For the fourth time in the last three seasons, Carondelet’s basketball team will face Pinole Valley in the playoffs. The Cougars visit the Spartans tonight at 8 p.m in the North Coast Section Division II semifinal. The last meeting between the two came in the Northern Regional championship game last season, which Carondelet won. The two prior meetings came in the NCS title game, both won by the Cougars. Our photo department will cover the event and create a slide show with audio of all the action, with sounds and images (pictures that won’t make print that capture the atmosphere) that can only be seen and heard on ContraCostaTimes.com. Look out for the slide show on Thursday and let us know what you think.
With this being my first year as the Times wrestling writer, I feel like I’m a little spoiled. I walked into a sport with two bona fide champions in Nikko Triggas and Jason Welch and I mean that in the truest sense of the word. If you spend any time with either one, you get a sense of just how grounded these two young men are. It’s a reflection of the support systems that these two young men have around them. I’m guessing that not too many people paid attention to Welch’s early-round matches at the NCS tournament but when I walked over to watch one of them, it wasn’t John Welch or any of the Las Lomas coaches in his corner, it was Campolindo coach Bob McLaughlin. When the LL guys were a little late in getting over to the match, McLaughlin stepped in. Imagine Mike Nolan stepping in to coach for Art Shell last year. Ok, maybe just laugh at that comment. It’s this kind of interplay that enables these athletes to do well.
These are two wrestlers that fans should have no trouble rooting for. They represent their schools, their communities, and their families with a great sense of pride and anyone in Bakersfield this weekend should take care to watch Triggas in the Campo singlet for the last time. Then watch Welch, because he’s doing things we just haven’t seen in a long, long time.
Alright, I’ll admit that I didn’t update the blog as much as I would have liked to this weekend from the NCS wrestling championships at Newark Memorial. I have good news to go with that though. I’m fairly sure I’ll have wireless access on my laptop at this weekend’s state meet, meaning I will try to give updates as frequently as I can. 33 Times-area wrestlers are headed south, meaning I’ll be on my toes all weekend.
Alright, here’s a recap of what I was struck with this weekend at Newark Memorial.
1. A BIG congratulations to College Park’s Matt Zonfrello. If you ask him and you ask CP coach Jim Keck, it’s been a long road back for Zonfrello after hurting his shoulder last summer. Saturday, he made it all the way back and he should do quite well at the state meet.
2. How about the Picas? In the semifinals it was Nick cheering Tito to a tough win over Granada’s Peter Pelle and then in the finals it was Tito cheering Nick on to a 4-3 win over Alhambra’s Michael Little. In the words of Robert Plant, that’s a whole lotta love.
3. East Contra Costa County did quite well, with Freedom’s David Prado and Liberty’s David Klingsheim and Paul Gomez winning titles. There’s a lot of talent in that area and it’s only going to get better.
Alright, now the focus shifts to the state meet. We’ve got quite a week planned for local coverage leading up to the meet so stay on top of your newspapers. I’m not going to do predictions this time, mostly because I have no idea how good the SoCal guys are (I’m guessing they’re mighty good). But, I did pick 11 of the 14 matches at NCS, so I guess I’m doing something right. We’ll run a full list of area wrestlers competing at state on Friday, so check that out.
As engrossing as the North Coast Section basketball (and soccer) tournament can be, let’s turn our attention to baseball for a moment.
Besides, how can one be enjoying the recent nice stretch of weather and NOT be thinking about baseball? It’s un-American. I’m stocked up on sunflower seeds and ready to start hitting the local diamonds. Who’s with me?
In the meantime, StudentSports.com released it’s preseason Fab 50 national rankings and De La Salle checked in at No. 25. The Spartans are loaded this season with seven players committed to Division I programs, including 2B Nathan Carter (Air Force) and OF Tillman Pugh (Arizona State).
Believe it or not, De La Salle didn’t even come in as the highest ranked Bay Area team. Bellarmine Prep-San Jose will begin the season ranked No. 13.
