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DFAL boys hoopage

Two things come up immediately when you talk to the boys basketball coaches in the Diablo Foothill Athletic League.
First, everyone agrees that Las Lomas is the rabbit, the team everyone else is chasing out of the gate.
Second, though, and this is important, is that Campolindo — yes, the Campolindo that won the North Coast Section Division III title and came within two points of the state championship game before falling to eventual champ Santa Cruz, then graduated nine seniors — is back. With a vengence.
Somehow, the Cougars reloaded from last year’s stellar run, and should be right back in the thick of things in terms of the DFAL title. Pete Gierlach, Mike Colonna, Scott Nittler and company have really clicked in the early going, and coach Chris Whirlow has a tendency to push all the right buttons.
Still, Las Lomas is deep and experienced at guard and boasts one of the league’s very best players in David Stafford, who can fill it up and makes everyone else on the floor better.
Maybe the biggest bummer about the coming DFAL season is that these two powerhouses only square off one time under the league’s modified schedule. Go ahead and pencil Jan. 24 in on your calendar. If you only see one DFAL game this year, that’s the one.
However, Acalanes has the league’s premier big man in 6-7 junior Jordan Fillmore, and scrappy guards Steve Nigro and Gavin Beeman — who, like he did for the football team, just makes everyone better — make the Dons a scary No. 3 team.
Miramonte is going to hit the gym running every night, and Ben Weinstein and Co. will not lack for hustle or toughness. Whether that moves them into the title hunt remains to be seen, but they’re going to be a tough matchup for just about everyone.
Defending league champ Alhambra, led by 6-6 swingman Chad Black, should remain competitive despite graduating a ton of talent from last year’s 13-1 squad. The Bulldogs won’t lack for athleticism with guards Cameron Yarber and Brandon Rutley. And hey, they were picked to finish sixth last year, too. So why not the Bulldogs?
It’s widely believed that Mt. Diablo guard Antonio Flaggs is the best player in the league. The question for the Red Devils remains how well the supporting cast can come together to help him out on the few nights when he doesn’t go for 35.
Never, ever overlook Northgate, if only because Dan Swan is one of the best coaches in the area. But he’s going to need to see marked improvement from somebody not named Davey Lynch if the Broncos are going to make a run at the playoffs. Guards Clarke Dolliver and Tysan Lynch could be the keys to the puzzle.
College Park, Dublin and Concord all are young and inexperienced, and could struggle in league action against some polished squads. But don’t be surprised if the Falcons and Gaels, at least, knock off one or two of the league’s superpowers before all is said and done, just like the Minutemen did with Alhambra last year.
Then again, what do I know? I’m the football writer, remember.
Think you know something I don’t about the DFAL? Post a comment.

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Predictions

"So how did you come up with those predictions?"

Readers often wonder how we arrive at our predictions for our various league previews. Our predictions certainly don’t come out of the blue. Actually, writers take great care in putting them together, asking coaches as to who they feel are the best teams and then applying their own assessments.

Some teams are bound to be happy with where they’ve been picked, and there’s likely to be some unhappy campers. Sometimes we’re dead-on and get the top teams right. Occasionally we miss the boat altogether, given the ever-changing landscape of high school sports. Our intent is to get a conversation started.

But for all the years we’ve run predictions, we’ve never had the opportunity to let readers see how we arrive at these often tough choices. Until now.  Starting with this weekend’s league basketball previews, we’ll post here in this blog and open that window into how we make these picks. And it will give you an opportunity to be part of the conversation and to sound off. 

