Prep Rally: Inland Empire showcases its strength in basketball

Hello, and welcome to Prep Rally. Eric Sondheimer is my name. 2019 was the last time Sacramento high school basketball hosted a state championship. Then COVID-19 struck, causing the March 2020 finals to be cancelled. They will be back for March 11-12 and the regional playoffs start this week.

Inland Empire power

Etiwanda’s players win the Southern Section Open Division championship

(Nick Koza)

All hail the Inland Empire. Corona Centennial, Etiwanda, and Etiwanda were the Southern Section boys’ and girls’ basketball champions in the Open Division. It speaks volumes about the talent pool and the quality of coaching found in an area that is constantly growing and changing demographically.

Both schools will be in the running to reach Sacramento on March 12, at the Golden 1 Center. This week, the regional playoffs start.

Rematches may be possible.

What happened last weekend was that Centennial defeated Harvard-Westlake thanks to its outstanding guard duo, strong play from its big guys, and its superior guard. Here’s a recap.

Etiwanda rallied after being 14 points behind to defeat Sierra Canyon and Juju Watkins. Here’s a recap.


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State playoffs begin

Tuesday will see the beginning of the state regional basketball playoffs that lead to state championships.

Here’s the link to complete pairings.

Corona Centennial was awarded the No. 1 seed for the Open Division girls and boys, respectively.

The state regional soccer playoffs will begin Tuesday and conclude Saturday. Servite is seeded at No. 1 for Division 1 boys, and Temecula Valley is no. 1 for girls.

Here’s the link to regional pairings for soccer.

Section on History in Cities

Fairfax’s win in the City Section Open Division boys’ championship game over King/Drew provided quite a historic moment for the Morris family.

Reggie Morris Sr. led Manual Arts to its second title, the City title, 41 years ago. His son Reggie Morris Jr. has won his first title as Fairfax coach. They’re the second father-son duo to coach City champions, joining Jerry Marvin Sr. (University, 1954) and Jerry Marvin Jr. (Palisades, 1969).

Russell Westbrook, Lakers’ guard, was there to support Reggie Jr. at Leuzinger.

Here’s a look at the historic night in which the Lions had to overcome a 33-point performance from King/Drew’s Kalib LaCount.


Lino Zepeda of Los Angeles Roosevelt, a 6-foot-2 right-hander, couldn’t have been more impressive in his first two starts of the season. He has allowed no runs in 14 innings and has 23 strikeouts. One walk was also recorded. He beat Chatsworth last week 1-0.

“He’s good,” Chatsworth coach Marcus Alvarado said.

Zepeda was Roosevelt’s No. Coach Ray Ruiz said Zepeda was Roosevelt’s No. 1 pitcher last season, but he has made significant improvements. “He’s a lot sharper,” Ruiz said. “He’s executing better.”

Let’s think Shohei Ohtani, sophomore Bryce Rainer at Harvard-Westlake. As a freshman, he was 9-0 on his debut at the plate. To save his arm, he’s not pitching in this season. He’s eight-for-16 in hitting.

— eric sondheimer (@latsondheimer) February 27, 2022

Roosevelt’s junior shortstop Nolasco Mattias is another star. He hit a huge home run at East L.A. College this week. Alvarado claims Matias is the best player in the City Section. Roosevelt is now 3-0 after wins over Chatsworth, Taft, and Chatsworth. Next up, Cleveland on Monday, is another West Valley League opponent.

Ryan Jenkins, a junior pitcher from Norco, has thrown consecutive no-hitters against Claremont & Chaparral. “He throws a curveball for a strike, and it’s an old-fashion drop,”Gary Parcell was the coach.

Hocking goes off

Jarrod Hocking of Servite is off to a great start.

Jarrod Hocking, Servite, is off to a great beginning.

(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Jarrod Hocking is now healthy. The rest of Southern California will soon find out how great he is. Servite’s centerfielder, Jarrod Hocking, went five for five to win the Loara tournament championship match. Servite won 18-5 over Lakewood (5-0).

Birmingham has improved its pitching performance over last season, with a 5-1 record and a 6-5 win against a strong Hart team.

This week’s top 25 high school baseball rankings by The Times.

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

1. ORANGE LUTHERAN (5-0); Oliver Santos aiding pitching staff (1)

2. YUCAIPA (4-1); Owen Egan pitches like an ace (2)

3. HARVARD–WESTLAKE (4-1); Bryce Rainer has eight for 16 at home (3)

4. SERVITE (5-0); Jarrod Hoocking went five-for-five on Saturday (10)

5. SIERRA CANYON (5-0); Kassius Tom looks strong on mound

You can find the complete rankings here.