Everyone has an opinion of who’s going to win at this weekend’s North Coast Section wrestling championships at Newark Memorial. Count me among those who has one. Last year, Times wrestling writer Dave Carpenter nailed 10 of the 14 titlists correctly and while he thought he could have done better, I think he did pretty well. As Dave did last year, I’ve had a bit of outside counsel in the hopes that I don’t embarass myself. So, here goes nothing:
103 — I’ve seen Liberty’s Paul Gomez wrestle several times this year and I was impressed each time. He should have an easy go of it until the quarterfinals, where he could see DLS’s Vince Moita in a rematch of the BVAL championship. With his previous success against No. 2 Lawrence Blanco from James Logan, Gomez’s stiffest test will come in the semifinals where he could see Dublin’s Dominic Scillitani. Prediction: Gomez.
112 — Liberty’s David Klingsheim is the favorite and rightfully so. He always seems to be working on his skills and improving constantly. Old foe Kellen Aura will be waiting in the championship but I’m thinking Klingsheim gets the nod again. Prediction: Klingsheim.
119 — Nikko, Nikko, Nikko. The chants are getting louder. Triggas is 45-1 this year, with his only loss coming at the ASICS Ironman meet in Ohio way back at the beginning of the season. The match to see in this weight class will be a possible quarterfinal dance between Foothill’s Chase Aura and Liberty’s Roger Hutchison. Prediction: Triggas.
125 — Freedom’s David Prado tells me he hasn’t allowed a point in his last two meets. College Park’s Blake Nichols is the anchor of a very good group of Falcons. Well, something’s got to give but trust me, you won’t want to miss this match if these two make it to the championship
round. Prado beat Nichols 6-4 in the 119-pound championship last year. Prediction: Prado.
130 — Healdsburg’s Porfirio Madrigal is the No. 1 seed and honestly, I have yet to see him wrestle. His 35-1 record is nothing to sneeze at though and I would categorize the local contingent as “interesting” at this weight. Liberty’s Mike Bodkin is the No. 2 seed and didn’t even compete at this tournament last year. This could be one of those weights with an upset, as Miramonte’s Sam Worth and Berkeley’s Paul Navo could do well. Prediction: Madrigal.
135 — Foothill’s Tommy Wipfli took some time off to get healthy and certainly seemed good to go when he steamrolled his way through last weekend’s EBAL tournament. This weight class is loaded though and he could see Liberty’s David Rios in the semis. Then in the finals he should see either Arcata’s Trent Stevenson or De La Salle’s Tyler Sheridan. I think Sheridan is nails but Wipfli is the man to beat. Prediction: Wipfli.
140 — I’m told that the No. 1 seed, James Logan’s Colin Malcolm, is rested and ready for a run. To me, that 25-6 record doesn’t inspire confidence and he got edged 2-1 by DLS’s Nate Spangler in last year’s title match. I’m going with the youngster, Freedom’s sophomore sensation Nick Waldrop. Prediction: Waldrop.
145 — Clear Lake’s Justin Mills and Healdsburg’s Mitch Arreguin enter as the top two seeds in a class that’s a little light on local hopefuls. Mt. Diablo’s Angelo Pree is the No. 3 seed and could make a run but more likely to take a crack at either of the top two is Livermore’s Stephen De La Cruz. Prediction: Mills.
152 — This weight class belongs to Alhambra’s Jordan Abed. After Las Lomas’ Jason Welch beat Abed by technical fall in last year’s 152-pound championship, Welch moved up to 160, leaving Abed as top dog at 152. St. Helena’s Gian Traverso is the No. 2 seed but Abed should cruise. Prediction: Abed.
160 — If somebody beats Welch, they will have slayed the dragon. No dragon-killers here, although I wouldn’t mind seeing a possible quarterfinal match between Foothill’s Tony Barnett and Antioch’s Jesse Unpingco. Prediction: Welch.
171 — This weight class is stacked and Ferndale’s Chris Hubbard is the top seed. He’ll have his hands full with James Logan’s Ricky Streeter in the semifinal and then with either DLS’s Tito Pica or Granada’s Peter Pelle in the championship. Hubbard won the 160-pound title last year while Pica and Pelle placed third and fourth, respectively, at 171. This is the classic definition of a toss-up. Prediction: Pica.
189 — DLS’s Nick Pica is the man to beat here and has only wrestled 11 matches this year. In each match I’ve seen him wrestle this year, he’s gotten the pin each time. Prediction: Pica.
