By Justin Vigil-Zuniga and Tyler Wainfeld
Signal Sports Writer
Boys’ basketball is just over the horizon in the Santa Clarita Valley.
Local teams begin their seasons this week with tournament and non-league action all over the board.
Foothill League play begins Nov. 28, when the local squads can start laying the groundwork for a potential postseason berth and run.
West Ranch, Saugus, Valencia and Canyon will look to return to the playoffs but watch for Golden Valley, Hart and Castaic teams that are all on the rise.
Here’s everything you need to know for the upcoming season of SCV high school hoops:
Nothing changing at West Ranch after star senior class departs
The Wildcats return to action riding a 36-game win streak in league play.
Although four Division 1 athletes have graduated from the team, the goals remain the same for Cats head coach Jeff Bryant: win the Foothill League, get to Open Division playoffs, compete for a state championship and of course get all his players into college.
West Ranch returns UNLV-bound guard James Evans, who has never lost a league game in his varsity career.
“This is not a rebuilding year,” Bryant said. “Everyone wants to see what life looks like for me without (Andrew) Meadow. I want to win badly, for the alumni and for the entire West Ranch community that supports and believes in me and the guys in the locker room. I won’t stop until I win a championship here. We lost four Division 1 players, I guess I have to coach now.”
Point guard Darrell Morris, who is also expected to receive Division 1 offers, returns to the team as well and brings tremendous on-ball defense. One of the league’s best distance shooters, Zach Bauman, also returns for his senior year along with captain Carsen Yahata. The returners will be key for laying the groundwork of Bryant’s high-tempo offense.
The new pieces filling in the blanks are transfers Jaeden Robely, Bishop Brooks and Tracy Bryden. Robley is a 6-foot, 5-inch sharpshooter, while Brooks is a proven scorer at about the same size, and averaged just under 15 points and 5.4 rebounds last season at Taft. Bryden gives the team size down low, but is the only newcomer on a sitout period. Bryden is adjusting to the speed of Open Division basketball after transferring from Faith Baptist but is coming along just fine and shed 30 pounds, according to Bryant.
Sophomore Prince Okonkwo will be another player to keep an eye on. The 6-foot, 9-inch forward will be battling for a starting spot early on.
The Wildcats will play a stacked non-league schedule to buff their resume in hopes of a second straight Open Division berth, including games with Corona Centennial, Bakersfield Christian, St. Joseph, Village Christian and Etiwanda.
West Ranch begins its season on Tuesday with a non-league matchup with the Centennial Huskies.
Valencia eyes return to CIF and state glory
The Vikings’ 2022-23 season was a monumental swing for the program. Valencia won five games in 2021-22 but earned 27 wins last season en route to a CIF and a state championship.
Valencia lost some key players but also has its fair share of returners. Forward Bryce Bedgood returns for his senior season alongside Jacob Mazy, Mason Grant, Tanner Stradley and Jacob Michel-Zavala. Also joining for their senior seasons are point guard Tyler Miller, a transfer from Canyon, and Ashton Carraway, from Birmingham.
Vikes coach Bill Bedgood postponed his retirement to return for a season where he’ll have a ton of talent on the roster.
“I’m excited about this team, it’s a deep team,” Bill said. “We don’t have a lot of guys who have been stars, or big scorers on their teams but there’s the potential for that in quite a few guys. We’re two-deep at every position. I see a lot of competition and a lot of guys who can play fast.”
Some other newcomers who have impressed coach Bedgood are Dabe Princewell, a former junior varsity player who has been Valencia’s best defender this summer, and Maddox Espinosa, a quick point guard.
“Defense is key for us,” Bill said. “Last year we were a little more polished offensively but I think we’ll get there. Defensively, I think we can pressure more, get more creative with trapping and switching defenses. We have a lot of guys that just get after it. We look good when we’re playing defense.”
