January 30, 2009
Section's football schedule change could be harbinger of NorCal playoffs

In a proposed overhaul of its football playoff system, the Sac-Joaquin Section will move to an 11-week schedule to play 10 games starting in 2010.

According to section officials, this will give teams an earlier practice start (Aug. 9 in 2010), a bye during the regular season, another week for playoffs for most divisions and the potential to play in a California Interscholastic Federation Northern California championship game the week before the state bowl finals.

"That way you could pit a De La Salle against a Grant and let them decide matters on the field," said Sac-Joaquin Section commissioner Pete Saco said.

Saco has been a proponent of expanding the three-year bowl-game format, and he thinks it's a good bet the CIF will adopt Northern California and Southern California regionals for the 2010 season.

"Picking the teams for the bowl games this year, there were not many easy choices," Saco said, one of the 10 CIF commissioners who selected the teams for the five games. "The regional games will help clear the air a little bit. You'll have more teams able to decide it on the field."

Many thought the CIF should have picked De La Salle to play in the Open Division game and Bellarmine of San Jose for the Division I game. Instead, the CIF shocked the pundits by choosing Grant to represent Northern California in the Open Division contest.

It proved the right choice as the Pacers upset Long Beach Poly 25-20 while De La Salle fell to Centennial of Corona 21-16 in the D-I match-up.

The section's reputation also was strengthened by St. Mary's of Stockton's strong performance in a 37-34 loss to Cathedral of San Diego in the D-II state final.

"Now our section has credibility when we speak," Saco said. "I think they realize we play pretty good football."

January 28, 2009
Huge gap between strong and weak in girls basketball

The gap between the top high school girls' basketball teams in the area and the decent is wider than the Pacific Ocean.

The Delta Valley Conference game between No. 5 Kennedy and No. 11 Davis served as proof. What was supposed to be an epic battle for first place in the DVC turned out to be a complete mismatch as Kennedy pounded Davis 59-36 on Tuesday.

It was a surprising blowout win for Kennedy because both teams played without their best players. Kennedy's All-Metro forward Melody Khlok has been out of the lineup with an injured thumb since Jan. 17 and Davis standout forward Nikol Allison didn't play because of the flu.

Still, Kennedy outscored Davis 22-2 in the second quarter and cruised to the easy victory.

Kennedy is not the only top-notch team blowing out its league rivals. Sacramento, St. Francis, Oak Ridge, and Del Oro are all doing the same, proving there is no parity in local high school girl's basketball.

That's not good because the quality of any entity is only as strong as its weakest link. And right now, the weak links in local girls' basketball are weaker than weak.

January 27, 2009
Loretto closure devastating news to golf standout and her father


The news hit parents and students in the gut this morning.

Because of declining enrollment and a worsening economy, Loretto High School, a parochial high school that has been around more than 50 years, will close its doors in June.

"It looked like a funeral picking up the girls today," Doug Noda told The Bee's Steve Pajak. Noda's daughter Ashley, 14, is a student at Loretto and one of the area's top golfers.

"They were all crying," he said of the students. "Ashley is still crying. These girls were devastated."

Noda, a Roseville resident, picked up his daughter early because it was a half-day at the school.

"This is quite an upsetting," he said. "We never thought about this happening."

Ashley Noda was the first Loretto player to qualify for the California Interscholastic Federation state championship as an individual. She led the Lions to the Capital Athletic League and Sac-Joaquin Section D-III championships and a second-place finish at the Masters Meet this fall.

Where is Ashley going to go now?

"I don't know," said Doug Noda. "It's pretty shocking. It's going to be a letdown wherever she goes now."

He said they will need to decide whether to transfer to another private school or to attend a public school. The Nodas live across the street from Woodcreek High School.

According to the school's announcement in a press release today, there are 262 juniors, sophomores and freshmen who will need to find another school. Loretto will graduate 127 seniors in June, according to the release.

Enrollment at the all-girls school numbered 560 students three years ago, but had fallen to 389 this year. The release said that the school's annual entrance exam usually attracts 175 prospective students. This year, 80 girls sat for the examination.

The economic downtown and heightened competition from new private and public schools were cited in the release as reasons for Loretto's declining enrollment.

Before entering high school, Doug Noda said his daughter had to decide between Loretto and higher-profile St. Francis, which has won nine CIF Northern California golf championships.

"When she made the decision, it wasn't for golf," Noda said. "She fell in love with the girls and teachers. It was a lot warmer to her."

January 27, 2009
Franklin coach, highlights, rankings to highlight prep TV show

Hoops is the theme of today's High School Sports Xtra on Comcast SportsNet California that airs at 3 p.m. and 11 p.m.

Franklin High School boys coach Jesse Formaker is the in-studio guest. Formaker, who heads The Bee's No. 6 ranked team, talks about his current team, his coaching term at Hayward High that included a championship run at Arco Arena, and his musical love of the late 1960s and early '70s.

Also discussed: big games over the weekend, big games on tap, the girls and boys Sac-Joaquin Section rankings, and the athlete of the week (Anthony Romero of Rocklin).

High School Sports Xtra runs most every Tuesday on Comcast. Next week's show will include a lot of discussion about area football recruiting. The in-studio guest is Folsom quarterback David Graves, The Bee's All-Metreo Player of the Year. Gary Gelfand hosts the show, which includes sit-in sessions with members of The Bee's prep staff.

January 23, 2009
Kenyon bows out a winner, regardless of final score

Steve Kenyon will coach his 250th and final game Saturday, and regardless of outcome, the man bows out the ultimate winner.

Kenyon's legacy is secure. He's one of the absolute best coaches I have ever seen. Organized, determined, a man with a plan, Kenyon led Casa Roble and Del Campo to championship success in the 1990s after those programs had known mostly misery or worse for so many years before his arrival.