Making a difference

Taft coach Derrick Taylor with Birmingham coach Nick Halic. Both graduated from their respective schools.

Coach Derrick Taylor at Taft with Birmingham coach Nick Halic. Both were graduates of their respective schools.

(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Nick Halic was almost ready to join the LAPD. After completing a background investigation and a lengthy interview with retired detectives, Nick Halic was close to joining the LAPD. Before he was accepted into the police academy, he had to pass a psychological test. He was at a Las Vegas fancy restaurant with friends when he received a phone call from Todd Wolfson, his basketball coach.

“Hey, I just got through my interview at Chaminade,”Wolfson said. “I would love to have you on my staff if I get the job.”

Halic was torn. He was 26 years old, a graduate of Birmingham High School and a college student who loved basketball. He was employed in the Los Angeles Unified Schools District.‘s Beyond the Bell program with middle-school students. His friend told him, “You’You always tell me about the children. You should get into education.”

Halic changed his life. He decided to quit the LAPD to become a teacher/coach. Now he’s a dean at Birmingham, has won two City Section titles, and at 39 serves as a role model to players and students.

He’s not alone. All four of the City Section Open Division semifinalists’ coaches graduated from LAUSD schools. They were inspired by adults to become teacher/coaches after they made positive impressions on them and helped them change their lives.

“What drew me to it was my relationship with my coach and what he did for me,”Halic was referring to Al Bennett, former coach of Birmingham. “I didn’t have a father. I learned from coach Bennett.”

Here’s a profile of how Halic, Taylor and Reggie Morris Jr. of Fairfax are making a difference.

Michael Lynch retires

Coach Michael Lynch holds up a CIF Southern Section championship plaque.

Coach Michael Lynch holds up the CIF Southern Section championship plaque.

(Courtesy Michael Lynch

Michael Lynch, a 26-year-old coach of basketball in Southern California has announced his retirement.

He spent the past seven years at Pasadena La Salle. In 19 years at Los Angeles Price, he won 10 Southern Section championships as well as eight state championships. He had 36 players, including Allen Crabbe, move on to college and the pros.

He’s a retired police detective who went into coaching, helping to mold teenagers into good students and good people.

His teams won eight consecutive CIF titles. As a high-school coach, he won 626 games.

Colin Sahlman honored

Colin Sahlman of Newbury Park is the nation's top distance runner.

Colin Sahlman of Newbury Park is the nation’s top distance runner.

(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Colin Sahlman, Newbury Park High’s cross-country runner, was present on campus when Nico Young, his teammate, received a Gatorade award for the nation’s top cross-country runner for 2019-20.

It happened again Wednesday. However, this time it were teammates who applauded Sahlman as he was named the Gatorade national runner of cross-country of the year.

“It’s very special,”Sahlman said. “It’s the most prestigious award for high school sports and to see Nico get it two years ago is an amazing experience.”

Sahlman said that Young was his role-model. He will be joining Young this fall at Northern Arizona. Sahlman set records in track & field this winter. He ran the indoor mile in New York in 3:58.81, which was the third fastest indoor mile by a high school student.

Here’s The video link of Sahlman being honored.

A story of redemption

Goalie Madison Lee was cut twice by Granada Hills, left for Reseda Cleveland and became a City champion.

Goalie Madison Lee, a goalie for Granada Hills was cut twice and left for Reseda Cleveland to become a City champion.

(Greg Venger)

Anyone who has ever been cut from a team sports team knows how it feels. You wait nervously for the call or email. You might be anxious to see the P.E. Look through the office window to find your name on the roster. If it’s missing, you want to cry.

Madison Lee was rejected twice in highschool. She tried out as a freshman goalie for the Granada Hills High girls’ soccer team. She was cut. She tried again as sophomore. Cut again.

The second time was the most difficult. She can still recall her bloody legs while trying to stop the balls, and trying to make an impression on the coaches.

“I remember diving and trying and looking and a couple coaches were on their phones,”She said. “I remember coming home crying because I didn’t make it.”

Instead of giving up, she asked to be transferred to another school by her mother. Last fall, she transferred from Reseda Cleveland. She was part of the team. Although it was a joyous occasion to celebrate, it pales in comparison of what happened this week in the playoffs.

Call it karma — she faced her old classmates from Granada Hills in the City Section Division I semifinals. She won twice to prevent Cleveland from reaching the championship. She was 3-0 against Granada Hills in this season. She won the City title when Cleveland defeated El Camino Real.

Here’s a look at her story.


South East pulled off the stunner of the week to win the City Section Division I boys’ soccer championship with a 2-1 overtime win over defending champion Birmingham.