The Vikings are looking to reclaim the Foothill League title for the first time in four years. Valencia will also have a tough non-league schedule with non-league stops at Sierra Canyon, Harvard-Westlake and Grant.
Valencia opens up the season on Saturday at Cabrillo.
Saugus looking for total team season
Saugus Centurions head coach Alfredo Manzano always gets asked why he gives his team such a tough schedule.
His answer is that tough teams will make his team tough.
“That’s who we are,” Manzano said. “We could easily be playing teams in other lower divisions and potentially put us down in division 3 or 4, whatever the case may be. But we continue to have a really tough schedule and continue to challenge these boys.”
This year will be no different as the Centurions have been placed in Division 2AA, the second-highest division — save for the Open Division — for the CIF Southern Section playoffs. They will also be playing in the vaunted Classic at Damien tournament in late December.
Saugus will be relying on a few returning seniors to shoulder the scoring load after seeing Max Tengan do so last year before graduating. Manzano sees guards Justin Perez, Peter Burton and Matt Correa as some players to keep an eye on.
“Justin Perez (is) going to kind of get put in that position, but I think he’s got some pretty good help and he’s a total team guy,” Manzano said. “And Peter Burton, those are the two guys that we’re gonna rely on many, many things … Matt Correa is developing better as more of a point guard and facilitating and finding his teammates. And Peter Burton’s shot’s gotten a lot better. Justin’s always in the gym, as these guys are.”
Manzano is also excited for a couple of players with less varsity experience in senior Wyatt Wilson and junior Max Guardado. The former is a tall guard at 6 feet, 3 inches, while the 6-foot-5 Guardado is set to handle the post duties.
With 15 players on the roster, Manzano is expecting everyone to contribute in some fashion. If his players buy in to his team mentality, he sees good things coming.
“You always have that that one guy that’s going to bring the heavy load on scoring,” Manzano said, “but I think this year we have a little mesh of everything, where everyone brings something. Not that they didn’t before in years past, but we’re not really relying on just one guy. We have multiple threats out there and just trying to preach the team aspect of it.”
Cowboys trying to mix youth with experience
The Canyon Cowboys are set to embark on a season in which fourth-year head coach Ali Monfared has just two seniors at his disposal after having seven on the roster last year.
He doesn’t mind that one bit.
“For being a young team, they are doing a really good job of learning on the fly,” Monfared said. “They’re a fun group to be around. They really work hard. And honestly, we’re gonna surprise some people, like we do every year.”
Monfared has two returning seniors who are both set to start in Collin Kusumi and Steven Sorrow. Neither received a ton of playing time last season but got plenty of experience in practice and in a few games.
“Those two should have really big roles this year,” Monfared said.
Elsewhere, returners Evan Watts and Eric Kubel, both juniors, are set to start, as is junior Noah Madrigal, who is coming up from the JV team. The latter is set to be the main ball handler for the Cowboys after impressing Monfared with his all-around game.
“He’s really good at everything,” Monfared said. “Very versatile player. He can do everything on the court. He can dribble, he can shoot, he can pass. He plays his role really well.”
Kubel, a sharpshooter with some skills to work elsewhere on the court, and Watts, who can be hard to guard down low with his 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame, come back with the most playing time from last year, and Monfared is excited to see how they’ve grown.
“I’m a big believer that you kind of have to get the reps and go play in a league game and just be in that environment,” Monfared said. “Those guys have been through that and so I’m really looking to them for leadership.”
Monfared knows the battle in front of the Cowboys in the Foothill League won’t be an easy one, but his goal is still to compete for a league title.
But even if things don’t work out exactly as he’d like, Monfared knows that with potentially 10 players from this year set to return next season, this group has a chance to gain some valuable experience for the future.
“I think we can be really special next year,” Monfared said. “But I think we could be really special this year, too. I’m not really looking towards next year … but when you have 10 returners, you get pretty excited about that.”