Along the way, he became a nationally recognized and honored strength and conditioning coach, imploring the benefits of lifting the right way, of making your body a machine. In recent years, he has worked with partner Dan Bunz run Speed Strength Training in Rocklin (www.speedstrengthtraining.com) to help prepare athletes of all ages maximize their potential.

Saturday, Kenyon heads the Sacramento-area law enforcement - the Guns - against the Hoses, the Sacramento-area firefighters, in the 36th annual Pig Bowl charity game at Sacramento State, a 1 p.m. kickoff. Kenyon led the Guns to eight consecutive victories before the Hoses prevailed 9-6 last season.

"This is the best coaching job in America," Kenyon said. "You practice two hours a day, three days a week for a month, and then you can have a beer with your players - legally. These are great, great guys, and they're great players. I mean, good night. These guys can compete."

Among Kenyon's players: Former Kennedy star Jeff Scorza at quarterback, former Galt great Mark Hatzenbuhler at fullback, former Burbank burner Andre Mallot at tailback, former El Camino, American River College and Sac State star Chris Palmer at receiver, former NFL player Chuck Espey in the trenches and former Sacramento Surge player Greg Coauette at safety.

The game will be shown on tape delayed Saturday night on Sacramento Access, Channel 17 on Comcast at 8 p.m. with announcers Walt Gray and Doug Kelly. And the coach with the extra bounce in his step? Kenyon, looking fit enough to still block and tackle.

January 23, 2009
Radical changes ahead for Sac-Joaquin Section's football playoffs

Expect some sweeping changes for the Sac-Joaquin Section football playoffs that likely will be implemented as early as next fall.

In acknowledging that the current system of pre-determined playoff brackets "is basically not working" the section is considering the following:

• Expand the playoffs from 58 to 76 teams.

• Contract from seven divisions to six, making four 16-team brackets and two six-team brackets.

• Seed teams according to their number of wins, then use a a tie-breaking system that would include a strength-of-schedule formula, if needed.

The move is being made to avoid some of the problems that plagued last fall's playoffs.

These included having arguably the two best Division II teams, Grant and Granite Bay, meet in the first round of the playoffs and having several teams with losing records, including 2-8 Foothill, reach the postseason.

Under the proposal, first aired to the section's playoff committee Jan. 9, the football playoffs would be split into three groups: D-I and D-II; D-III, IV and V; and D-VI and D-VII.

Thirty-two teams would qualify in D-I and D-II and the same number in D-III, D-IV, D-V.

Both groups would be split into two 16-team brackets based on enrollment. Twelve teams would qualify for the third group, each divided into two six-team playoff brackets also based on enrollment.

In the two top groups, the league champions and runners-up would receive automatic playoff berths. Twelve at-large teams would be selected based on the number of wins and strength of schedule.

For next season only, the league would continue to use the two and three team league playoff qualifying formula. So in Division I-II, for instance, there will be 24 automatic qualifiers and eight at-large selections.

Del Oro football coach Casey Taylor, who attended the committee meeting, says the proposal is intriguing.

"It's got some positives as far as having more teams in the playoffs," Taylor said.

One issue he thinks needs to be resolved is for the section to try to better align its playoff system with the state bowl game's enrollment numbers.

This past fall, for instance, St. Mary's of Stockton won the section's D-I championship but competed in the Division II state bowl while Grant, the D-II section champion, was a D-I qualifying state bowl team (although the Pacers were selected for the Open Division game).

The section also released what the playoffs would have looked like if it used the this system last fall.

D-II would have been extremely competitive with Grant, Granite Bay, St. Mary's and D-I section finalist Pleasant Grove the top four seeds.

Among the teams that would have made the playoffs that failed to this fall included Ponderosa (7-3), Bella Vista (7-3), Elk Grove (6-4), Colfax (6-4), Center (6-4), West Campus (6-4), Jesuit (5-5) and Galt (5-5).

Here's a look at how each division would have been seeded:

Division I - 1. Merced; 2. Napa; 3. Lincoln-Stockton; 4. Nevada Union; 5. Folsom; 6. Turlock; 7. Laguna Creek; 8. Johansen; 9. McNair; 10. Tracy; 11. Burbank; 12. Los Banos; 13. Grace Davis; 14. West; 15. Chavez; 16. Galt.

Division II - 1. Grant; 2. Granite Bay; 3. St. Mary's-Stockton; 4. Pleasant Grove; 5. Christian Brothers; 6. Roseville; 7. Vacaville; 8. Ponderosa; 9. Rosemont; 10. Pitman; 11. Fairfield; 12. Elk Grove; 13. Lodi; 14. Oak Ridge; 15. Woodcreek; 16. Jesuit.

Division III - 1. Casa Roble; 2. Inderkum; 3. Vanden; 4. Oakdale; 5. Rio Americano; 6. Sierra; 7. Rodriguez; 8. Del Campo; 9. Manteca; 10. Rio Linda; 11. Patterson; 12. Bella Vista; 13. Woodland; 14. Center; 15. Yuba City; 16. Central Valley.

Division IV - 1. Escalon; 2. Whitney; 3. Central Catholic; 4. Hilmar; 5. Dixon; 6. Modesto Christian; 7. Bear River; 8. Argonaut; 9. Calavares; 10. Sonora; 11. Placer; 12. Colfax; 13. Summerville; 14. Ripon; 15. Ripon Christian; 16. West Campus.

Division V - 1. Mariposa; 2. Marysville; 3. Lindhurst; 4. LeGrand; 5. Waterford; 6. San Juan.

Division VI - 1. Big Valley Christian; 2. Vacaville Christian; 3. Bradshaw Christian; 4. Stone Ridge Christian; 5. Brookside Christian; 6. Capital Christian.

The playoff committee is scheduled to meet again Jan. 30.

January 22, 2009
Lack of recruiting interest baffles Grant's Alberghini

Grant football coach Mike Alberghini is mystified.

