Monday, December 29, 2014

Top Local Sports Stories of 2014

As we ring in the new year, let’s look back at 2014 and recall the top local sports stories of the year:

1     1.    Kyle Larson Named Rookie-of-the-Year By NASCAR

The former Pleasant Grove High School student (who finished high school through independent study so he could start a professional driving career) was the youngest guy on NASCAR’s 2014 Sprint Cup circuit, the top group of stock car drivers in the country.

At age 22 not only did he attract the attention of his peers by driving for Chip Ganassi in the Target Chevrolet No. 42 car, but scored the eighth-most points this NASCAR season. That earned him the NASCAR Rookie-of-the-Year Award. 
NASCAR's Rookie of the Year, Kyle Larson

He’s the first Elk Grove resident ever to drive on the NASCAR circuit and that fact alone earned him a key to the City of Elk Grove in July. (See video below)

2    2.   Sheldon Boys’ Basketball Sanctioned By Section

In the thirty years of the Sac-Joaquin Section there had been only one heftier set of sanctions placed upon a high school sports program – the football recruiting scandal at Franklin of Stockton in 2007.

Sheldon’s boys basketball program drew the ire of Section officials when eight players transferred schools to play for the Huskies, the four-time defending Division I champions, prior to the start of the school year. Three of those boys were ruled ineligible for the entire season in December of 2013.

After an in-depth investigation by the Elk Grove Unified School District, five additional players were ruled ineligible for CIF play for one calendar year because of what Section officials said were false statements on their transfer paperwork.

The Huskies were ruled ineligible for the playoffs and are currently on probation. Head coach Joey Rollings was suspended for four weeks.

The situation fanned the flames of the debate on whether parents had the right to choose the best high school sports program for their child, no matter where the family resided.

3    3.   Ryan Gomes Fired As Football Coach at Cosumnes Oaks

Gomes had more than thirty former Wolfpack players playing collegiately and had established Cosumnes Oaks as one of the most competitive football programs. In five seasons the Wolfpack was 33-22.

However in late summer came word that Cosumnes Oaks principal Patrick McDougall had fired Gomes. He never publically gave a reason for the action. Gomes told the Citizen he wasn’t given a reason for his dismissal, either. 

Gomes’ long-time friend and assistant coach Derick Milgrim took over and led the Wolfpack to a Capital Valley Conference championship.

Gomes ended up on the coaching staff at American River College.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Wiggins Returns to the Chargers

Kenny Wiggins is back in Charger blue. As the NFL heads into its final week of play and San Diego is still hoping for a place in the playoffs, Wiggins will get another chance to play for the AFC West squad.

Charger guard Johnnie Troutman injured a knee in Saturday’s overtime win over San Francisco and put him out of action. Thus, Wiggins, who spent much of 2013 with the Bolts, was inked to take his spot. 
Former EGHS tackle Kenny Wiggins,  signed Monday by the Chargers

The 6-6, 313 pound tackle who played locally at Elk Grove High School and later at Fresno State, was on the Chargers’ practice squad for nine weeks last year, then was put on the active roster at the end of the year.

Wiggins was also in training camp with San Diego this summer but was released prior to the start of the regular season.

Wiggins has also been on the practice squads of the 49ers and the Ravens.

Six Herd Grapplers Place At Zinkin Classic

In their second tournament of the season, Elk Grove’s wrestling squad found the competition stiff at the Zinkin Tournament at Buchanan High School in Clovis Saturday.

No team scores were kept in this tournament, but six Herd grapplers placed in the 40-team event. rd at 132 pounds), Zach Krock (5th at 170 pounds), Jacob Seto (6th at 113 pounds), Terrell Turner (7th at 138 pounds), Jesse Arroyo (7th at 120 pounds) and Nahele Tonge (7th at 126 pounds).
Elk Grove's Jacob Seto
They were Kelani Tonge (3

Latest Section Rankings
The California Grappler’s updated rankings of wrestlers in the Sac-Joaquin Section show several locals in the top eight of their respective weight group.

