Prep Rally: A lot on the line when Mater Dei takes on St. John Bosco

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Hi, and welcome to another edition of Prep Rally. My name is Eric Sondheimer. It’s championship weekend in high school football, with 14 in the Southern Section and four in the City Section.

The rematch

Mater Dei quarterback Elijah Brown is 29-0 in high school.
(Jerome Miron/Jerome Miron)

Since the football season began, it has been almost a certainty that St. John Bosco would face Mater Dei for the Southern Section Division 1 championship. As the semifinals proved last week, those two teams have separated themselves and it’s not even close. Now they get to face off in a rematch of Oct. 7 Trinity League game won by Mater Dei 17-7. This time the matchup is at the Rose Bowl at 7:30 p.m. on Friday night.


Unlike the USC-UCLA game played at the Rose Bowl on Saturday night that ended in a 48-45 shootout, it will be a defensive struggle on Friday night. The defenses are too good for the offenses. Mater Dei quarterback Elijah Brown is 29-0 as a starter. And coach Bruce Rollinson says he’s retiring whenever the Monarchs’ season ends after 34 years as head coach.

There’s plenty of other intriguing finals. In Division 2, unbeaten Inglewood will play at surging Sierra Canyon on Saturday night. In Division 3, unbeaten Yorba Linda plays at Upland on Friday night. In Division 4, Downey is at unbeaten Cypress on Friday night.

In the City Section, the Open Division final has Birmingham playing Garfield at Valley College on Saturday night at 7 p.m. Birmingham hasn’t lost to a City Section team since the 2017 season.

Here’s the complete championship schedule.

Football rewind

Birmingham wide receiver Peyton Waters celebrates with Ace Acosta.
Birmingham receiver Peyton Waters (left) celebrates with Ace Acosta.
(Alex Gallardo / For the Times)

And then there were two. The semifinals last week offered a clue to which team might win championships.

In the City Section, a young Birmingham team is suddenly looking pretty good. The Patriots routed Banning 42-7. Here’s the report.


Inglewood and Chaminade played an overtime thriller in the Division 2 semifinals. Here’s the report.

Yorba Linda knocked off Corona del Mar in Division 3. Here’s the report.

Laguna Beach has advanced to its first championship game since 1962. Here’s the report.

Downey outlasted Cathedral 55-54 in a wild Division 4 semifinal. Downey quarterback Aidan Chiles is having one of the best seasons of any quarterback in the state. He has completed 74% of his passes for 2,835 yards and 33 touchdowns and rushed for 838 yards and nine touchdowns. He’s committed to Oregon State.

Coaching changes

The football coaching changes are picking up steam, and when one coach resigns, it creates the opportunity for new movement.

Even more surprising is that four Catholic schools that have won their share of championships — Mater Dei, Servite, Crespi and Sherman Oaks Notre Dame — all have openings. Also JSerra cut ties with Scott McKnight and is looking for a new coach.


Here’s the story on Troy Thomas leaving Servite.

Here’s the story on Joe McNab retiring at Notre Dame.

Here’s the story on possible candidates to replace Bruce Rollinson at Mater Dei.

Also out is Eric Peterson at Vista Murrieta, Carl Agnew at Santa Fe, Tom Leach at Eastvale Roosevelt and Richard Lear at Highland.

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Juju picks USC

Sierra Canyon High star Juju Watkins announces she'll attend USC during a news conference Tuesday.
(Luca Evans / Los Angeles Times)

She posed for the camera, a USC jacket zipped up to her chin, toothy grin encased in a red Trojans hood.

That was a decade ago, a picture of the 6-year-old Juju Watkins immortalized Tuesday morning. Minutes after the Chatsworth Sierra Canyon High star uttered the words that would usher in a new era of USC women’s basketball — “There’s no place like home” — aunt Trescelle Watkins came up to her, showing the photo, asking whether she remembered.

Watkins nodded, smiling, whisked away to hug after hug from a crowd of family members, always there through the painful and the proud for the girl from Watts.

“To just be born and raised here, and to have a community behind me,” a red-eyed Watkins told The Times in between sniffles, “is amazing. And to just continue my L.A. legacy … I just think that hits different when I’m born and raised here and I get to continue my journey.”

That journey began its next steps inside Sierra Canyon’s gym Tuesday when Watkins announced her commitment to USC live on ESPN as a crowd of teammates, friends, family and other Sierra Canyon athletes sat behind her.

Here’s the report.


The Young twins

Distant runners Lex (left) and Leo Young of Newbury Park signed with Stanford.
Distant runners Lex (left) and Leo Young of Newbury Park signed with Stanford.
(Luca Evans)

Leo Young just really wanted that ravioli.

Three weeks ago, the senior traveled with twin brother Lex and the Newbury Park High boys’ cross-country juggernaut to Fresno for the Clovis Invitational, visiting their favorite spot for a team dinner the night before the meet: an Italian restaurant called Five. Just like every time he’d come, a mouthwatering lobster ravioli, adorned with shrimp and doused in tomato basil cream sauce, beckoned to Leo.

Yet it was a lot of cream, and he didn’t eat lobster. So, like always, he settled for the pappardelle bolognese.

