By Ryan Menzie
Signal Sports Writer
A shortened COVID-19 season did not stop the Foothill League boys’ basketball season from running its course with all the teams having played their full league schedule. The boys got to play but the feel of the season with no preseason, non-league games or a true offseason made it all that much more strange.
The Santa Clarita Valley high schools now head into the 2022 season as their first true season in two years and look poised to make up for lost time. All the teams have officially started league play on Tuesday and now look to fight for a chance at the league title and make a deep run in the CIF playoffs.
Here is the season outlook for the rest of the season.
All current records are based on the day this story was published.
West Ranch High School
The West Ranch Wildcats finished last season a perfect 10-0 and made their way to the quarterfinals of the Division 2A CIF playoffs before losing to Agoura, which would make it all the way to the finals and lose to Crean Lutheran. The Wildcats are currently 1-0 on the season.
The goals this season remain the same for head coach Jeff Bryant and his team: win the league title and compete for a CIF championship.
“I thought we let it slip last year, but I think we’re in a good position this year,” said Bryant. “We were able to score the basketball at a high level. With key returners coming back for us and a transfer from Crespi who adds instant offense, we have the potential to do the same. We just have to remember to not take any plays or games off and treat every game like it’s a CIF game.”
The Wildcats are without their leading scorer from last season, shooting guard Corey Cofield, who averaged just under 20 points a game, but will be led by small forward Andrew Meadows, who was second on the team with 17 points per game and tied for the team high with nine rebounds a game. Power forward James Evans will also be returning for the Wildcats after finishing third on the team with 13 points per game.
Meadows, who models his game after Luka Doncic and Kevin Durant, expects to have another undefeated season and a deep CIF playoff run.
“We can’t treat any team lightly,” said Meadows. “Any team can win on any given night. We have to give every team our best game and have a good mentality. I’m determined to prove how we are one of the best teams in California.”
Senior point guard Rane Kita, who has been on varsity the past three seasons and models his game after Kyrie Irving and Trae Young, also has big expectations for the team and wants to win the CIF championship.
“We want to work hard and play as a team for each other,” said Kita. “We have to know that everyone is coming for us and wants to beat us. We got to stay level-headed and play hard every game if we want to make it far.”
Saugus High School
The Saugus Centurions placed second in the Foothill League with a 6-4 record and will look to have an even bigger season with all their starters returning. The Centurions made it to the CIF Division 2AA playoffs but lost in the first round to Palos Verdes. The Centurions are currently off to a 3-2 start.
“Bringing back all five starters is huge for us,” said Centurions’ head coach Alfredo Manzano. “We’ve been able to work together over the summer and fall after having not much time last season. We want to be the hardest-working team on the court.”
The Centurions will be led by Christian Manzano and Brandon Perez. Manzano, who is coach Manzano’s son and models his game after Kobe Bryant for his mentality, enters his third year on varsity and believes this team is the closest any team has ever been.
“The goal is to win league,” said Manzano. “Last year we were a new team. We had 10 guys come up from junior varsity and weren’t able to develop the chemistry like we have this year. The higher chemistry will help propel us to the next level.”
Senior point guard Perez models his game after Caesar Guerro, a former point guard at St. John Bosco, for his craftiness, height, ability to move the ball and being Hispanic. Perez is looking for high energy and team development as the season progresses in search of something greater than last season.
“We had a lot of aggressiveness last season with the ability to shoot the ball and high IQ,” said Perez. “We’re scrappy and we’re dogs. We got to keep the dog mentality as the season goes on. If we can keep it, we can pretty much set our goals to do anything.”
Valencia High School
The Valencia Vikings finished third in the Foothill League standings with a 5-4-1 record. The Vikings would also go on to compete in the CIF Division 1 playoffs, but would lose in the first round to Oxnard. The Vikings are currently off to a 1-6 start.
“We expect our team to get better from one day to the next,” said Vikings head coach Bill Bedgood. “We have a mix of experienced players returning and a few young talented players. Last season was one of the toughest any of us have had. It was almost like it wasn’t really a season. Regardless, this is a fun team to coach. These guys take a lot out of the coaching and make the most of it each day.”