His Pacers performed magnificently this season in going 14-0 and winning the area's first California Interscholastic Federation state bowl championship.

But it hasn't translated into a windfall of recruiting opportunities for the Pacers.

"I know we have a lot of players who can help some programs," said Alberghini, who garnered area, state and national coaching honors this season. "We might have to check what we are doing as coaches to see if times have changed as far as getting kids the looks that they have had in the past. Everyone around here is totally baffled by the lack of attention from recruiters."

So far, no Pacers have made a college verbal commitment.

Alberghini said it's possible that Grant may not have anyone ink a national letter of intent on signing day Feb. 4.

He said quarterback Kipeli Koniseti, wide receiver-defensive back Darvin McCauley, offensive lineman Alesana Laban, tight end Aaron Jones, linebackers Jordan Williams and Jeremiah Toma and defensive back Jaymee Matheny are among those who have gotten some recruiting attention but no solid offers.

Koniseti and McCauley, both of whom starred in the 25-20 upset win over Long Beach Poly in the Open Division state bowl finale, are the Pacers' most intriguing recruits.

Early in the season, Alberghini thought Koniseti likely would be a linebacker in college, although he hardly played the position for the Pacers. But because of Koniseti's size, running ability and leadership skills, Alberghini says those showing interest now are recruiting him as a quarterback or "athlete."

"With more and more types of spread and shotgun offenses out there, colleges have liked what they seen of Kipeli behind center," Alberghini said.

Most recruiters thought McCauley's top position earlier in the season was as a defensive back. Now, according to Alberghini, he's been recruited as a wide receiver because of his impressive postseason performances.

Both, however, likely won't have their academic house in order until June, according to Alberghini. There are core classes to complete and qualifying test scores still needed.

"They're a little bit on the bubble as far as having the grades and the test scores to go with it," Alberghini said. "They'll probably go right up to the end to become qualifiers."

Colleges can still sign so-called bubble players on Feb. 4, contingent on their eventually qualifying, but there is more risk.

So it's unlikely on signing day there will be the huge gathering as there was two years ago at the Del Paso Heights campus when six Pacers inked Division I scholarship offers.

Defensive tackle Christian Tupou is already an impact player at USC; linebacker Terrance Pritchett is back with Oregon State after leaving the team for a brief period last season for "personal reasons"; offensive guard Devan Cunningham started most of 2008 at Fresno State before being sidelined by a shoulder injury and wide receiver Jevon "J.J." Stallworth, younger brother of Cleveland Browns receiver Donte' Stallworth, is expected to be a contributor next season for the Bulldogs after his '08 red-shirt freshmen year.

Alberghini said quarterback-wide receiver Tim Lang left Fresno State over grade issues after playing as a true freshmen in 2007 while defensive back Ricky Thompson, who signed with Sacramento State, decided not to attend the school.

"We've had four kids play in the NFL, we've had guys in arena football and we've shown that our kids can play well at the college level," Alberghini said. "So I'm a little surprised that we've fallen through the cracks this year."

January 22, 2009
Common Good basketball benefit to look at different format, dates

While everyone would agree that last weekend's nine-game Common Good Classic basketball showcase at Del Oro High School was a success, look for it to be played on different dates and with a new format next season.

With all seven Sierra Foothill League boys teams having participated in the first two benefits for "An Organization for the Common Good," the coaches are lobbying organizer Brad Swope to move the games to the first weekend in January before league play starts.

"Most of the coaches have been a little bit nervous about the timing of those games," said Rocklin coach Steve Taylor. "Right now it comes in the middle of league. So coaches worry about the fatigue factor and players being injured."

But Swope, while agreeing new dates for the event need to be found, isn't keen on holding it at the tail-end of Christmas vacation.

"Those dates (Jan. 1 and 2) would be hard to swallow," Swope said. "It's still the school break and there would be no way to promote within the schools."

Because the current games are played after league starts, the Common Good results don't impact a team's power rating. But unlike the preseason Foundation Games, the games count as a contact (teams are limited to 27 regular season games), something that surprised Woodcreek coach Burnel Pinkerton.

Pinkerton rested his starters in an 86-84 overtime loss to Natomas on Saturday. While the defeat doesn't impact Woodcreek's power rating that determines playoff positioning, it dropped the Timberwolves record at the time to 15-3 and from No. 4 to No. 7 in The Bee's Top 20, something Pinkerton didn't realize might happen until afterwards. The game isn't even listed on Woodcreek's Maxpreps.com schedule.

"As coaches it's a little bit confusing how to play it," said Taylor, whose No. 2 Thunder beat Mission of San Francisco 82-65 in Saturday's marquee matchup. "Some treat it as a regular game and play the guys they normally would. Others see it more as a scrimmage because it doesn't count toward the power rating."

Taylor said the SFL coaches would like to see the event become a league preview showcase. And if played before the start of league, the games would count toward the power ratings.

"I think there'd be more of an interest, and it would be easier to promote," Taylor said. "But the bottom line is we're willing to work with Brad because his organization does nice things. We all want to help give back to the community."

Swope is thinking more about reducing the number of games and holding the event on two or three nights in December.

"Maybe we go two games on Thursday, two on Friday and two on Saturday," Swope said. "We'd like to keep some ties with the SFL but then maybe we could get a Sac High or some of the Elk Grove schools."

Sac High and the Elk Grove area schools participate in Steve Caruso's Hoops Classic 2009! that has become a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday fixture.

Swope said both events, while successful, didn't draw the anticipated crowds this year.

He thinks they may have over-saturated the weekend, with the Common Good event on Friday and Saturday at Del Oro and the Hoops Classic! on Saturday and Monday at Sacramento State.

"Both Steve and I expected better results this year," Swope said.

However, Swope said The Common Good's final two games on Saturday night - the Del Oro against El Camino boys and Rocklin-Mission - drew bigger turnouts than last year's two Saturday night games.

