harvard-Westlake was eliminated in the quarterfinals by Los Alamitos 2-0. The semifinals on Wednesday will have No. 4 Villa Park at No. 1 Corona Santiago and No. 2 Temecula Valley at Los Alamitos.

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Softball

CalHiSports.com has put together the preseason top 20 Southern California softball rankings.

1. Villa Park
2. Norco
3. Garden Grove Pacifica
4. Camarillo
5. Esperanza
6. Upland
7. Eastvale Roosevelt
8. Orange Lutheran
9. Los Alamitos
10. Oaks Christian
11. Corona Santiago
12. Whittier Christian
13. Westlake
14. La Mirada
15. Chino Hills
16. Huntington Beach
17. La Serna
18. Marina
19. Murrieta Mesa
20. La Habra

Villa Park won the Cypress tournament championship, defeating Los Alamitos in the final. West Ranch won the Hart tournament championship, defeating El Camino Real in the final.

Already two surprise teams have emerged that should be in the top 20 rankings. Mission Viejo is off to a 7-0 start and routed Orange Lutheran on Saturday. El Camino Real upset Camarillo and also has a win over Sherman Oaks Notre Dame.

Wrestling

It's an aerial view of the wrestling mats at Birmingham High
It’s an aerial view of the wrestling mats at Birmingham High, which is hosting the City Section championships today. Credit: Alex Tomeh / Birmingham High
(Alex Tomeh / Birmingham High)

Birmingham won the boys and girls team titles at the City Section wrestling championships.

Here’s a report on the individual finals that were conducted outdoors on the football field at Birmingham. The state championships are this weekend in Bakersfield.

Temecula Valley won the team boys’ title at the Southern Section Masters Meet. Here’s the link for individual results. Marina won the girls’ title.

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Palm Desert’s Caleb Vanbuskirk was the upper weights MVP and El Dorado’s Isaiah Quintero was the lower weights MVP.

Water polo

Newport Harbor varsity girls water polo team celebrates their CIF Southern Section Open Division Championship.
Newport Harbor varsity girls water polo team celebrates their CIF Southern Section Open Division Championship after winning game vs. Laguna Beach High, at Woollett Aquatics Center, in Irvine on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022. The Sailors won over the Breakers 11-6.
(Raul Roa)

It was a big night for Newport Harbor, which won the Southern Section Open Division girls’ water polo championship.

The Sailors were already champions in boys water polo.

Here’s a report on Newport Harbor’s triumph.

Track

It’s come to the point every time Colin Sahlman of Newbury Park competes in a race, he sets some kind of record.

He was at Azusa Pacific on Saturday and ran the fastest ever 3,200-meter race for a high school athlete, finishing in 8:33.32. It was faster than the National Federation record set in 2008 of 8:34.23.

Sadie Engelhardt of Ventura set a freshman record for the mile in 4:38.24. Junior Aaron Sahlman, Colin’s brother, ran the mile in 4:05.00.

Notes. . . .

Dana Hills senior receiver Owen Chambers has committed to Air Force. . . .

Former Harvard-Westlake lacrosse player Rachel Brown from Yale received the NFHCA’s Scholar of Distinction award for having a GPA of 3.9 or higher in the first semester. . . .

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Aaron Berry, a 25-year-old former Azusa Pacific linebacker, is the new head coach at Covina. . . .
Former Orange Lutheran football coach JP Presley is the new head coach at Esperanza. . . .

San Diego is getting a high-profile football coach. Eric Weddle has been named to take over the Rancho Bernardo program in 2023. . . .

From the archives: Scotty Pippen Jr.

Scotty Pippen Jr. in 2019.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Scotty Pippen Jr. has become a standout guard for Vanderbilt after being a key player for Sierra Canyon.

This season, he’s averaging 18.9 points.

Known more for being the son of a former NBA great, Pippen has created his own reputation for excellence after entering Vanderbilt as an underrated high school recruit.

During his days at Sierra Canyon, he was just beginning to show his potential on state championship teams in 2018 and 2019.

Here’s a story from 2019 on Pippen starting to fulfill his potential for Sierra Canyon.

Recommendations

From the Dallas Morning News, 10 things to know about the high school days of Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford.

From the New York Times, a story on youth football in Los Angeles trying to make a comeback.

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From ESPN.com, a story on a Virginia teen without a leg winning a state wrestling title.

Tweets you might have missed

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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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