The Vikings will be led by Jayden Ares and Raif Zakarian. Ares models his game after Damian Lillard, a humble killer who is aggressive and can shoot, and wants the team to come out with the dog mentality each night.
“Last year we always came out and showed our fight,” said Ares. “We have to continue to be a brotherhood and be one unit. Come out and fight and come out here and leave it all on the court.”
Zakarian, who models his game after himself because he feels he wants Jason Kidd’s passing ability and Kobe Bryant’s work ethic but also believes in being your own person, wants to make everyone a better player on the court and better man off the court.
“We just have to enjoy the time we have and work hard all the time,” said Zakarian. “We got a lot of athletes. We don’t have a whole lot of experience but we have to leave everything on the court. When you walk away from the game you don’t want to have any regrets.”
Hart High School
The Hart Indians finished fourth overall with a 4-6 record and were unable to compete in the CIF playoffs. The Indians battled injuries last season, including losing their star forward Jaden Penberthy, but Indians head coach Tom Kelly believes they are in the mix to win it this season. The Indians are off to a 2-2 start.
“We got to defend and rebound,” said Kelly. “We only had 10 games last season but some of our players got good game experience as sophomores. The boys know how to play off each other. We’re not going to be a great one-on-one team, but instead we’re going to move the ball and share the ball to have a chance to win.”
The Indians will be led by Penberthy, who they hope to be getting back in the coming weeks, and Jacob Okonowski. Penberthy models his game after Devin Booker with his ability to shoot the ball and change speed.
“The main goal is to stay healthy and try to win as many games as possible,” said Penberthy. “Our chemistry last year was all over the place because we didn’t have the time to practice like we normally would have. I got to keep myself strong and healthy and fine-tune some things.”
Okonowski models his game after Luka Doncic and Steph Curry because they fit the mold of himself perfectly and they are walking buckets.
“I just want to win all my games and win league,” said Okonowski. “It all begins with starting off the season well and continuing to play well throughout the whole season so we are in a good position for playoffs.”
Canyon High School
The Canyon Cowboys finished fifth in the league standings with a 3-7 record. Cowboys’ head coach Ali Monfared feels fortunate they were able to have a season despite missing an offseason.
“My biggest thing is we’re going to go out and compete and play every possession,” said Monfared. “We’re a defensive team first and foremost. We stress a lot on rebounding and being one and done. The mentality is always outplaying everybody because we’re not the tallest or the most athletic team. We’re going to outwork you and we’re going to do it every night in practice.”
The Cowboys are off to a quick 5-3 start and are led by Matt Heyne and Brandon Boldroff. Heyne, who models his game after Khris Middleton for shooting and his ability to play inside, expects to have won with this group of guys being his fourth year on varsity.
“These guys put in a lot of hard work,” said Heyne. “Of course, we’re looking to win league and win all these games, but we’re looking to have fun. Last season was tough with COVID and only having 10 games with the first five games being rough for us. It showed the importance of practicing and getting through the games.”
Boldroff models his game after Alex Caruso with his ability to shoot the three but also finding a way to get to the rim, something Boldroff feels he can do but not as athletic.
“We just have to continue to outwork people at this point,” said Boldroff. “We don’t have the tallest, most athletic or strongest group of people, but we go out on the court and make up for it. We got to continue to be dogs on defense.”
Golden Valley High School
The Golden Valley Grizzlies were winless last season but are off to a hot 4-1 start entering the first week of league play. The Grizzlies are looking to rewrite the narrative of being one of the bottom teams and show they belong with the rest of the Foothill League.
“Our expectations are the same each year, compete for titles,” said Grizzlies head coach Chris Printz. “Last season was so difficult because it was such a weird season. Not much we can really look back on last season other than the extra emphasis for how lucky we are to be here. We’re going to compete.”
The Grizzlies are led by Mark Hamilton and Jonathan Onu. Hamilton models his game after Kevin Durant and wants to close out games since they were unable to do so the previous season.
“It’s time to change the narrative about us and win some games,” said Hamilton. “We got to be dogs. Nobody believes in us so we have to go out there to kill.”
Onu models his game after Russell Westbrook and Kyrie Irving, but says his teammates say he reminds them of Damian Lillard. Onu is looking to shock people this season.