"We were almost at capacity," Swope said. "We would have liked to have drawn better for the earlier games but we were competing against the good weather."

Swope said he hopes to come up with fixed dates and matchups "within two weeks of the close of the basketball season."

January 20, 2009
Folsom coach, highlights featured on Comcast prep show

A dash of Folsom, a touch of Oak Ridge and a glimpse at all things hoops is the theme of this week's Comcast Sportsnet California High School Sports Xtra.

The program airs today at 5 p.m. and Wednesday at 6 p.m. on Comcast.

Coach Mike Wall of top-ranked Folsom is the guest with host Gary Gelfand The athletes of the week are Folsom's Kori Babineaux and Oak Ridge's Sara James. The Bee's Quwan Spears and yours truly also break down key games from last week and preview top matchups this week.

January 20, 2009
Dragons, Huskies put on entertaining Hoops Classic finale

There wasn't a more athletic bunch in the Sac-Joaquin Section than those on the floor last night when No. 4 Sacramento High took on No. 3 Sheldon in the final game of the seven-game, day-long Hoops Classic 2009! at Sacramento State.

Both teams put on an entertaining show before the Dragons eventually prevailed 66-57 in the nearly full Hornets Nest.

Give Sheldon credit.

The Huskies hung with the Dragons until nearly the end despite losing standout senior point guard Marcus Jackson to a left ankle injury with 1:35 to play in the first quarter after he slipped on the floor.

Jackson, a four-year starter averaging nearly 16 points a game, was seen after the contest leaving the gym on crutches, which might not bode well for the Huskies as they return to Delta River League play this week.

Sheldon led by two, 50-48, midway through the fourth quarter before the Dragons went on a 9-0 run and executed well from the foul line.

Sacramento made 11 of 13 free throws in the final period and Sheldon struggled with happy feet as the Huskies were whistled for 10 fourth-quarter turnovers, many for traveling.

The guard trio of Travon Abraham (20 points), Josiah Turner (17 points) and Chase Tapley (14 points) continue to excel both offensively and defensively for Sacramento.

But the role players helped, too.

Senior Denzel Pruitt made a key three-pointer with 2:30 to play to put Sac up 55-50; senior Chris Avenant made Sheldon star Darius Nelson work for his shots early in the game and 6-foot-7 junior Will Davis and 6-10 sophomore Robert Garrett held their own against Sheldon's 6-6 Nelson and 6-8 sophomore phenom Ramon Eaton, who was limited to just one of three field-goal attempts in the second half in finishing with eight points.

While the hard-working but fatigued Nelson led Sheldon with a team-high 17 points, he couldn't find his shot (6-of-18 shooting from the field) and also was called three times for traveling in the final quarter.

The Dragons have now won three straight since their three-game losing skid, including a forfeit, in the midst of a violation of team and schools rules that led to the suspension of 10 of the team's 15 players.

Sheldon has dropped two of its last three, including a 60-52 loss to top-ranked Folsom in the league opener on Wednesday.

January 20, 2009
Franklin plays another overtime thriller in Hoops Classic

There is no doubt that Hoops Classic 2009! organizer Steve Caruso will continue to try to schedule Franklin of Elk Grove for his annual fund-raising basketball event.

The Wildcats seem to put on a show, even though the game has no impact on Sac-Joaquin Section power ratings.

Last year they lost a triple overtime classic to Rio Americano in the then Hoops for the Homeless Families Classic at Capital Christian High School.

Last night at Sacramento State in the benefit for the Sacramento Mutual Housing Association, No. 9 Franklin defeated No. 16 Foothill 57-56 in overtime behind their senior standout Ryan Sypkens.

Sypkens, who finished with a game-high 22 points, hit a 30-footer from the top of the key as the buzzer sounded to tie the game 47-47 in regulation. Then Christian Shaw and Sypkens had back-to-back blocks in the final five seconds of overtime to earn the win.

Franklin trailed 25-16 at halftime and never had the lead in regulation.

"We came out really, really flat," said Sypkens, who has signed a national letter of intent with UC Davis. "We came out in the second half with more intensity.
"We lost our last game in league (53-50 to Kennedy), so we didn't want to have a two-game losing streak."

Franklin is now 11-6 on the season; Foothill 12-7.

January 15, 2009
Del Oro's Magleby off to Nevada football

Nevada didn't gain the scholarship services of David Graves, The Bee's Player of the Year from Folsom, but it did land Mason Magleby through a verbal commitment this week.

And this isn't to suggest for a second that Magleby is a second option. The Del Oro senior was every bit as talented as any quarterback in the Sac-Joaquin Section. He could pass, he could run, he competed. Del Oro just happened to have an off year amid a rash of injuries that coincided with a brutal schedule and Graves has an outrageous season 0 he accounted for 51 touchdowns - for a team that went 9-2.

National letter-of-intent day is next month. Graves had given Nevada a verbal early in the season - verbals are not binding - and changed his mind after a recruiting visit to Hawaii. He showed class in telling the Nevada coaches of his decision to switch schools (a rarity as so many recruits prefer not to do so).

Nevada's momentary loss suddenly became a gain again with Magleby, who passed for 1,863 yards and 10 touchdowns and ran for 636 yards.

Magleby also had interest from Sacramento State, Idaho State, Eastern Washington and Montana State, according to his father, Corey who first alerted Scout.com about the verbal commitment.

And consider this: Some day, some year, it could be Magleby and Nevada taking on Graves and Hawaii with the Western Athletic Conference title and a significant bowl game on the line.

January 15, 2009
Darius Nelson growth worth watching

Kudos to the kid for coming of age, and for handling all manner of great expectations.

Darius Nelson is a sophomore from Sheldon who has superb skills and the world resting on his shoulders. He's supposed to be good because, well, he's 6-foot-6 and he can shoot the long three pointer and drive the lane.