The next day, he came 1.9 seconds, per MileSplit, from setting the course record at Woodward Park.

“We’re always thinking about, ‘How will this affect my performance? How will this make me feel the next day when I go for my run?’” Lex said. “And I think by internalizing that, you’re able to perform at your best because you’re always thinking about it.”

Here’s a report on the Young brothers as they prepare for Saturday’s state cross-country championships.


Here’s a look at the City Section and Southern Section cross-country finals.

Running for life

Monroe cross-country runner Joseluis Rincon joined the team to change his life. It's happened. He wants to become a doctor.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

More than 40 years ago, one of my first reporting assignments was to cover City Section cross-country at Pierce College. It was, and still is, the quintessential high school sports experience, teenagers competing with their friends while seeking to challenge themselves in a three-mile test of endurance to reach that finish line and feel a sense of accomplishment.

My annual visit to the City Section preliminaries on a cool, cloudless morning offered another reminder that the days of high school sports before Twitter, transfers, private coaches and parents becoming infatuated with winning, still exists. It’s like time has been frozen, with athletes and coaches focused on learning life lessons.

Joseluis Rincon, a 17-year-old senior at North Hills Monroe High, was dressed as if visiting Alaska, wearing a heavy jacket, gloves and two hoodies.


He didn’t get to compete for Monroe because he was designated as an alternate but was there to help cheer on his teammates.

It turns out three years ago, in the summer before his freshman year, he showed up for a workout at Monroe with his friends. He had never run before. Coach Leo Hernandez welcomed him with open arms.

“I remember I threw up that day,” Rincon said.

He came back. Again and Again. It helped him overcome depression from his parents separating. He now plans to be a doctor. On Saturday at the City finals, when a teammate was sick, Rincon stepped in and helped his team finish fourth in Division 4.

The story of how running made a difference in one teenager’s life.

Girls’ volleyball

Chaminade won the state Division 2 championship in girls’ volleyball.

Here’s a report on the Eagles’ emotional win.

Here’s the complete state championship results.

Basketball rewind

Jerica Williams guided Windward to a win over Harvard-Westlake in her coaching debut.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

The basketball season began with Windward’s two new coaches, DJ Gay andJerica Williams, picking up victories in their debut.

It was a big debut week for freshmen.Joseph Sterling scored 26 points in his first game for Crespi. Brayden Kyman was tournament MVP for Santa Margarita.

Shalhevet held off AGBU in a big game of neighborhood kids and top 2A teams.

Skye Belker stars

Skye Belker, a tennis and basketball star at Windward High
(Tennis photo courtesy of Windward High; basketball photo by Nick Koza / For The Times)

Princeton-bound senior guard Skye Belker of Los Angeles Windward High has received approval to miss her team’s basketball game on Monday in the Redondo Union tournament. She’s not sick, she’s not injured, she’s not going back east on a recruiting trip.

She will be competing in the Southern Section individual tennis championships in Carpinteria. She went 29-0 in the regular season. If she’s successful on Monday, more games could be missed this week.

Basketball coach Jerica Williams has given Belker the equivalent of a doctor’s note, endorsing her decision to finish competing in a sport that she has loved since hitting her first tennis ball at age 4.

Here’s a profile of Belker, who had 22 and 29 points in her basketball season debut this week.


Notes . . .

Two girls’ basketball players who transferred from Viewpoint to Oak Park have been denied eligibility this season by the Southern Section. Their former coach, Will Burr, became the head coach at Oak Park, and a state rule does not allow players to follow their former coach to their new school. Karlee White, a senior, and Chloe Adamo, a junior, will have to sit out this season. . . .

Junior pitcher Ross Clark of Orange Lutheran has committed to Arizona State. . . .

Sierra Canyon’s Ashton Hardaway has committed to Memphis, where his father, Penny, is the head basketball coach. . . .

Receiver Jeremiah McClure of Chula Vista Mater Dei has committed to UCLA. . . .

Los Alamitos defensive end Sinn Brennan has committed to San Diego State. . . .

Former Los Angeles High football coach John Watson has died. He was head coach from 1973 to 1999. . . .

Sophomore catcher Jarett Sabol of Aliso Niguel has committed to USC. . . .

Turmoil continues in the El Camino Real boys’ basketball program. New coach Shawn Kolani has left the program right before the season starts. She has been replaced by assistant Colin Jamerson. . . .

From the archives: Ryan Stevens

Former Chaminade QB Ryan Stevens ranked No. 2 in passing in NCAA Division III at John Hopkins.
(John Hopkins)

Who doesn’t have fun being a graduate student and playing college football?

Former Chaminade quarterback Ryan Stevens is doing just that at Johns Hopkins. He had 45 touchdown passes in his career at Chaminade. At 10-1 Johns Hopkins this season, he has passed for 2,649 yards and 35 touchdowns with five interceptions while completing 70% of his passes.

Here’s a 2018 story on Stevens being the rare breed of high school quarterback staying for four years at the same high school and competing to win the starting job.


From Aspenprojectplay, a story on sports participation trends.

From the Los Angeles Times, a story on former Newbury Park distance runner Nico Young.

From the Los Angeles Times, a story on the family of former El Rancho soccer star Cristian Roldan as he prepares to play in the World Cup.


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