By Diego Marquez and Ryan Stuart
Signal Staff Writers
Foothill League basketball has transcended upon the Santa Clarita Valley once again.
At each of the six schools, the student sections have been alive with the buzz of fans chattering about their excitement for the approaching league schedule.
“The beauty of our league is everybody’s five miles apart, so every game is packed, both teams,” said Hart head coach Tom Kelly. “It’s a rival game, every game.”
This year, teams around the valley are looking to dethrone Valencia after their 10-0 Foothill League Championship run in the 2018-19 season.
The Vikings stand atop the Foothill League with a 11-4 pre-league record. Head coach Bill Bedgood believes they are in a great position to make another title run.
“We’re looking to compete and hopefully defend the league championship we won last year,” he said. “Last year’s team set a pretty good precedent for how to compete in league.”
Returning senior guard, Jake Hlywiak, will be an important piece of the puzzle if Valencia hopes to win back-to-back titles. He dominates the floor and averages 22 points per game. He also broke the school record for 3-pointers in a season during his junior year. He’s already on pace to break his own record.
“He’s a very high-level shooter,” Bedgood said. “His numbers are off-the-chart good. He has the highest 3-point percentage of any shooter I’ve coached.”
Noah Veluzat will finally get a chance to make an impact for the Vikings as well. After transferring from Santa Clarita Christian, Veluzat sat out for a majority of the season last year. He made his Valencia debut in the playoffs, but the Vikings have been getting the full show from him this season.
“He’s really kind of a guy that gets everybody involved,” Bedgood said.” He’s great at competing in all aspects of the game. He can beat you with the dribble, the pass or defensively he’s very solid”
Kevin Konrad and Gilbert Camacho are other players to watch out for on the Valencia squad. Both players have a towering stature that will allow them to dominate the inside.
Valencia will start league competition at home against Saugus Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. The Centurions (12-5) are in second, just a half game behind the Vikings. They will likely be Valencia’s biggest competitor this season with a similarly tough preleague schedule.
“Our guys have been tested in the preseason,” said head coach Alfredo Manzano. “(We’re) just trying to test them mentally and physically, to prepare them for the grind of league. It’s more like a mind test. We just want to win the mental test that comes along with these league battles.”
A big part of the Centurions’ attack this year has been senior guard Adrian McIntyre. After a down year last season, McIntyre has come back to the court better than ever. He even recorded a quadruple-double in early November.
“He’s a man,” Manzano said. “We’ve been saying that a lot in practice. He’s back to where he excelled in his first two years with us. He’s definitely ready to take over so were expecting big things from him.”
Saugus also returns standout guard Nathan Perez. Last season, he was the only freshman to land on the All-Foothill League First Team. His accuracy from range gave him a 3-point percentage of 37 and helped him average 17.2 points per game.
“He was our second leading scorer, he’s our second leading scorer right now. We’re excited to see his development,” Manzano said.
Saugus is ranked No. 14 in CIF-SS Division 2AA as of Jan. 6.
Opening Foothill League play against West Ranch, the Cowboys have one of the hardest, if not the hardest working teams that Sean DeLong has coached and it has shown with a 10-8 overall record.
“The kids come to practice every day and they are constantly trying to improve themselves,” DeLong said. “We are not the biggest, tallest team around, but I have not been around a better group of guys who work hard to be successful like this year’s team. We are young and inexperienced, but they work really hard.”
After finishing 3-7 in the 2018-19 Foothill League season, the Cowboys tied for fourth in the final league standings with Hart and have lost key seniors like Willie Yomba, Ryan Sloan and Aaron Berko, but a new group of willing seniors that have stepped into their roles.
Guard Anthony Regalado has tightened things up on the defensive end with his communication and rebounding ability, while Anthony Gallo has taken on the scoring duties.
Six-foot-4 senior center Connor Cooper can finish with a double-double in points and rebounds on any given night.
Winning all of their preleague games but three by double digits, they have gotten a spark from junior transfer Miles Davis, who is from Hawaii. Matt Heyne, who sat out last season with an apparent injury returns and fortifies the post with a long 6-foot-5 frame.