Valley’s Bilah Baloch is ranked number one at 106 pounds, as is Elk Grove’s Sai Ta’amu at 220 pounds and teammate Jacob Seto at 113 pounds.

Ta’amu has recently begun working out with the wrestling team because of a hand injury suffered in the Herd’s playoff loss to St. Mary’s. He’s expected to begin competition in January.

Jesse Arroyo of Elk Grove is ranked eighth at 126 pounds, while teammate Kalani Tonge is fifth at 132 pounds and heavyweight Tyler Yates is ranked seventh.

There are three Franklin grapplers ranked, as well. Josh Villaflor is ranked third-best at 132 pounds, Antonio Jimenez is seventh at 138 pounds and Robbie Nickerson is considered fourth-best at 182 pounds.

Hikutini Signs With Louisville

Cole Hikutini, a former wide receiver at Pleasant Grove High School who has played football the past two years at City College of San Francisco, recently signed a National Letter-of-Intent to continue his collegiate career at Louisville.

Playing at tight end for the Rams, the 6-5, 245-pound Hikutini led the team with 40 receptions for 658 yards and four TD’s in 2014. CCSF made it all the way to the State Community College championship game before losing to Mt. San Antonio College, 27-17.

Allen Seeing Regular Playing Time With Aztecs

The San Diego State Aztecs are ranked in the top-20 in most college men’s basketball polls with an 8-3 record. Former Sheldon standout Dakarai Allen has played in all eleven games for the Aztecs, averaging three points and making 47 percent of all shots. He’s averaging about eleven minutes of playing time each game for head coach Steven Fisher.

Allen’s Sheldon teammate D’Erryl Williams has played in six games thus far. Both are sophomores at SDSU.

Aztec freshman center Malik Pope, who played his high school ball at Burbank and Laguna Creek, has seen action in six games thus far.

EGYSL Adds Full-Time Staff, Office

There are many youth sports organizations based in Elk Grove, all with the purpose of teaching children the sport these groups have a real passion for. But, in this city there is no single sports group that serves as many young people as the Elk Grove Youth Soccer League (EGYSL).

There are more than 6,000 boys and girls who play for a team sanctioned by the EGYSL. So large is the task of organizing coaches, games, officials and fields that a few years ago they broke down the Elk Grove area into regional clubs to take care of running youth soccer in their territory.

“They are not their own non-profit, but they are given their own authority because the Elk Grove Youth Soccer League is a 501-C-3 and we grant the authority to each of our ten clubs and they operate by the bylaws we give them,” EGYSL president Debra Carlton explained. “They paint their fields, organize their players into teams.”

Carlton and her fellow EGYSL Board of Directors realized a few years ago that the overall operation really couldn’t continue with volunteers only. With more than $2 million in resources EGYSL hired a full-time Chief Operating Officer, along with a full time director of coaching, now tabbed as the “Technical Director.”

“We basically created in the bylaws a specific process where each territory elects their own directors to represent their own club,” Carlton said. “About five years ago we had grown dramatically and we wanted to be known as a very professional organization. We had felt that with six thousand players that it wasn’t wise to continue being run by volunteers.”

Andrew Donnery, who came to the U.S. from Liverpool, England, is the CEO. He has worked with several U.S. organizations including the Wilmington Hammerheads professional team and the Coastal Carolina Soccer Camps.

Earlier this month EGYSL hired Adam Smith as its technical director and Girls’ Director. He formerly worked for the Portland Timbers, a MSL franchise, as its Academy Director.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Buchanan Grabs Mettler Title, EG Second

Perennial state wrestling power Buchanan easily won the team championship of the Curt Mettler Invitational Saturday, outdistancing the second place school, host Elk Grove, by more than twice the Herd’s total team points.

Buchanan scored 318.5 points on the strength of seven individual championships and four second-place finishes.

The Herd scored 144.5 points thanks to one first-place, sophomore Jacob Seto at 113 pounds, and three second-places: Kalani Tonge at 138 pounds, Jesse Arroyo at 126 pounds and Terrell Turner at 145 pounds.