215 — Del Norte sophomore Roger McCovey is the No. 1 seed and favorite here. No. 2 Johnny Merryfield from DLS might make a run, but McCovey has been mighty impressive this year. Prediction: McCovey.
285 — This is one of the most competitive weight classes this year. College Park’s Matt Zonfrello has stayed healthy this year en route to a 28-2 record and the No. 1 seed. But waiting in the wings are No. 2 John Thurston of Ferndale (the defending champion) and No. 4 Stephen Bringuel of Granada, both of whom could have a shot at the title. I’ll say Zonfrello and Thurston make it to the championship with Zonfrello making up for last year’s first-round exit. Prediction: Zonfrello.
So, I picked 12 of the top seeds to win. I’m a risk-taker I’ll tell ya. It’s a strong field this year though and anything could happen. We’ll just have to see how it all shakes out. Action starts Friday at 10 a.m. Finals are slated for 6:15 p.m. on Saturday.
Perhaps no two players more greatly reflect the contrasting styles of soccer than retired stars Carlos Valderrama and Steve McManaman. Now imagine, if you will, Valderrama and McManaman growing up in the suburban Bay Area rather than their respective native countries of Colombia and England. Those close to soccer can almost hear a high school or club coach praising McManaman to High Heaven for his speed and marvelous “work rate” as he sprints up and down the field. Listen closely again and one can imagine hearing those same coaches blistering Valderrama for his perceived lack of the same “qualities.” Granted, McManaman played on the wing and Valderrama played a central role, but the contrast still is extreme. They contrast in other ways, too. Valderrama got a lot done with an economy of motion, as he stuck mostly to one area of the field and made some big plays. Valderrama arguably was the most efficient player ever to set foot on a soccer field. McManaman, in contrast, ran like a cheetah for 90 minutes, often accomplishing much less than Valderrama. Though some soccer pundits would find this sacrilegious, McManaman was the anti-Valderrama, soccer’s most inefficient player.
High school soccer, for the most part, feeds off club soccer. And when watching high school soccer — especially that of the suburban schools that dominate the North Coast Section competition — it becomes apparent that folks here insist on breeding a future generation of Steve McManamans when it is the Carlos Valderramas that are more sorely needed.
Alright, no posts in a while so let’s recap what’s happened lately.
1. League tourneys were Saturday and there was no shortage of impressive talent on display. I stopped by the DFAL meet before heading on up the freeway to the BVAL meet and I caught a lot of good action. College Park coach Jim Keck is not wrong. This is an absolute banner year in terms of East Bay talent this year and it deserves to be spotlighted from here on out.
2. Times correspondent Steve Dulas checked in with an interesting tidbit from the DFAL meet. He says watch out for the class of 2017, when the sons of Keck, Northgate coach Carlos Sumulong, and local wrestling legend Casey Strand will all be seniors in high school. Strand, in particular, seems to be raising quite the collection of little wrestlers.
3. Let’s not forget the EBAL tournament, where Tom Wipfli made a little history.
4. My colleagues Tony Gonsalez and Steve R. Waterhouse also took in some action at the HAAL and MVAL meets, so check out their breakdowns of what happened a little further south. Together, these recaps should get you caught up heading into this weekend.
Alright, on to this week. Curtis Pashelka and myself will head to Newark for the NCS tournament on Friday and Saturday and we’ll stay with you up through the state tournament the following weekend. The NCS brackets are now up on their website so check out the seeds and the matchups and figure out for yourselves who will be worth watching. Watch the 135-pound weight class. Trust me.
Check this blog frequently over the next two weeks, as Curtis and I will try to keep you abreast of what’s happening. And check out this Friday’s paper, as I’ll give you a sneak peek of what you can expect from this weekend’s action. If you think you can predict the winners, shoot me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll put up some of your predictions here on the blog.
Rory Gentry has a special bond with Richie Zuniga. Yes, Gentry was Zuniga’s coach for four years on the Concord High School boys soccer team. Yes, Zuniga helped Gentry turn a moribund program into a playoff contender. Yes, Gentry helped Zuniga through years of waiting his turn in goal, then helped him shine when it was finally his time.