Oh, he's also the younger brother of the state's all-time career scorer in DeMarcus Nelson, who dazzled his first three seasons at Vallejo before the transfer to Sheldon his senior year. DeMarcus was a four-year impact player at Duke who started at guard on opening night this NBA season with the Golden State Warriors.

Kid brother looks more like a man. He lost his cool and took a reputation beating during the Franklin game last week. He tried to rush the court to defend teammates who were engaged in a mini scrum and had to be restrained by coaches. His father, as passionate a parent as you will find, also came down to the sideline and lost his cool in trying to get his son to regain his.

Lesson learned? Be cool. People are watching. Recruiters are watching. Reputation is everything. Don't let emotions make you boil over. Reputations stick.

Nelson did not start in a Delta River League opener against top-ranked Folsom on Wednesday but he did shoot and slither his way for 21 points. The lad has a nice game, though he's the first to admit that he needs to improve on his free throw shooting as he and his teammates missed a bunch of foul shots in the second half in falling to Folsom 60-52. Nelson also knows he can be a better defender. He doesn't deny any of it, and that's growth right there.

Against Folsom, Nelson kept his emotions in check. And he admirably talked about the incident against Franklin, vowing that he would not let his teammates and coaches and school down again with his emotions. Fabulous growth. Now all he has to do is stick to his word because opposing fans and players will try to get under his skin.

Nelson looked me in the eye, shook my hand and spoke with conviction. He was a good sport in heaping praise on Folsom players. And he nodded in acknowledgement that there is pressure to perform. But he smiled and insisted he enjoys the ride.

Good to hear. Fans rather enjoy watching cool Darius perform, not hot Darius.

January 15, 2009
Folsom boys could be a title team again

Folsom has all the makings of another championship run.

There is team play, a steady, experienced floor leader in guard Tony Johnson, a commitment to defense and a zest to succeed. And there is coaching. Mike Wall does a terrific job in every aspect: fundamentals, imploring defense, using his roster, exploiting mismatches.

In racing to a 10-2 lead against Sheldon in a Delta River League opener on Wednesday, the Bulldogs scored on back-door plays, on the fast break after a blocked shot, from long range. They also drew three charges early and five total in a 60-52 victory.

The Bulldogs won the DRL championship a year ago in a loaded league that included longtime powers Jesuit and Sheldon and dangerous Pleasant Grove. They then claimed the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship at Arco Arena.

Folsom is off to a rousing 15-1 start this season, having lost only to Monte Vista of Danville, no slouch group as it is 14-0 and top ranked by NorCal Preps. Folsom is ranked No. 1 by The Bee in the regional rankings, No. 3 by NorCal Preps and No. 11 in the state by The Bee, which debuts a state girls and boys rankings in Friday's print editions as something of a primer for fans and followers on a Road to Arco theme as Arco again will host the section, NorCal and State CIF title games.

Johnson is the leader, the steady influence. He makes shots, he makes assists, he makes steals, he defends. He has won three holiday tournament MVP honors and never seems rattled or uneasy. The support crew is outstanding with brothers Kori and Brandon Babineaux, Patrick Akins, Scott Moore, Jordan Richards and Tucker Horwath.

"That's the key," Wall said. "We have a very good group."

Kori Babineaux could become a major recruit - in football or hoops - if he keeps this up. Wall challenges his sophomore regularly to compete with the same ferocity in every game, not just the showcase contests.

January 15, 2009
Verner's impact to last a lifetime

Tom Verner will be a name that always resonates in the prep community for two reasons.

For those who loved the affable old coach with deep pockets and a giving heart, he was a savior of sorts. He loved to coach football at his alma mater at Franklin High in Stockton, and he loved his players even more. Verner, who died this week at 64 from of a brain tumor that was discovered just six months ago, also didn't pay much attention to rules and regulations when it came to transfers and eligibility.

It's been well documented how the Sac-Joaquin Section came down hard - and rightfully so in every sense - on the Franklin program last year for blatant rules violations.

But Verner has a lot more people who appreciated his impact to Franklin football than who bristled at his means and methods. He tranformed a down program into a decidedly up one. He was brutally honest and unyieldingly giving. His home was always open to players, past and present. And he insisted right to the end that he did more right than wrong, that the players needed his help and he offered his hand.

Verner poured in more than $600,000 of his own funds to refurbish and build facilities at Franklin, including lights and bleachers. The stadium was later named after Verner and his wife, Kathleen. That was the right move. Verner gave life to Franklin and the program virtually died this past fall without him as he resigned following the transfer scandal.

Verner played in the trenches for Franklin from 1958-61 and later at Delta College and Texas Western. After a stint with the Marines, Verner worked for the government as a special agent.

Verner's reputation, as mixed as it is, will not be forgotten.

January 14, 2009
Jesuit's tough preseason prepares it for Delta River grind

Jesuit basketball coach Greg Harcos doesn't have the veteran lineup that went 32-2, won the Sac-Joaquin Section D-II title and reached the CIF Northern California finals in 2006-07.

But despite having only two seniors on the roster, Harcos still continues to schedule high-level non-league opponents.

None were bigger than McClymonds of Oakland, which played the Marauders on Saturday in the showcase game of the Father Kelly Tribute at Jesuit High School.

As expected, the defending D-I state champions, ranked No. 8 nationally in the USA Today Super 25, won 66-45 to run their winning streak to 47 games.

But it's those type of teams Harcos knows his players need to face to get better and to also have a chance to compete in the ultra-tough Delta River League.

The No. 12 Marauders (9-6) open tonight at No. 7 Pleasant Grove (11-2), then play at top-ranked Folsom (14-1) on Friday and host No. 3 Sheldon (10-4) next Wednesday.

They are part of a six-team league that has a combined nonleague record of 60-26.