South East upset No. 1 earlier in the week. 1-seeded El Camino Real. To beat El Camino Real and Birmingham in consecutive matches is quite a tribute to the Rams’ program and coach Felipe Bernal.

Servite won Southern Section Division 1 boys’ championship on penalty kicks against JSerra. Merrick Cook, goalie, was the star.

Temecula Valley beat Corona Santiago to win Division 1 girls.

Here are the complete Southern Section championship results.

Here are the complete City Section champion results.

Giving back

Grace Jackson, a volleyball player at Santa Margarita High, held a clothing drive to help Kids for CASA.

Grace Jackson, a Santa Margarita High volleyball player, organized a clothing drive in aid of Kids for CASA.

At first, Grace Jackson didn’t really hear them.

Fresh from practice, the Santa Margarita High football club had climbed into the stands and ate slices of pizza while Jackson, their equipment manger, walked the volleyball court.

Jackson was focused on Fullerton Rosary match. Soon her attention was diverted to the crowd of footballers banging their heads against the bleachers in rhythmic chants.

“She’s my man-ager!”

The 6-foot-1 junior had been working on the football sidelines for nearly a year. He was a responsible figure who handed them water and game footage. They were now on Jackson’s hardwood, not their turf. Jackson laughed at their chants, and began to play “out of her mind,”Lori, her mother, still remembers.

“She’s not the most talkative outwardly, and so that was really cool when we watched her play volleyball, because she’d really get after it,”Anthony Rouzier is Santa Margarita’s football coach. “She goes up there, she’s spiking it. You can see she’s in her flow and her comfort zone.”

Jackson finds volleyball an escape from Grace’s demands. In addition to playing for the Eagles’ indoor and newly instituted beach volleyball teams, she’s a co-founder of the school’s chapter of Kids for CASA, which helps provide resources for children in foster care; an international Baccalaureate student; and proud manager of the football team since October 2020.

In mid-February, Jackson set out to collect trash bags full of clothes from the turntile of cars in front. Wanting to benefit CASA, Jackson had organized a clothing drive that employed her beach volleyball teammates and Santa Margarita’s baseball team to trade in Goodwill donations for gift cards that would be given to foster kids.

She yawned, staring at the sun, and then she rolled her eyes into a blue Eagles sweater.

“I’m going day by day,”Jackson stated.

Those are long days. Jackson was an indoor volleyball player who would switch between football and indoor volleyball during a fall season that saw her average 2.3 kills per game. This spring, she’s getting home at 8 p.m. from beach and club volleyball practices to delve into an ever-growing pile of homework.

Watching her cut across the sand every afternoon, beach coach Macy Jerger said you’d never have an idea Jackson was balancing such a big itinerary on her plate.

“She’s a silent warrior,”Jerger said.

Here’s a profile of her giving back.

Soft drinks has created a weekly Southern California top 20 softball rankings.

1. Villa Park 4-0

2. Mission Viejo 8-0

3. La Habra 5-0

4. Garden Grove Pacifica 4-1

5. Camarillo 7-1

6. Eastvale Roosevelt 7-1

7. Los Alamitos 3-1

8. La Mirada 3-2

9. Oaks Christian 0-0

10. Westlake 3-0

11. Orange Lutheran 6-3

12. Huntington Beach 2-1

13. Murrieta Mesa 6-3

14. Corona Centennial 6-2

15. Norco 0-2

16. Upland, 5-3

17. Beaumont 7-0

18. South Torrance 6-0

19. El Camino Real 5-2

20. Yucaipa 4-4-1

From the archives: Jim Wolf

Jim Wolf, an El Camino Real graduate, is preparing for his 22nd season in the major leagues — as an umpire.

He was a El Camino Real catcher, and his brother Randy was a successful major league pitcher.

Jim has lasted through many challenges and is now a respected MLB umpire. He started his career at West Hills Pony Baseball as a youth umpire and was then hired in 1994 to be a minor league umpire.

Here’s a story from 2001 when Wolf started filling in at the MLB level before gaining a full-time position.


A story in the Los Angeles Times about Gabe Marks, an ex-receiver from Washington State and Venice, helping players deal with mental illness.

From the NFHSA story about people who need a wake-up call on sportsmanship.

From the Washington Post a story on what might be the top high school girls’ basketball team in the nation.

Tweets you may have missed

CSUN soccer has signed Birmingham’s top two soccer players, David Diaz and Enrique Pineda.

— eric sondheimer (@latsondheimer) February 21, 2022

Until next time…

Have a question, comment or something you’d like to see in a future Prep Rally newsletter? Email me at [email protected], and follow me on Twitter at @latsondheimer.

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