Hart hoops trending up
Indians boys’ basketball is on the rise in Newhall.
With a healthy mix of returners and newcomers, Hart believes it can get back on track.
Hart returns seniors Deven Strong, Joseph Montes and Jack Oldhafer. Strong is one of the better outside shooters in the league, and consistently can create his own shot. Oldhafer continues to grow as the team’s best spot-up shooter. Montes has also taken a big jump from last season and will likely be a tough on-ball defender and scorer.
The Indians will utilize some new faces to varsity in Adrian Jalbuena, Gavin Heredia and 7-footer Craig Irons.
Irons has improved tenfold since last season and will be an interior force. Heredia was believed to be ready for varsity last season but still shined for the JV team last season while Jalbuena comes over from Valencia as a high-IQ player for veteran coach Tom Kelly.
“I think we’re going to be efficient,” Kelly said. “If you look at us, we don’t pass the eyeball test. You don’t look and go, ‘Oh, man,those guys are loaded,’ and that’s fine. We still have to play the game. If we take care of the ball, get good shots, defend and rebound, we’ll always have a chance.”
Kelly feels his team is a little deeper than years past and he may even be able to run a 10-man lineup.
“Our goals haven’t changed since I’ve been here,” Kelly said. “Our goals have always been to win 20 games, win league and then try to make a run in the playoffs.”
Hart opens up the season at home on Monday with Sun Valley Magnet at 4 p.m.
Young Grizzlies aim for postseason
Golden Valley head coach Chris Printz doesn’t have a ton of experience returning to his team this year, but he expects his Grizzlies to put up a fight.
The Grizzlies will have five seniors, four of whom return with varsity experience, to go along with some younger players who are still trying to etch their names into Printz’s rotation.
“We’re going to compete,” Printz said. “It doesn’t change our expectations. I think for a coach, you just kind of understand there’s gonna be some bumps in the road.”
Seniors Tristan Tiu and Angelo Samson are set to handle the ball the most, while fellow seniors Kaleb Melara and Brad Christoffersen will welcome junior Kenyen Andrews, last year’s JV Player of the Year, to the starting rotation.
“There’s gonna be some flexibility based on matchups and what we have to do, but I always like leaning on my seniors,” Printz said.
Looking down the roster, Printz is excited for sophomores Alex Villejo and Zach Christoffersen to show that they belong in the Foothill League.
“Alex Villejo has a chance to maybe be one of the best shooters in our league, and Zack is just kind of a freak athlete,” Printz said. “So, we’re really excited about them.”
The Grizzlies will be looking to improve on their 3-9 showing in the league last season and, if things go right, grab a spot in the Division 4AA playoffs. The Grizzlies missed out last season after there were “no openings” in their division, Printz said.
“That’s always part of the goal,” Printz said. “We got to get through the Football League first, and we want to compete there. If we can do our job in the Foothill League, then making the playoffs takes care of itself.”
Castaic ready to make jump
The Coyotes enter year three of varsity play in search of more than just their first league win. Head coach Dominique Butler returns for his second year with Castaic, and believes the future is bright atop Valley Creek Road.
“The guys are getting better,” Butler said. “They’re progressing and doing what we ask them to do. A lot of the boys returning have put in the work. The coaching staff has relished in having our first full offseason together, rather than starting late last year and just coaching what they already knew. I think that made a huge difference.”
Butler has installed all-new schemes on offense and defense, where he believes his team will thrive.
The team returns seniors Gio Valentin, Thristian Lewis, Tashaun Barron, Lucas Milan and Christian Clark.
Lewis and Clark captain the team and will lead Castaic on their journey. Barron has shown impressive on-ball defensive skills. Valentin has great athleticism, which has allowed him to shine in games and at the 2023 SCV All-Star Game Dunk Contest. Milan brings a strong veteran presence to the Castaic backcourt. Kevin Curtis also returns to the team and will likely be the Coyotes’ starting center.