“The last few years we’ve been sort of bad so we’re looking to turn it around,” said Onu. “The goal for myself is to get better all-around. I have a good game so I just got to get better at everything like being a leader and a teammate. We’re hungry.”
Castaic High School
The Castaic Coyotes enter their first season as part of the Foothill League as the new underdogs of the Santa Clarita Valley. The uphill battle will be challenging, but for head coach Levi Wenrich and his team, there are no doubts they can do great things.
“It’s about setting the culture and the foundation for what we want Castaic to be,” said Wenrich. “For us it’s more about the culture and mindset that we are young. The Foothill League is full of great players and coaching minds, especially coach Tom Kelly of Hart. When I got into coaching, he brought me onto his staff. A local legend and a great guy and one of the best mentors I could’ve asked for.”
The Coyotes will be led by Carson Golden and Jonathan Hakim, who are both playing their first season. Golden models his game after Trae Young for someone who is small and not super athletic, but yet he has the skills to go out there and do what he does best.
“I expect us to surprise a lot of people this season,” said Golden. “It’s a new team and a lot of people don’t believe in us. Our only fault really is being scared and not believing in ourselves, but we’re going out to prove people wrong and work hard.”
Hakim models his game after Klay Thompson and Tyler Herro for their ability to shoot the ball and create shots off the dribble.
“We will shock a lot of people, especially in the individual development aspect,” said Hakim. “The goal is to play with 110% effort in everything you do because that’s what is going to win us games and take us to the next level.”
Trinity Classical Academy
The Trinity Classical Academy Knights are off to a 6-1 start, but have yet to play their first Heritage League game. However, the quick start for the Knights is a big indicator for head coach Daniel Hebert and what he expects from his team for the rest of the season.
“Everyone has bought into what we’re doing,” said Hebert. “We know we’re undersized and have some good shooters. We’ve been working since June to get comfortable with our strengths after losing our senior center. One thing we write on the game plan is to let it fly. We think we can play with the best of them and outscore them.”
The Knights are led by John Cervantes-King and Andre Salinas. Cervantes-King, who doesn’t really model his game after anyone but enjoys watching some of the young new players like Trae Young, Ja Morant and Josh Christopher, believes if they continue hitting their shots it’s going to be a good season.
“I’m expecting a lot from this team,” said Cervantes-King. “We got most of the same players back. I’m just excited. I think it’s going to be a real fun season. It’s always fun playing with your brothers and fun to win and I think that’s what we’ll continue to keep doing.”
Salinas, who models his game after Klay Thompson, has high expectations for himself, especially with seeing the high level of play his team has displayed so far throughout the season.
“We’ve been on a roll so far,” said Salinas. “Moving forward we still have our four main seniors. This year we’re trying to make the best out of it and keep pushing. We’re trying to win the championship.”
Santa Clarita Christian School
The Santa Clarita Christian School Cardinals currently hold a 3-2 record and have yet to play any league games as part of the Heritage League with Trinity. Regardless, Cardinals head coach James Mosley and his players are ready to step it up and make it to the playoffs.
“We’re excited. This is a really quick and athletic group,” said Mosley. “We know what our strength and weaknesses are so we’re working together to get better each day. Our main focus is to having a more normal year in comparison to playing in the spring last season. We are a high-energy team and we are really excited to see what this talented group of guys can do.”
The Cardinals will be led by Jaden Tengan and Maurice Wright. Tengan, who models his game after Trae Young and Chris Paul, transferred from Sacramento because of COVID-19 and wasn’t able to play his junior year. Tengan believes his move will help propel him to play at the collegiate level.
“The goal is to always improve every game because we’re a very young team,” said Tengan. “My personal goal is to win 22 games this year and get physically stronger. I feel like I have the skills, but obviously I need to work on getting physically bigger.”
Wright models his game Kevin Durant but says his teammates see his game modeling Darren Collison with his ability to drive to the rim and catch and shoot the ball.
“I’m hoping we can make it to the playoffs and win a championship,” said Wright. “The mentality is to win. We need to win for sure. The way for me to help is to put my teammates in a position to score easily.”