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All-Times dilemma

The selection process for the 2005 Times football players of the year was about as tough as it’s ever been.
In the offensive explosion that was 2004, Campolindo’s all-world quarterback Nick Graziano all but took the POY decision out of our hands, and Pittsburg running back Derrick Blanche was an undeniable selection as the Offensive POY. And after talking to a bunch of coaches, Amador Valley’s Corey Dehl was the obvious pick as the Defensive POY.
But this year, with the return of stingy defense across the board and the absence of any breakaway standout on either side of the ball, things were tricky. Alhambra running back Brandon Rutley made such a strong case for himself during the year, and area coaches were so impressed with him, that he was the easiest of the three selections as the OPOY. But even so, Salesian wide receiver Andre Wells put up numbers so gaudy that he gave us pause.
The overall player of the year discussion encompassed three very worthy candidates, all three of whom are two-way first team All Times selections, which doesn’t happen all that often. De La Salle’s undersized center and nose tackle Tony Vasta, Las Lomas’ big-hitting linebacker and offensive guard Jason Swisher and Monte Vista’s monster offensive guard and defensive tackle Mike Costanzo all had fantastic seasons. As a direct result of their prowess, so did their teams. Each was a two-way all-league selection. Each was heaped with accolades by area coaches.
So what to do?
In the end, the reaction of local coaches to Vasta, to his toughness, his grit and determination, and the fact that he essentially pulled together a young, inexperienced Spartans squad over the course of a rigorous season tipped the scales in his favor. It’s not all that often that a team looks to a lineman for leadership, but with a sophomore quarterback and running back by committee, Vasta was the man with the plan.
Swisher’s Knights ended up winning the NCS 3A East Bay title almost exclusively thanks to the stinginess of the defense, and he was the key figure in that equation. With an anemic offense, Swisher and Co. knew that, game in and game out, they were going to be the difference between a W and an L. They got it done at every turn, and Swisher drew such rave reviews from coaches at linebacker that he earned the DPOY spot.
None of which mitigates the impact that Costanzo had on the region. Literally. The guy is a beast. We just ran out of awards. But first team, both ways is nothing to sneeze at. And don’t be surprised if Costanzo ends up raking in awards at Cal in the coming years. San Ramon Valley linebacker Kyle Kirst and Ygnacio Valley defensive end Garry Graffort could not be ignored on the defensive side, either.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on our all-Times teams. Post a comment.

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Reno TOC wrestling champions

Nikko Triggas did it again.

The Campolindo High School junior won the 112-pound division of the nationally-prestigious Reno Tournament of Champions on Tuesday. He also won a national title at the Asics/Ironman Wrestling Tournament in Ohio Dec. 9-10.

Las Lomas sophomore Jason Welch also won a TOC championship at 152. He is coming off a third-place finish at the Ironman.

Five other wrestlers in the Times region placed in the top eight in Reno. Foothill’s Kellen Aura (103) finished third, Freedom’s David Prado (119) and Las Lomas’ Jason Swisher (215) were fourth, and Foothill’s Phil Boyer (125) and Tommy Wipfli (135) placed fifth and eighth, respectively.

This was a great showing by the locals in a such a highly-competitive tournament.   

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Russell and Bastianelli tragedy hits home

The news today that former Raider Darrell Russell and ex-De La Salle quarterback Mike Bastianelli were killed in an auto accident today in Los Angeles stunned us here at the Times. It was the latest in a number of tragedies to hit both the Raiders and De La Salle sports in recent years. It’s a reminder of how the lives of young athletes sometimes can come to sudden and unfortunate ends.

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North Coast Section wrestling

OK, all you high school wrestling fans out there – and you know who you are (and so do we): Which high school team is going to win the North Coast Section championship this season?

Returning champ Antioch lost eight starters to graduation but still has several other returners. Perennial power Liberty looks strong. There are rumblings that Foothill could be the team to beat. There are other contenders as well, such as College Park, De La Salle, among others. What do you wrestling fans think?

Last season, the region saw several wrestlers place in the top eight at the California Interscholastic Federation state championships. San Ramon Valley’s David Christian (140 pounds) won a state title and Las Lomas’ Jason Welch (145) placed second. Welch is back at 152 pounds, maybe 160. Campolindo’s Nikko Triggas is coming off a national championship in the Asics/Ironman National Tournament in Ohio at 112 pounds (Welch placed third at 152). They look like state title contenders. Do you fans agree, and who else could emerge as a state title hopeful?

React!

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St. Mary’s run ends

Maybe taking a bus wasn’t the greatest idea after all.

When the St. Mary’s High School girls volleyball team was asked how their grueling road trip from Berkeley to Mission Viejo went, they all responded in unison with a resounding: "LONG!"

The girls broke out in laughter and it was the first time since the final point of their 26-24, 25-20, 25-9 loss to Francis Parker-San Diego in the CIF Division IV championship match that the girls smiled.

The Panthers definitely showed they belonged against a tough Francis Parker team, who played seemingly without making a mistake in game three. The Panthers showed tremendous heart in game one and two, coming within one point from taking game one. If that happens, who knows what would have followed.

Despite the loss, Bernie Leary was given the CIF sportsmanship award. Tarah Murrey and Natalie Bogan were named to the Division IV all-tournament team. And the Panthers had a season that will last a life time.

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Soccer – - can it survive as a prep sport?

