St. Mary’s goes “Guarani” 20 years later

In 1987, Paraguayan tennis fans stormed the court after their team upset the United States in Davis Cup competition. The television images from Asuncion showed a frenzy and eurphoria one would expect to see at a soccer match or maybe a basketball game. But tennis?
Though the Bay Shore Athletic League boys tennis playoffs aren’t exactly the Davis Cup, the reaction of the St. Mary’s High School team at the end of the championship doubles match on April 25 at Alameda’s Harbor Bay Club brought those 20-year-old scenes to mind.
You see, the Panthers’ top-seeded doubles team of Scott Leong and Ed Califano had just secured the league title by beating Piedmont’s second-seeded Elliot Marks and P.D. Castagnozzi-Bush. Within seconds, St. Mary’s teammates threw open the gate and rushed the court to greet, congratulate and celebrate with Leong and Califano. High-fives, hollers and hugs were the order of the day for the Panthers, a joyful deviation from the typically staid world of tennis.
Tennis is a fine sport. But it has conventions most unusual to someone more accustomed to the more typical “stadium” sports (e.g., football, baseball, soccer, basketball, even volleyball) where fans react during the run of play with no fear of cold stares or angry retorts for the slightest blink of an eye or move of a muscle. The Panthers’ reaction, like that in Asuncion two decades ago, was a reminder of what tennis can be – – a sport to cherish, cheer and enjoy to the fullest.


Band of Brothers

During a post game interview on April 17, Deer Valley High volleyball player Erik Aku continually teased Liberty’s Shane Jones. The Lions’ outside hitter managed to keep a straight face as he spoke about the special season Liberty is experiencing.
But the more Jones spoke, the more Aku kept popping up, playfully trying to be a distraction.
Apparently it was O.K., since Aku and Jones have been friends since the third grade.
“That’s my buddy,” Jones said. “And he plays in my band.”
Say what?!
Jones is the lead vocalist and guitar player for “Dice in the Icebox” which plays music Jones describes as a “pop-punk sound with horns.” Jones’ funky curly-top hairstyle suits him well. It’s the exact same hairdo Aku sports while manning the bass for the group.
“It’s so much fun,” said Aku, who joined the year-old band in January. The band recently played a gig at Slim’s in San Francisco.
Last year, Las Lomas’ Joel Davidson said he played drums for a band called the The Currents.
What’s up with volleyball guys in rock bands?
I guess the chicks must dig it.
Get it? “Dig it.”


Vball: Northgate Tourney

After taking a quick glance at the field of 16 teams in the annual Northgate boys volleyball tournament on Saturday, a Deer Valley-College Park meeting in the championship match seems evident.

In fact, lets go ahead and pencil them in.

Yea, yea, the games still need to be played and I’m sure Amador Valley, Granada, Las Lomas and Antioch will have something say about it, but both the Wolverines and Falcons enter leading their leagues (BVAL and DFAL respectively) and it would be great to see the two battle it out.

Bentley will serve as the other host site and pool play starts at 9 a.m. with the championship match to begin approximately at 6 p.m. at Northgate. Emphasis on the word “approximately.” Tournaments tend to run long, especially when teams warm up between EVERY match (my personal pet peeve). Anyway, cross your fingers it stays on schedule.

Here’s a look at the field. Feel free to leave your thoughts below.

Pool A:Amador Valley, Northgate, De La Salle, Berean Christian
Comment: Based on the Deer Valley tournament, Amador Valley is the favorite in this group, but De La Salle comes in wanting to prove it’s much better than its league record indicates, which makes the Spartans a bit dangerous. Look for the Dons and Spartans to battle for the top spot in this one.

Pool B: Deer Valley, Head-Royce, Acalanes, Granada
Comment: Deer Valley is the unofficial No. 1 seed in this tournament. With the Wolverines’ Erik Aku-to-Justin Smith combination, no one will argue. Head Royce is strong among the small schools but Granada could be the surprise (or not so surprising) team in this bracket. Remember, the Matadors, along with Deer Valley, took Foothill to five-games this season before losing.