"Our league is going to be real exciting," Harcos said. "All our teams are battle tested, and all are so well coached. You know you are going to have to play hard every game. Nobody is going to back down."

Although he has a young roster, Harcos isn't looking at this as a building year. He thinks the Marauders can battle for the league title.

"We think we have a chance," Harcos said. "We've been up and down. We've won a game or two we didn't expect, and we've lost a couple we should have won. But that's expected of a young team."

Among the impressive performances was a 67-55 loss to Strake Jesuit of Houston in the championship game of the Marauders' own Father Barry Classic Dec. 6. The Texans are 22-0 and ranked No. 16 nationally by USA Today. The locals were up five at halftime, trailed by five after three quarters and even made a fourth-quarter run.

Strake stars Joey Brooks and Tim Frazier are headed for Notre Dame and Penn State, respectively.

The Marauders' top recruit is 6-foot-8 forward James Moore, who is averaging 16.7 points and 6.7 rebounds. He ranks as the No. 2 junior prospect in Northern California by NorCalPreps.com.

He started on the varsity last year as a sophomore and continues to improve.

"I think he's ready to carry the load in all areas," Harcos said. "He's got a knack for scoring that you can't teach."

Schools such as Harvard, Portland State, Creighton and Air Force have shown interest in Moore but lately bigger schools are stopping by, including USC.

The other key players include MacKenzie McCullough, Nick Ridge and Josh Wilbur, all juniors, and sophomore Rhys Hoskins. But someone to watch is 6-5, 175-pound freshman point guard Akachi Okugo.

Okugo might have stayed on the junior varsity this season, but not with senior point Christian Hudnell slowly battling back from knee surgery.

Okugo played his best game on Saturday against McClymonds. He scored 11 points, dished out four assists and made only two turnovers against one of the nation's quickest and most athletic teams.

"He's got a lot of moxie," Harcos said.

January 13, 2009
Franklin basketball playing well despite absence of injured star

Franklin boys basketball coach Jesse Formaker is a tough guy to please.

But even the hardnosed coach admits he's impressed at how well his sixth-ranked Wildcats (9-5) have been playing entering Wednesday's Delta Valley Conference opener against visiting Elk Grove.

Franklin has played most of the season without standout Amir Carraway, a 6-foot-4 senior forward who was an all-DVC selection last season.

Carraway broke a bone in his left foot Dec. 1 and has been on crutches since. He may or may not return this season.

"The most hopeful date is the beginning of February, but that would just mean being cleared to come back on the court," Formaker said. "The injury was unfortunate. He had a fantastic summer, and we were expecting big things from him."

Formaker has been pleased at how well his team has played "with that adversity."

Senior guard Ryan Sypkens, a returning all-league player and strong defender and ball-handler headed for UC Davis on scholarship, has stepped it up offensively in leading the team with a 13.6 average. Junior guard Michael Rosaroso can produce instant offense with his outside shot and 6-4 senior Christian Shaw (10.6 points, 6.4 rebounds) has a nice all-around game.

If there was something positive to be found in Carraway's injury, it's the development of 6-3 sophomore Chukwuemeka Iroegbu. He's getting Carraway's minutes and developing into an impact player.

He's the team's top rebounder (7.3) and third leading scorer (11.5).

Iroegbu impressed in Friday's 75-72 loss to No. 3 Sheldon Friday in the Delta Challenge going up against the Huskies and their standout sophomore duo of Darius Nelson and Ramon Eaton. In addition to strong play on the boards and defensively, Iroegbu scored 12 points.

Franklin's five losses have been to quality teams.

In addition to Sheldon, the Wildcats fell early in the year to No. 7 Pleasant Grove - a team they beat handily in Wednesday's first round of the Delta Challenge - and No. 9 Bella Vista. They also have losses to Piner of Santa Rosa in the Arcata tournament and Castlemont of Oakland in the Fairfield tournament.

The Wildcats are the strong favorites to win the DVC and once again will be in the Sac-Joaquin Section D-I postseason mix, where they have been ousted the last two years by Sheldon.

January 12, 2009
Is there something missing with the Sac High girls basketball team?

It's just one man's observation, but I think there is something missing from the Sacramento High School girls' basketball team. I can't put my finger on it. But trust me Lady Dragon fans, something is missing.

I watched the Lady Dragons play a lot last season and I thought they competed with grit and swagger. It was an edgy mentality that helped an undermanned Sac High team battle a highly touted and deep St. Mary's of Stockton team for 3½ quarters before fatigue took its toll and the Lady Dragons fell to the Rams 81-68 in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III championship game.

That aggressive side manifested itself during the second half of Sac High's 64-53 victory over Grant on Thursday. The Lady Dragons outscored the Pacers 44-26 and overcame a 27-23 halftime deficit in the final 16 minutes.

The first half, however, was a different story. The Lady Dragons didn't play with much passion, sense of urgency or a killer instinct, something necessary to challenge for a section title.

Is it the coaching? I don't know. Some observers say new coach Michele Massari is a breath of fresh air for the program. She is firm, but not in your face like former coach Pam McGee, who could at times alienate players, students, faculty, staff, opposing coaches and media members.

Massari employs a more disciplined style, one geared toward grooming players for the college game. It's more methodical and less of the wide-open, up-tempo style the Lady Dragons ran under McGee and former coach John Langston, who guided the Dragons to the D-III NorCal finals in 2007.

Still, there is something missing.

Massari is also preparing the Lady Dragons for the playoffs. The Lady Dragons have played four teams currently ranked in ESPN Rise's top 30, including No. 11 Potter's House Christian of Jacksonville, Fla., No. 12 Regis Jesuit of Aurora, Colo., No. 18 Kentwood of Covington, Wash., and No. 29 Brea Olinda of Brea. Next up is a date with No. 23 St. Mary's of Stockton on Saturday at Sacramento State in the Hoops Classic 2009. So Massari is doing all she can to get the players battled tested for the postseason.