Memories of soccer past:

At a 1994 World Cup practice open to the public, a Brazilian fan provides a musical soundtrack to the happenings on the field below at Santa Clara University’s Buck Shaw Stadium. Strumming a ukulele, the singer joyfully mixes Portuguese lyrics with bird calls and other assorted sounds to both entertain his fellow fans and add color to the event. Nobody tells him to stop.
Elsewhere, crowd shots of televised matches show fans with drums, horns and other noisemaking devices leading similar celebrations.
Soccer, you see, isn’t so much a game as an event. And what goes on in the stands is as much a part of the event as the match itself. Stadium horns, drums, trumpets, songs, chants, rhythmic clapping, etc., all are part of the spectacle — and the fun.
Another high school soccer season is upon us. At times, the terms "high school" and "soccer" seem like an oxymoron. Surely, the worlds of high school sports and soccer clashed at last season’s North Coast Section 2A boys final between De Anza and Bishop O’Dowd high schools.
Some of the visiting De Anza fans had brought stadium horns and wooden noisemakers known as matracas to the match and were enjoying themselves to the fullest until instructed to knock off the merriment or face the prospect of forfeiting the match. Such noisemakers are against NCS rules, and presumably, those of the California Interscholastic Federation.
This isn’t to rip on those who enforce the rules. Rather, it’s the rules themselves that are the problem.
For sure, the authorities want to reduce the likelihood of fights. But the noisemakers in and of themselves don’t contribute to those problems. And the prohibition of such items — especially when they pertain to soccer — might be regarded in some quarters as culturally insensitive.
Ultimately, the match was decided on penalty kicks, and asking the fans to keep noisemakers silent during the shootout was reasonable, as the seniors are in their final match and the other players might never reach such a point in their prep careers again. During the run of play, however, the horns, matracas, etc., added to the spectacle, excitement and fun.
Events such as the NCS playoffs remind us how great it is to be a soccer fan. High school sports, in general, are enjoyable despite being steeped in convention. Soccer, however, exists in its own realm.
Conventional-mindedness and soccer just don’t mix.

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Takin’ a flyer

I’m so far back right now that I need a telescope to see first place. And because of that, I’m picking some upsets in order to have a chance of winning this thing. So don’t think I’m crazy. Business is business.

(12) Miramonte over Ygnacio Valley: The Matadors have some playoff-savvy, and YV was a little lucky that last week’s game against Acalanes didn’t go into overtime. Final score: 28-7. Tiebreaker: 35.

(9) Irvington over Las Lomas: There’s absolutely no reason for me to make this pick, other than the fact that Irvington has become the feel-good story of the playoffs. Final score: 45-31. Tiebreaker: 76.

(6) Ferndale over Salesian: Anything can happen in Class A football. Final score: 17-10. Tiebreaker: 27.

(3) San Leandro over De La Salle: The upset pick to end all upset picks. If it comes through, I’m golden. If it doesn’t, well… Final score: 45-38. Tiebreaker: 83.

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FRIDAY FORECAST: Championship weekend

So here we are. The final weekend of football. And, being the boys basketball writer, I’m okay with that. And while I will be thorougly enjoying the warmth of the gymnasium, I do wish I could see a few of these championship matchups — especially the 3A and 2A title games.
Before I get to making my picks, I would like to point out what a good sport I am in agreeing to bumping up the point values, installing tiebreakers, putting my 7-point lead in serious jeopardy, and giving Bill a fighting shot at saving face. I still intend to win, but I just wanted to put that out there.
And here we go.

(12) DLS over San Leandro: First, DLS will not lose. But I think it’s time somebody threw San Leandro a freakin’ bone. Even if they aren’t as good as the Pirates teams of the past, they’re clearly doing something right (Monte Vista could certainly attest to this). I feel SL is comparable to Pittsburg, so I’m looking for a similar score to the 35-13 Spartan win over Pitt on Oct. 21. Tiebreaker: 48 (38-10)

(9) Las Lomas over Irvington: The Vikings certainly have an offense loaded with playmakers. Unfortunately, their defense has more holes than a screen door. A very good defensive team, Las Lomas might not stop Irvington, but they’ll contain them. And once the Knights get the lead — which should happen no later than the 2nd quarter — they won’t relinquish it. Tiebreaker: 56 (35-21)

(6) Ferndale over Salesian: I don’t know much about Ferndale either, but I did spend two years covering Humboldt Co. high schools and know a lot about the Ferndale football program. Football in Ferndale is very much like high school basketball in the small towns of Indiana — it’s a very big deal. Rest assured, it was no accident the Wildcats upset No. 1 Justin-Siena. If this team is anything like the Ferndale teams of the past, it will be very physical, mentally tough and fundamentally sound. Salesian will have to fight for every yard. Tiebreaker: 38 (21-17)

(3) Miramonte over Ygnacio Valley: Seriously, this game can go either way. Both teams have shown championship quality this season. If it’s not decided inside the final five minutes of the game, I’d be very surprised. I’m going with the Matadors only because of the defense they’ve been playing, and the offensive balance they’ve found behind quarterback Chris Vasilas and running back Gavin Lowery. Tiebreaker: 45 (24-21)