Pool C: College Park, Washington-Fremon, Drake-San , Alhambra
Comment: College Park might not have a definite go-to-guy (Andrew Cruz comes to mind) but the Falcons relish the fact they have multiple options. The Falcons are a clear cut favorite to make the final. Washington has a win over Amador Valley but losses to Foothill and Granada.

Pool D: Las Lomas, Antioch, Monte Vista, Bentley
Comment: Something tells me this could be the most competitive pool of them all. Las Lomas and Antioch should advance but Bentley started the season strong before coming back to Earth and Monte Vista is in the bottom half of the tough EBAL but has played San Ramon Valley to a five-game loss.


CP Falcons flying high

The College Park High school softball team is forcing everyone to take notice.

While most local softball fans were watching and talking about the Livermore Stampede, the Falcons were taking care of business at the Standley Cup in Hayward. They crushed their first three opponents, Mission San Jose, George Washington and Irvington, by a combined score of 36-1 to advance to the semifinals, which had to be postponed to Monday due to Saturday’s rain.

It just seemed to delay the inevitable. College Park beat Montgomery-Santa Rosa, which upset San Ramon Valley in pool play, 4-0 to advance to the finals. There, the Falcons rolled over Pinole Valley 3-0 to take the championship.

Including Tuesday’s come-from-behind 3-2 win over Acalanes, College Park has won 14 straight games for this first time in five years. In 2002, the Falcons reeled off 17 straight before losing in the NCS 3A semifinals.

College Park has power and some speed in its lineup. Mostly though, they have an excellent pitcher in Stephani Fairclough (she asked to drop the E in her first name). She struggled with her control a little in the game against Acalanes with seven walks, but she made up for it with 11 k’s.

The DFAL season is only half over, but barring a total collapse, College Park will win the league and earn the automatic berth to the NCS playoffs. I’m guessing they’ll be seeded fourth or fifth if they go 17-1 or 18-0, with the EBAL champion and runner-up and the BVAL champ (if it’s not Heritage) taking the top three spots. The wins over Montgomery and Pinole Valley were big for College Park’s seeding.


V for Venema

Cal switches up Foothill

Besides having one of the coolest names in prep sports, California High School boys volleyball player Mike Venema (sounds like a DC comic super-villain, doesn’t it?) is pretty good. In fact, he’s the Grizzlies best player.

But it was the switch in the game plan by Grizzlies co-coach Mike Terrell that made the difference during a 17-25, 25-21, 15-13 win over Foothill at the Chico Tournament on April 14.

California became the first team in the area to beat the Falcons and they did it after watching Foothill lose to Woodcreek-Roseville earlier in the day.

“We just changed our rotation,” California co-coach Ray Montalvo said. “We put one of our middles (6-foot-4 Daniel Whitaker) in front of (Foothill’s Matt) Rice, and (Venema), our opposite (hitter), in the middle.”

The adjustment seemed to throw Foothill off, Montalvo said, especially Rice, an exceptional outside hitter.

“We really flustered him. I’ve never seen him play that off,” Montalvo said. “He was hitting a lot of balls out.”

With outside hitters Barry Conklin and Drew Crinnion stepping up, the Grizzlies (16-7, 4-2) caught the Falcons by surprise.

“We won the battle on the outside,” Montalvo said. “The serve-receive game was the same. It was a pretty good sideout match. It just kept going back and forth.”

The Grizzlies lost to Foothill 25-21, 25-22, 25-16 on March 27 in EBAL play.

Deer Valley, who lost a non-league match to Foothill in five games on March 14, beat Woodcreek to advance to the semifinals. The Wolverines were beat by eventual champs Valley Christian-San Jose in the semifinals.

Cal finished tied for fifth with their only losses coming to Valley Christian and Madera, the two teams who made the final.


Can Foothill win Chico Tourney?

The John D’anna boys volleyball tournament (a.k.a. the Chico Tournament) is Saturday, April 14 and there are five local teams participating out of 23 schools.

