Sac area’s top stories of 2018: Kings running, looking good at 100, Hornets’ big hires

It was a year to remember across the regional sporting scene, be it within the cozy confines of an increasingly energized Golden 1 Center, in Yolo County, at Sacramento State, on the high school football fields and beyond. A closer look at the top stories from 2018:

Kings revival

The Kings were often slow and methodical in recent seasons, and things veered hard into the ditch. But the Kings have ditched a slow, clunky and clanky half-court offense and have gone fast behind an athletic core of players who thrive in up-tempo in De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Willie Cauley-Stein and Marvin Bagley III.

The leadership of Iman Shumpert, one of the few veterans on the team, has also been paramount in terms of a culture and chemistry change that made the Kings a national punching bag for years.

No one is laughing now, except maybe die-hard season-ticket holders who have waited years for this sort of excitement again. The Kings rank among the league leaders in scoring and pace after finishing last in both categories last season.

So far, the Vlade Divac and Dave Joerger plan is working, and if the playoff drought since 2006 doesn’t end this season, it will soon enough.

UCD football turns 100

UC Davis has trotted out scores of exceptional football teams and athletes in its storied history, but the 2018 edition tops them all. In its 100th year playing the sport, the Aggies were never more talented, more star studded or just plain better.

UCD went 10-3, halting a string of seven losing seasons, and won a share of its first Big Sky Conference championship with a resounding 56-13 rout of Sacramento State in the 65th Causeway Classic. One loss was to Stanford and the other two to Eastern Washington, including a crushing last-minute setback in chilly Cheney in an FCS Division I quarterfinal, the team’s first entry into the postseason.

The Aggies were led by record-setting quarterback Jake Maier, All-America receiver Keelan Doss and spirited second-year coach Dan Hawkins, a national Coach of the Year honoree.

Sac State’s boom hires

When Troy Taylor and Kris Richardson worked as co-coaches at Folsom High School for much of this decade, they kick-started and engineered a championship football dynasty unlike any the region had experienced, a run dotted by national recruits, national scoring marks and a national profile.

Now, the best of friends embark on a new challenge. Taylor last month was hired as Sacramento State’s head coach, tasked with turning a program in decline into a must-watch showcase of local recruits. In short order, it became official that Richardson would leave Folsom to be Taylor’s top assistant, ushering in a new era of promise for a Hornets program that has been mired in mediocrity or misery for decades, certainly since winning its last conference championship in 1995.

Taylor comes aboard after working as offensive coordinator at Utah, using several principles of the Folsom offense with the Utes. If the Folsom spread attack can work in the Pac-12, it certainly can work in the Big Sky Conference.

“I didn’t want to do this without (Kris),” Taylor said. “I had to have him. That was the plan.”

Richardson was the mainstay coach at Folsom this decade, going 127-10, winning nine league championships, seven Sac-Joaquin Section banners and four CIF State titles.

Bulldogs repeat bite

Folsom entered the season bearing heavy expectations to repeat in five football categories and did so emphatically. The Bulldogs roared to Sierra Foothill League and Sac-Joaquin Section championships and then repeated as CIF Northern California Division I-AA and CIF State champions on the strength of 16 returning starters from a 16-0 team in 2017.

The first game was the only downer, a 14-0 loss at national powerhouse De La Salle, which hasn’t lost to a NorCal opponent north of Fresno since 1991. But the setback added focus to Folsom, which outscored 12-0 Monterey Trail 42-0 in the third quarter of the section D-I final, then set a CIF Regional record for scoring in an 84-44 win over 13-0 Central of Fresno for the NorCal title, and then got defensive with a 21-14 overtime win over Cathedral Catholic of San Diego in the state final in Norwalk.

Players and coaches embraced and cried at Cerritos College, the exclamation point on a decade of dominance. Kaiden Bennett passed for 4,254 yards and 62 touchdowns and ran for 13 scores. Receivers Elijhah Badger and Joe Ngata, running back Daniyel Ngata and unsung linemen leaders Tyler Hardeman and Kaden Richardson played a role for the 14-1 Bulldogs.

How good has Folsom become? SFL coaches want the program to move out of the league, deeming the competitive balance too steep to deal with. Folsom has been The Bee’s top-ranked team for all but one week since the start of the 2012 season.

“The gap between the area’s No. 1 team - Folsom - and the rest of us has never been larger,” Oak Ridge coach Eric Cavaliere said.