New to Castaic is Ethan Thomas, a transfer from Georgia, who has some solid facilitating skills.
Butler believes the progression and veteran presence will lead to the team’s first Foothill League win this season and hopefully a little more.
“Their goal is to always make the playoffs,” Butler said. “They want to start a winning program here at Castaic, make the playoffs and go on a run. We need to have short-term goals like win the first four minutes of a game, and go from there. If we can do that we’ll reap the rewards of those goals eventually. It’ll come in due time.”
Castaic embarks on year three of varsity play on Tuesday in a tournament game with Upland.
Trinity eyeballing league title and some
The energy and feel has rocketed at Trinity Classical Academy.
Veteran players, big transfers, talented freshmen and fourth-year head coach Daniel Hebert are the mix that’s boosted the team this offseason.
Senior Lucas Spring enters his fourth year of varsity at Trinity, along with returners Conrad Alderson and Patrick Cherry. Spring, a three-level scorer, leads the team from the two-guard spot. Alderson is a rebound machine for the Knights, while the sophomore and growing Cherry will take over as the team’s starting center.
New to the team are two SCCS transfers. Junior Cy Mitchell, a true point guard, and Noah Phillips, a tall forward, will join the Knights this season.
“I met Cy when he enrolled and I started imagining what our team could be and it’s been even better than that so far,” Hebert said. “We’re excited to be a more efficient offense and be a force on defense, which we haven’t been in the last couple years. We’ll be a better team all around.”
Noah McWilliams is correctly listed as a guard and center. McWilliams will defend opposing bigs while also being able to run point on offense. Freshman Mathew TeWinkle has also impressed Hebert with an efficient game for an undersized front court player.
With everything seemingly flowing in the Knights’ favor, the goals and expectations are beginning to rise.
“I’d be lying if I said our No. 1 goal wasn’t to win a CIF Division 5 championship,” Hebert said. “That goal feels real to all of us. It’s in the back of our heads every year. We all feel it’s a real possibility and that we can be a team that can do that. That’s our overarching goal, other than getting better every day and being as good of a team as we can be.”
Trinity will also be aiming for its first Heritage League title since 2016. The Knights kick off the season on Tuesday at home against Pilgrim at 7 p.m.
SCCS rebuilding with new head coach
The Santa Clarita Christian boys’ basketball team will look quite different in the 2023-24 season from last year.
Only two players are returning from last year’s varsity team, according to first-year head coach Dan Broyles, who got the job after being an assistant with the program last season. The program is set to have just six players with no JV team.
“They’re great kids,” Broyles said. “They’re gonna work hard. So, just keep growing. It’s all you can ask.”
Broyles will be leaning on returners Evan Ok and Nolan Broyles, the son of coach Broyles who has grown to be 6 feet, 5 inches. Both juniors got experience on varsity last season and are set to be the main ball handlers for the Cardinals, along with junior Caleb Shaffer, who is coming up from last year’s JV squad and also brings some height at 6 feet, 4 inches.
Getting the former two players to become leaders will be key to how quickly the Cardinals can get to where they need to be to compete in the Heritage League.
“Part of it is really helping Evan and Nolan probably grow in their leadership role,” coach Broyles said, “because they were more like role players last year versus this year, they’ll be kind of more leading.”
Broyles hopes that his Cardinals learn to play together quickly and learn to play basketball the way that he wants them to.”
“I always want to find that open guy who has the best shot,” coach Broyles said. “And I really like movement from all five guys, not two guys standing around. Every guy moving, trying to play hopefully some smart basketball. And I think we can play some really good defense to get some easy shots off of defense for fast breaks.”
Despite the relative lack of experience compared to past teams, coach Broyles is confident that his team will compete for a playoff spot. The Cardinals have been placed in Division 3A for the CIF Southern Section postseason.
“Absolutely. I think we can do that,” coach Broyles said.