But this bond goes a little deeper.
In 1991, Gentry began having severe back pain. It was eventually discovered that he had a large tumor on his spine and a second one wrapped around it. The tumors caused permanent nerve damage to his spine, and even after they were removed he was told he had no better than a 25 percent chance of ever using his legs again.
Those odds are 25 percent better than the ones Zuniga has been given. Within a year, though, Gentry was walking with a cane. He also had gastric bypass surgery and lost 270 pounds, which helped alleviate stress on his back.
Now he’s turned into Zuniga’s biggest fan, cheering on his former player as he battles through the paralysis he suffered in a car accident last October. Gentry will soon need another surgery, this an unrelated procedure on his neck. If he doesn’t, he’s told he’ll never walk again. He’s heard that one before.
And when he has that second surgery, the two will reverse roles. Zuniga will be coaching Gentry, and he’ll be his biggest fan.
“He keeps reminding me that he’s worse off than I am,” Gentry joked. “I keep reminding him that I’m older and wiser.”
* * *
I’ve received three e-mails already this morning about how to make donations to help Richie Zuniga’s family modify their home to make it more wheelchair-accessible. I’m told there is a Washington Mutual account into which donations can be made. The account number is 3133503066 and the name on the account is Richard Zuniga Jr.
* * *
One fact that didn’t make it into the article was that soccer was not Richie’s only sport. He was a wide receiver and an all-league punter on Concord’s football team, and he played baseball for the Minutemen, too. His senior year, he was chosen as the school’s athlete of the year.
After his year at Contra Costa College, he was looking into attending Diablo Valley College and becoming the Vikings’ punter.
* * *
If there’s one thing I really hope came across in the article about Richie Zuniga, it’s the amazing attitude he carries despite his situation. Interviews for stories like these are always difficult, but with Richie it was incredibly easy.
I’ve only talked to Richie very briefly, so I’m certainly not qualified to make any judgments of his character. All I know is that if I were in his situation, I can guarantee you I wouldn’t be as upbeat or positive. I don’t think I’m that strong.
You hear stories all the time about people who were told they’d never walk again or something of the sort, then overcame the odds and did it. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to read a story like that about Richie 10 years down the road. His family is already taking steps in that direction, and they’re hoping to enroll him in a training program at Project Walk in Southern California.
Of course, Richie really might never walk again. But he strikes me as a young man who’d be ready and willing to deal with that, too.
I asked Richie if he believed his doctors when they told him he’ll never walk again.
“That’s what they always say in the beginning, but I’m starting to get a little feeling here and there,” he said. “Before it was only in my thumbs. Now it’s all the way to my middle finger on my left hand. I’m slowly getting some back. My spine wasn’t severed, it was crushed. So I could still get feeling back here and there. It’s just up to nature how much I get back.”
The first night of the North Coast Section playoffs saw one major upset in each division, and it set up a number of intriguing matchups in Saturday’s quarterfinals. Among those matchups are rematches of both of last year’s championship games.
In 2A, No. 11 Miramonte beat No. 6 Kennedy at Richmond High School on Wednesday night. More surprising than the result was the score — the Matadors won 4-0 and probably could have scored more.
The only other real upset was in 3A, as No. 11 Castro Valley edged No. 6 San Ramon Valley 2-1 in double-overtime. That was the worst of a bad night for the East Bay Athletic League, which saw three of its five playoff teams go down on the first day. No. 10 Amador Valley lost 3-0 to No. 7 Antioch, while No. 8 Livermore lost 3-1 to No. 9 Richmond.
Miramonte’s win sets up a rematch of last year’s 2A final against Piedmont. The fifth-seeded Matadors won that one 3-0. And Richmond’s win will set up a fourth playoff game in five years against No. 1 Monte Vista. Richmond lost each of the previous three by one goal, including a 2-1 defeat in last year’s 3A title game.
Speaking of rematches, No. 2 De La Salle will face Bay Valley Athletic League foe Antioch for the third time this season in Saturday’s quarterfinals. The Spartans won 1-0 and 2-0 in their two regular-season meetings. And Castro Valley, which spoiled an all-EBAL quarterfinal match by beating San Ramon Valley, will play California.