Knights express

The season started with a dud, a 40-26 loss at Center in the heat of August, but what a wake-up call it turned out to be for Rio Linda football.

The Knights finished with a rousing effort in the chill of December, topping San Gorgonio 38-35 to win the CIF State Division 5-AA championship in front of an overflow home crowd, leading fans to honk horns well into the night to celebrate.

Cameron Skattebo rushed for a regional playoff record 393 yards and three touchdowns, and the junior finished with a NorCal season- and regional-record 3,550 yards and 42 touchdowns.

Folsom also won a CIF State crown, and Del Oro and Colfax played for state banners, each scoring one for public schools in the best season in area history.

The big and small of first-rounders

The region has become a haven for first-round prospects over the decades, be it football, basketball or baseball. In April, towering 6-foot-8 tackle Kolton Miller of Roseville High fame and UCLA stock was taken 15h overall by the Oakland Raiders. He became the 13th regional player to go in the first round and the first offensive lineman to go that high since Gordon King of Bella Vista and Stanford went to the New York Giants 10th overall in 1978.

In June, Oregon State infielder Nick Madrigal of Elk Grove was picked fourth overall in the Major League Baseball draft by the Chicago White Sox, further emphasizing that height is a mere number. The 5-foot-6 Madrigal became the highest-drafted OSU player and highest local baseball prospect since the draft started in 1965.

“I can’t do anything about my height, but I can work hard and play hard,” Madrigal said.

Go West, young ladies

West Campus High School for years was just an academic arm to Johnson with no athletic teams. It now houses a girls basketball powerhouse.

Under coach John Langston, West Campus became more than just the pride of the Sacramento City Unified School District - it’s a symbol of regional pride. The Warriors repeated as CIF State champions, winning in Division IV in 2017 and doing so in Division III in March, topping Sunny Hills of Fullerton 75-47.

West Campus was led by Gabby Rones, Nia Johnson and Kiara Jefferson. The Warriors became the region’s third team to win back-to-back state titles, joining the Colfax teams that won in 1983 and ‘84 in D-III and the Grant squads led by Tesia and Tina Green in 1987 and ‘88 in D-II.

Open debate

The Sheldon Huskies expected to be good last season, but even confident coach Joey Rollings and those on a deep roster weren’t sure just how good.

How about historically good? Sheldon topped storied Bishop O’Dowd of Oakland 61-60 to win the prestigious CIF Northern California Open Division championship - the big boys - in Santa Clara.

It was the biggest regional win for a boys program in the history of the Elk Grove Unified School District, at least since the Bill Cartwright-led Elk Grove teams thundered past teams during a national schedule in 1974 and ‘75.

Sheldon, led by Bee Player of the Year Dale Currie, lost the state final to Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth, competing against the national power until the wheels fell off in the fourth quarter. Sierra Canyon offers a glimpse of the stunning difference between Southern California elite and NorCal elite, as that team has a host of impact transfers, some the sons of retired NBA players.

Big West Aggies

UC Davis won 28 games in women’s basketball and 22 in men’s hoops, and the 50 combined victories were the most for a Big West school in one season since 1991.

The men’s team won its third Big West title in four seasons and the women repeated as Big West winners and advanced to the WNIT Elite Eight.

State champs

It was a banner season for individual state champions on the high school front, well away from the football fields and basketball arenas.

Bryce Kvick of Del Campo won the NCGA/CIF Boys Golf Championship in a playoff, and Ben Dillard of Oak Ridge broke the state record in the 100-yard breaststroke in 53.96 seconds while swimming a leg on the 200 medley relay team, which won the event for the third year in a row. Amalie Fackenthal of Sacramento Country Day was a double winner in the girls 50 and 100 freestyle.

Other state champs included Chloe Clark of Granite Bay in the 100 backstroke and Halladay Kinsey of Rio Americano in the 100 butterfly. Jesuit junior Matt Strangio won the 3,200-meter title at the state meet in track and field, then won the Division I boys race at the state meet in cross country. Del Oro freshman Riley Chamberlain won the Division III girls race.

Other area state champions in track and field included Maddy Denner of Oak Ridge in the girls 1,600, Cathilyn McIntosh of Del Oro in the girls 800, Elena Denner of Oak Ridge in the girls 3,200 and Sondre Guttormsen of Davis in the boys pole vault, making for the best state meet for regional athletes in history.