Still, there is something missing.

The Lady Dragons have three of Northern California's top players in junior center Kyra Dunn, junior forward Erica Barnes and junior guard Brittany Shine.

Still, there is something missing.

Whatever it is, I hope the Lady Dragons find it soon. If they do not, then the Lady Dragons could find themselves experiencing an early exit from the playoffs.

January 10, 2009
Sheldon's Delta Challenge victory ends with star's meltdown

It looked like No. 5 Sheldon was going to win in a walkover against No. 11 Franklin in the Delta Challenge last night at Sheldon High School.

The Huskies were up 19 points early in the fourth quarter and making most of the right plays.

Then things got interesting, ultra intense and even downright ugly between the two talented rivals.

Franklin's pressing defense staged a huge comeback before falling 75-72.

But not before Sheldon star Darius Nelson and his father put on a show they no doubt regret today.

Darius was called for a technical after fouling Franklin's Ryan Sypkens with 1:41 to play and the Huskies up by 10 points.

Sheldon coach Scott Gradin benched the agitated Nelson, who appeared to have said something to the referee. As Gradin and Nelson exchanged heated words on the bench in front of the scorer's table, a brief scrum broke out near center court between the two teams in which Sheldon's Ramon Eaton, Darius' cousin, was involved.

Darius Nelson went ballistic.

He tried to charge onto the court and was grabbed by Gradin and his assistants and pulled back. As the 6-foot-6, 235-pound Nelson struggled to break free and shouted obscenities, Gradin and others pinned him to the bleachers.

Within seconds Nelson's father climbed into the stands behind the Sheldon bench.

At first he appeared to direct angry words toward his son, but then his fury veered toward Gradin and others. He, too, had to be calmed down.

The referees ordered that he be escorted from the gym.

Darius Nelson, who struggled with his outside shot most of the night but finished with 17 points, spent the rest of the game at the end of the bench watching the Huskies barely hold off the Wildcats.

Franklin junior Michael Rosaroso, who missed his first seven shots and was scoreless through the first three quarters, had 12 points and UC Davis-bound senior Ryan Sypkens added nine of his 18 points in the final eight minutes, as the Wildcats outscored Sheldon 30-17.

Sypkens' three-pointer with 32 seconds closed Franklin to within 73-70 but Sheldon's Marcus Jackson made both two free throws less than two seconds later to put the Huskies up by five before Sypkens' scored the Wildcats' final two points with three seconds remaining.

When the game was over, both teams lined up and exchanged handshakes and hugs, including a subdued Nelson.

Franklin coach Jesse Formaker chalked up the incident to a competitive game and tired players giving it everything they had.

"I'm extremely proud of how our young men competed, and that we maintained our composure in the heat of the moment," he said.

Eaton, the 6-8 sophomore who led Sheldon with 18 points, said playing Franklin, a team that the Huskies have beaten in the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs the last two seasons, "was fun" and what happened at the end shouldn't be misconstrued.

"There was some pushing and shoving and some things said, but it's just the heat of competition," Eaton said. "We have a lot of respect for Franklin. Those guys play hard, and we play hard."

January 9, 2009
Jesuit's Harcos expects 'big-time challenge' from mighty McClymonds

Jesuit basketball coach Greg Harcos knows it's the kind of game his team needs to play, even if it potentially could be painful.

The Marauders will face Oakland power McClymonds in Saturday night's 8:30 feature game of the Father Kelly Tribute at Jesuit High School.

The young Marauders, with only two seniors on the roster, will take on a team that won last year's California Interscholastic Federation state D-I boys title; has won 46 games in a row and is ranked No. 1 in Northern California by NorCalPreps.com, No. 3 in the state by ESPN CalHiSports.com. and No. 21 in the USA Today's Super 25.

"They bring all the credentials and all the talent off a team that's been in the state championship game the last two years," Harcos said. "It's a big-time challenge for us."

Harcos says the best thing is that no matter the results it won't hurt the Marauders' Sac-Joaquin Section power rating.

"So we can go in and play hard and see what happens," Harcos said.

Last March at Arco Arena McClymonds sent legendary coach Dwight Nathaniel into retirement as a state champion by pummeling Dominguez of Compton 73-54 to complete a 32-0 season.

The Warriors haven't missed a beat under new coach Brandon Brooks, Nathaniel's long-time assistant and a former player at the school.

They are 14-0 after beating Hogan of Vallejo 55-39 last night.

In addition to Hogan, the Warriors have beaten two other Sac-Joaquin Section teams - Grant 74-48 Dec. 6 and Fairfield 67-44 Jan. 2.

The team's most entertaining players are 6-foot-6 dunk machine Damon Powell, who averages 15.3 points and 10.7 rebounds, and Montana-bound point guard Will Cherry, who averages 13.6 points and five steals per game.

Another player to watch is 6-9 freshman Jamaree Strickland, who is trying to fill the shoes of the departed Frank Otis, now playing as a true freshman at SMU.

January 7, 2009
Delta Challenge produces great matchups

Top-ranked Folsom survived an upset scare from an unranked but very spry Kennedy squad on Tuesday night during The Delta Challenge at Laguna Creek High School.

The Bulldogs (13-1) won 56-47 but overcame a 27-21 halftime deficit to do it. If not for a late spurt to end the half, the deficit could have been double digits as Kennedy (4-9) led 27-17 with a minute left in the second quarter.

"We just came out really flat," Folsom coach Mike Wall said. "We may have been reading our own press clippings a little too much."

The Bulldogs came out with a renewed defensive intensity to begin the third quarter, using four steals in five Cougar possesions to go on a 13-2 run and gain command.

"Basketball is all about playing harder than the other team," Wall said. "They really turned up the defensive intensity in the second half."