Foothill and Deer Valley, perhaps the two best teams in the Times coverage area, highlight the locals which also includes California, Clayton Valley and Encinal.

Foothill placed second at the UC Davis tournament on March 10, losing to Placer High and 6-foot-8 outside hitter Cory Riecks, who will play at Pepperdine in the fall. The Falcons then beat Amador Valley to win the Deer Valley Invitiational. Apparently Chico made a splash during the DV tourney as well.

Pool play starts promptly at 9 a.m. and the top two teams in each pool will move on to the Gold championship. The two bottom teams will compete for the Silver championship. There were some late drop outs, so it looks like Chico will play in two pools. Not sure if that’s 100 percet correct or how it will work, but there you have it.

Here is how the pools shape out:

Pool A, B , & C will be at Chico High, 910 Esplanade; Chico, CA 95926

Pool A: Foothill, Wood Creek, River Valley, Chico

Pool B: Valley Christian, Chico California, Rio Linda

Pool C: Deer Valley, Jesuit, Oakmont, Laguna Creek

Pool D, E, & F will be held at Pleasant Valley High, 1475 East Ave, Chico, CA 95926

Pool D: Madera, Pleasant Valley, Clayton Valley, Del Oro

Pool E: Nevada Union, Valley-Sacramento, Pioneer, Mira Loma

Pool F: Ponderosa, Sanger, Davis, Encinal


Triggas named to Team USA

I’ve learned that my last wrestling update was incomplete. Nikko Triggas not only competed in the freestyle tournament in Las Vegas last week, but also won the Western Region Junior Greco-Roman tournament and won the FILA Junior Greco National Championship. Because he won, Triggas claimed the No. 1 spot in the country at 121.25 pounds and will represent Team USA at the FILA Junior Pan-Am games in Venezuela in June. He will also enter the Olympic Training Center wrestle-offs to determine the USA’s representative at the Junior World Games in China in August as the No. 1 seed.
To this news I ask: Is there anything he can’t do?


Offseason wrestling news

The title of this post may be a misnomer because for most high school wrestlers, there really isn’t an offseason. I’ve been tracking what some local guys are doing at national tournaments and I figured I’d share the wealth of information I’ve either been given or stumbled upon.
At the NHSCA National Wrestling Championships in Virginia Beach, VA, the East Bay had a few all-Americans to report. First was Freedom’s Nick Waldrop, who placed fifth at 140 pounds in the sophomore division. Then came the seniors and leading the way was Campolindo’s Nikko Triggas. Triggas finished second at 119 pounds, dropping a heart-breaking 7-6 decision to Zach Sanders of Minnesota. He was named an all-American. Foothill’s Kellen Aura was also named an all-American.
In Las Vegas, Jason Welch wrestled in the Senior Freestyle tournament and ended up bowing out with a loss to New York’s Ramico Blackman. His tournament was still impressive, however, as he had to wrestle through the qualifying bracket to even make it into the main tournament. Welch got one win in the main tourney, beating Scott Owen from New York. Triggas also wrestled in the Western Junior Freestyle tourney, finishing second at 119 pounds in the junior tournament. And Liberty’s David Klingsheim wrestled the 112-pound B division at the junior tournament and won the championship.
There are other local wrestlers who continue to compete around the country and certainly will throughout the spring and summer. As I get results, I’ll post them here. Also, pick up the April 14 Times and look for the All-Times winter section that includes wrestling, soccer and basketball.


Boys Vball: “Us against the world”

If you haven’t played, coached or perhaps know someone who played or coached high school volleyball, you just don’t understand.

Volleyball isn’t simply about getting the ball over the net. Bump, set and spike is the foundation. However, there is so much more.

I’m a bit biased when it comes to the sport, because I played it at Lynwood High in southeast Los Angeles.

Lynwood wasn’t exactly a volleyball power, but it was good back in the early to mid 1990’s. All the credit goes to coach Carl Buggs, who built the girls and boys programs. (Buggs left Lynwood for Long Beach Poly to be the girls basketball coach in 1996. The Jackrabbits just won
back-to-back DI state championships against Berkeley).