There are plenty of interesting games in 2A, as well, including Las Lomas-Bishop O’Dowd and St. Mary’s-Acalanes.
My picks for the semifinals? I think the top four seeds will probably take care of business in 3A, but if I had to pick an upset, it would be Richmond over Monte Vista. The Oilers looked like world-beaters against Livermore last night, and they’re a real threat to beat anybody if the keep playing like that.
It’s highly possible the 2A semifinals could feature four Diablo Foothill Athletic League teams, though I think Miramonte upsetting Piedmont and St. Mary’s upsetting Acalanes are equally likely. Las Lomas-Bishop O’Dowd is a toss-up, but I’ll go with the DFAL and take Las Lomas. And I think No. 1 Concord is the team to beat, so the Minutemen should be able to handle No. 8 Tennyson.
Here’s a breakdown of the brackets so far:
Wednesday’s first round
Richmond 3, No. 8 Livermore (14-8-1) 1
Washington 5, No. 12 Deer Valley (8-9-6) 1
Antioch 3, No. 10 Amador Valley (11-7-7) 0
Castro Valley 2, No. 6 San Ramon Valley (15-7-3) 1, 2 OT
No. 9 Richmond (18-4-1) at No. 1 Monte Vista (16-0-7), 7 p.m.
No. 5 Washington (20-5-0) vs. No. 4 James Logan (16-6-2), at Tak Fudenna Stadium, Fremont, 7 p.m.
No. 7 Antioch (16-4-2) at No. 2 De La Salle (17-1-6), 7 p.m.
No. 11 Castro Valley (15-7-3) at No. 3 California (15-4-2), 7 p.m.
Wednesday’s first round
Tennyson 1, No. 9 Campolindo (12-6-6) 0, shootout
Bishop O’Dowd 4, No. 12 Albany (12-9-2) 0
St. Mary’s 1, No. 10 Hercules (8-5-2) 0, 2 OT
No. 11 Miramonte (9-10-5) 4, No. 6 Kennedy-Richmond (16-2-4) 0
No. 8 Tennyson (15-4-2) at No. 1 Concord (17-2-5), 7 p.m.
No. 4 Las Lomas (16-4-3) at No. 5 Bishop O’Dowd (17-2-4), noon
No. 7 St. Mary’s (16-3-3) vs. at No. 2 Acalanes (16-4-3), 7 p.m.
No. 11 Miramonte (10-10-5) at No. 3 Piedmont (19-1-3), 7 p.m.
There’s no guarantee the De La Salle High School football team will make another appearance in the CIF Division I championship bowl game at the Home Depot Center this fall. But chances are if the Spartans win another NCS title in 2007, strength of schedule will again be in their favor as the section commissioners make their choices.
De La Salle added a home game against Loyola-L.A. for week two of the 2007 season, and a week four contest against Castlemont in Oakland. In addition to five games against BVAL opponents, the Spartans also play Serra, Palma and Mission Viejo. De La Salle will play Loyola again in L.A. in 2008.
Last year, the combined record of Castlemont, Loyola, Mission Viejo, Palma and Serra was 40-17. Loyola was actually the worst at 4-6, but the Cubs were 39-14 between 2001-05 competing in a league with Mater Dei and Santa Margarita.
Say what you will about De La Salle, but the team isn’t afraid to take on new challenges. Heck, putting together this schedule must have been a challenge in itself considering the Spartans will play seven EBAL games starting in 2008. That meant not being able to put together home-and-home games past week 3, something they’ve traditionally done with most non-East Bay teams. Getting teams to commit to 1-year deals isn’t easy.
There was even talk that the Spartans would play Grant, but that fell through after the NCS denied De La Salle its application to play a week zero game, which would have been used to play the Pacers. If it had come to pass, the Spartans would have had one of the most difficult schedules in the state. Still, few NorCal teams will be playing a slate of games this tough.
Unlike 2006, De La Salle will be a largely inexperienced team this fall. Fifteen starters will be lost to graduation, including eight on offense. But clearly the coaching staff feels they will up for the challenge.
And if they rise to it, we may be seeing the Spartans in the Home Depot Center again this December.