Kennedy clawed back and got within a point of the lead at 46-45 with just under four minutes remaining in the game, but went cold down the stretch.

Folsom's Tony Johnson led all players with 24 points while teammate Kori Babineaux joined him in double figures with 10. C.J. Brown led the Cougars with 16 points while center Patrick Flint chipped in 10.

The Delta Challenge is a two-day event that pits members of the Delta River League against the Delta Valley Conference. It resumes Friday at Sheldon and Pleasant Grove High Schools.

No. 11 Franklin 66, No. 4 Pleasant Grove 47

Fourth-ranked Pleasant Grove found out just how bad things can get on a basketball court sometimes as it was held to just 13 points in the first half and at one point in the third trailed 52-18 before righting the ship.

"I have no idea how that happened," Franklin coach Jesse Formaker said. "We were fortunate to build that lead ... I was very pleased with our defense."

Ryan Sypkens led all players with 20 points while Michael Rosaroso had 15 for the Wildcats. Pleasant Grove's Xavier Thames had a team-high 12 points.

Pleasant Grove defeated Franklin earlier in the season in a tournament game at Bella Vista, 65-54.

January 7, 2009
Dramatic changes revealed in section's first realignment proposal

The Sac-Joaquin Section will have a dramatically different look under the first 2010-2014 realignment proposal released today by the section office.

Among the changes:

• Grant would move back to Division I for football and be a member in all sports of the Delta Valley Conference along with Elk Grove, Franklin, Davis, Laguna Creek and Monterey Trail. The Pacers have been in the D-II Metro Conference the last three years.

• Oak Ridge and Pondorosa would be moved from the Sierra Valley Conference into the D-I Delta River League.

• Nevada Union football would drop to the D-II level and compete in the Sierra Foothill League. The Miners are currently in the Delta Valley Conference in football only.

• A new-look D-II Capital Valley Conference would feature Bella Vista, Casa Roble, Del Campo, Oakmont and Christian Brothers. Rio Linda would be the only holdover from what is currently a D-IV league.

• Long-time Delta members Valley and Florin would move to the Metro Conference.

• Cordova and Whitney would move into the D-III Capital Athletic League with newcomer Antelope, joining holdovers El Camino, Mira Loma and Rio Americano.

• Center and Foothill would move from the CVC to an elevated D-III Pioneer Valley League. The PVL is currently a D-IV league.

• The SVC, in losing Ponderosa, Christian Brothers, Oak Ridge and Cordova, would drop from D-II to D-IV and add new schools Cosumnes Oaks of Elk Grove and Liberty Ranch of Galt and River City from the CVC and El Dorado from the PVL.

• Dixon and West Campus would move from the CVC and Mesa Verde from the PVL to the D-V Golden Empire League.

• A new D-VI league will be formed that would have Bradshaw Christian, Encina, Highlands, Rio Vista, San Juan and Vacaville Christian.

The 12-member realignment committee, which includes Sac-Joaquin Section commissioner Pete Saco, held its first public hearing today in Stockton.

The hearing is the first of four, and possibly five, on how leagues and divisions will look as the section expands from 169 schools this year to 179 for the 2010-11 school year.

The next hearing is set for 9 a.m. Jan. 28 at the Elkhorn Country Club in Stockton.

Under the proposal the section would maintain its current seven division playoff format while expanding by one league to 27.

Here is the realignment committee's reasonings for a couple key proposal changes:

• Grant has been moved because of the disparity in competition in football in the Metro Conference; Valley and Florin have been moved to the Metro "for competitive equity."

• Oak Ridge and Ponderosa have been moved into the Delta River League "because of the disparity in size of the schools in the current SVC."

"We have set criteria for school alignments within a league, but no set criteria for league placement within divisions," according to the realignment committee's analysis. "The divisional breaks should be determined by the sizes of the schools, strength of the leagues in question and common sense. There is no perfect fit for any realignment cycle."

January 7, 2009
It's The River vs. The Valley in tonight's Delta Challenge

Bragging rights will be at stake when the Delta Challenge boys basketball event tips off tonight at Laguna Creek and Franklin high schools.

The six Delta Valley Conference members will play against the six Delta River League teams in a two-day event that concludes on Friday.

The Delta River is arguably the section's top league and this will be the Delta Valley's chance to see if it can hang with the rival league that features four teams - Folsom, Pleasant Grove, Sheldon and Jesuit - ranked in The Bee's top 20. Franklin is the only Delta Valley team ranked.

Folsom coach Mike Wall likes the new concept.

"It's kind of cool to play teams in the other league," Wall said. "It's great to spotlight because a lot of these teams played in the old (Delta) league."

Here are today's matchups at Laguna Creek: Kennedy vs. top-ranked Folsom 4:30 p.m.; Monterey Trail vs. Laguna Creek at 6 p.m. and Elk Grove vs. No. 5 Sheldon at 7:30 p.m.

Today's matchups at Franklin: Florin vs. Valley at 4:30 p.m.; Davis vs. No. 13 Jesuit at 6; No. 4 Pleasant Grove vs. No. 11 Franklin at 7:30 p.m.

On Friday, games will be played at Sheldon and Pleasant Grove high schools.
Friday's Sheldon matchups are: Laguna Creek vs. Florin, 4:30 p.m.; Davis vs. Folsom, 6 p.m.; Sheldon vs. Franklin, 7:30 p.m.

Friday's Pleasant Grove matchups are: Valley vs. Monterey Trail, 4:30 p.m.; Jesuit vs. Kennedy, 6 p.m.; Pleasant Grove vs. Elk Grove, 7:30 p.m.

About the Prep blog

Bee staff writers Joe Davidson and Bill Paterson provide news, analysis and insight on the area high school sports scene in their Prep Blog. Have a question to ask them? Send them an email any time at jdavidson@sacbee.com or bpaterson@sacbee.com.

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