I wasn’t always a volleyball supporter. I was a baseball player my freshman and sophomore year, until all of my friends — already on the team — convinced me to try out. It’s a sport that definitely grows on you.

As a teenager, I watched the USA Men’s National Team and was amazed by the skill and power with which those guys played the game. (By the way, Lloy Ball might be back in the mix.) I followed the AVP tour and learned Karch Kiraly (and is funny pink hat) was the sports’ godfather. (Farewell Karch.)

In the summer, I’d drive 15 minutes down the 105 freeway to Manhattan Beach with my friends to play “doubles” on the sand. In the gym, we’d practice diving for free balls just for kicks.

As a setter, I loved putting variations on the famed “X” play. On a perfect pass, and if ran with precision, the play looked like the water show at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Guys would come from every direction. One would jump for a quick up the middle, another right behind him, another for shoot, meanwhile I’d set the back row hitter. We called it a “pipe.” Of course, it never worked, but it looked good.

My friends and I talked a whole other language.

We thought the word “Mikasa” sounded so cool. We used terms like Pancake, Chicken Wing and Six Pack. We could “pepper” all day. We tried hitting “10-footers” and “chesters” and celebrated if you “Roofed” someone, or “pounded” the ball, or if you got a “waterfall” on the opposing block. There was nothing like winning a “joust” at the net, or setting a “quick” with just one hand, your thumb and two fingers, arm extended at the height of a jump. If you did it right, you wouldn’t be called for a “lift.”

All this was nearly 10 years ago for me. I’m sure some of those terms have changed. I’m also sure a lot of it remains the same.

But I’ve learned one thing from playing the sport and now covering it for the Times: Volleyball is a community with almost a cult-like following and not much else. On high school campuses now, volleyball probably doesn’t get the respect it deserves. It sure doesn’t with the average sports fan. Some may disagree with that, but c’mon, let’s face reality.

I agree with some points made by my colleague Mike McGreehan (read below), a veteran of the Bay Area sports scene. But I think his argument depends on what side of the hill your school is on. For example, ACCAL and EBAL volleyball are too different worlds.

I am no expert. I never played club ball (didn’t have the money) or college (didn’t have the talent). But I did play in high school and had a blast. I still have volleyball’s “us against the world” mentality, as silly as that may sound.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that volleyball, boys and girls, will always struggle to claim the spotlight, but it’s not a lost cause.

At least it’s not for me.


Viva Futbol!

On Wednesday, March 28, the national men’s soccer teams of Mexico and Ecuador face off in front of a full house in Oakland. The game is a smashing success in terms of interest generated, selling out two weeks in advance at 47,416 tickets. Organizers say that many more could have been sold (Mt. Davis stays closed as McAfee Coliseum is in its baseball configuration). In Texas the same night, an international friendly between the USA and Guatemala draws a far-below-capacity 10,932 patrons.
So what does all of this have to do with high school sports? Nothing – – well, except for the fact that it underscores everything we see in high school soccer regarding people’s attitudes and passions toward the game.
At some schools – – especially in the well-heeled areas of Lamorinda and along the 680 corridor – – we watch soccer. Yes, much of it is interesting, the fans/parents generally are friendly and supportive, and the teams traditionally have enjoyed much success in postseason play.
But at other schools – – in West Contra Costa County, for instance – – we not only watch soccer, we experience FUTBOL! This involves more than just styles of play. It’s about passion, a fire in the belly, a “hunk-a, hunk-a burnin’ love” for the sport. The futbol experience takes place not only on the field, but in the stands. To borrow from a Latin American song, there’s an Alma, Corazon y Vida, a soul, heart and life, to these events.
Yes, the high school boys soccer season ended weeks ago in these parts. But the events of March 28, drew a parallel and screamed for commentary. When play starts up again, get out to various schools and observe the different leagues. Experience some youth games in a variety of areas to get a fix in the meantime.
Watch soccer. But while you’re at it, also make sure to experience the flaming passion of futbol!