Canyon opens up league play against West Ranch tomorrow at 6:30 p.m. at West Ranch.
West Ranch endured a mass exodus of seniors this summer as four of their starters from a year ago. Carter Williams, Alex Grant, Deaken Stangl and Robbie Myers, have all graduated and Dylan Stuman left the team for personal reasons.
One of last year’s impact players, Clyde Seo, returns to lead a potent Wildcats’ team that can do damage inside and outside the paint.
Seo returns as a vital scorer that can shoulder the team’s scoring with his driving and shooting abilities or punish opposing teams on the defensive end with his 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame.
Senior forward Jonah El-Farra has taken advantage of the increase of minutes effectively able to score and effectively defend the paint game after game.
Six-foot-5 freshman Andrew Meadow is a nightmare on the boards for opposing defenses with the ability to use his body to out muscle and outmaneuver players inside the paint.
“With those guys I feel like we have the best front court,” said head coach Jeff Bryant. “Andrew brings athleticism. He’s not scared of the inside. Jonah will run through a brick wall for you. He rebounds the basketball, plays hard. Hopefully every possession we’re going to play through him.”
After former head coach Ron Manalastas resigned on Wednesday, Dec. 18, Jeff Bryant took over as the team’s head coaching duties and has won 3-of-5 games since for a 9-8 overall record heading into league play.
“These guys are playing hard for me,” Bryant said. “It seems like there’s new life in the gym. The best part about it for me is it seems like everyone’s counting us out. We’re ready to throw that first punch.”
Golden Valley head coach Chris Printz returns for his second stint with the team and has already seen an uptick in wins. The Grizzlies has surpassed last year’s win total (three) in the 12th game this season for a 5-8 overall record.
Benicio Preciado and Gabe Sentongo are the team’s leaders and are relied on to keep the team focused.
Guard/forward combo Mark Hamilton Jr. looks to make an impact is his sophomore campaign with the team.
Hoping to improve from last season, Printz understands that it will take a collective group effort.
“I think the identity of this team is that they will have each other’s back,” he said. “If they do that through the good times and bad times, I think that they are going to have a great chance to do some things for us this year.”
Golden Valley hosts Hart Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.
Hart has had a strong approach to the impending league matchups. Its three-game win streak brought it even with Canyon in a tie for third as league play approaches. The Indians (10-8) will look to continue creating space on the floor to open up for its deadly shooters.
“When we move and share the ball, we’re very hard to defend,” Kelly said. “We have multiple guys that can shoot pass and handle the ball so we’re pretty solid on the perimeter.”
The Indians also return a lot of star players from a year ago. Among them is senior Ty Penberthy. As he finishes out his senior campaign, Kelly is hoping he will unlock his full abilities as a two-way player.
“I want him to play both sides of the ball. When he really locks in, he can be a really good defensively player,” Kelly said.
Penberthy’s younger brother Jaden is another big returner for the Indians. During the offseason, he hit a growth spurt that gives him a new perspective on the game. His added height gives him the ability to see over even larger opponents to make a play on the basket.
The Penberthy brothers are joined by returners Dillon Barrientos and Isaac Deedon, both of which have become weapons on the Hart offense. Barrientos takes more of a field general role and gives the Indians the ability to adapt to different defenses and control the ball.
“He’s obviously our best ball handler,” Kelly said. “He can break down the defense. He’s such a crafty ball handler. His perimeter game is really growing. He can shoot the three too.”
However, the real weapon on the perimeter is Deedon. He is an absolute threat on the outside can always be found trying to put pressure on opposing offenses with the three-ball.
The intriguing piece to Hart’s team is freshman Brady Dunlap. At 6-foot-6, he is the tallest player on the team and has a strong understanding of the game.
“He might be our best all-around player,” Kelly said. “He hasn’t started a game for us but he’s playing starter minutes. He’s so valuable off the bench that he comes in a bring immediate spark.”
The 2019-20 season will be a fierce battle for the league title. All teams enter league play with relatively similar pre-league finishes, leaving the Foothill League wide open.