Other Elk Grove grapplers who placed in the top six were freshman Lokahi Tonge, fifth at 113 pounds, and his twin brother Nahele, who was fifth at 120 pounds. Brandon Viale, a 160-pounder, was sixth while Zack Krock took fifth at 180. At 220 pounds Joe Guimont placed fourth and heavyweight Tyler Yates grabbed a fifth-place award.

Fresh off the Monterey Trail football field, E.J. Viacrusis grabbed a fifth-place trophy at the Mettler.
 ***Curt Mettler Invitational ***
Team Results                        Points
1. Buchanan                          318.5
2. Elk Grove                           144.5
3. Chico                                    141
4. Folsom                                95.5
5. Rodriguez                         92.5
6. James Logan                   81
7. Ponderosa                        78
8. De La Salle                        73
9. Escalon                               72.5
10. Oak Ridge                      68

More than 30 schools participated in the annual tournament considered by most, especially Elk Grove wrestling coach Pat Coffing, as the season-opener.

Midway through the day-long event Coffing was pleased to see that most of his wrestlers were returning to the mats for the second round in the championship brackets.

“This is a real tough deal for us because we’ve been just going against each other,” Coffing said. “We don’t know what we’re good at or what we’re not good at until we see other people.”

“I can see we need to work a bit on defense, although our offense is a little better than what I thought we would be,” he added. “Our pinning combination is a little weak.”

Monday, December 08, 2014

Best Winter Sport? How About Hockey!

In most of California winter sports primarily means basketball, with a dedicated, yet smaller, contingent of wrestling fans. But, almost forgotten is a core of fans that are diehards from the word “Go.”

They are hockey fans. The National Hockey League has a pair of successful franchises in the state, the San Jose Sharks and the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.

But, there is no CIF-sanctioned high school hockey. There are several colleges in the state that have club hockey teams but almost no one with a NCAA-sanctioned team.

If you travel to the Northeast or the upper Midwest hockey fans outnumber basketball crowds in the high school gyms. More than 19,000 crowd the St. Paul Arena for the four-day Minnesota High School hockey championships, that state’s top draw for prep sports.

Locally, hockey fans travel in decent numbers to the Stockton Arena during the winter for exciting, entertaining (and relatively-inexpensive ticketed) games of the Stockton Thunder.

Now in their tenth season in Stockton, the Thunder has a core of fans clad in hockey “sweaters”, the term for the jerseys in this sport, that sit in the 50-degree climate of the arena.
Best seat for hockey is in the endzone, unlike football

The man who calls the play-by-play account of each Thunder game is Brandon Kisker. It’s been a couple years since those broadcasts have been aired by a Stockton radio station. Kisker calls the games over the Thunder website.

Originally from Buffalo, N.Y., Kisker grew up a big hockey fan. Two years ago he left Cincinnati to work for the Thunder.

“I played hockey when I was basically old enough to walk and to skate,” he recalled. “I remember all the skating lessons and playing youth hockey. My father would take me out at six in the morning to play hockey games. Hockey has always been a passion of mine.”

And, of course, he’s a fan of the Buffalo Sabres, the National Hockey League franchise in that city.

Like many of the Stockton players, Kisker is gaining experience at the minor league level of hockey. The Thunder is a part of the ECHL, which he describes as the “Double-A” level of the sport in this country. The ECHL is made of 29 teams spread all across the country.

“(ECHL) basically doesn’t stand for anything now,” Kisker explained. “It used to be the East Coast Hockey League, but now it’s just called the ECHL because it merged with the Western Hockey League a few years ago. It’s the only league at this level now. There used to be a Central Hockey League, but that league disbanded and those teams came into our league this year.”

This means the players who come through cities such as Stockton are mostly new to professional hockey. 

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

CRC Womens' Soccer Play For State Title

CRC's women's soccer squad

It’s been about five years, but Cesar Plasencia knows a little bit about what it’s like to play for a state community college soccer championship.

“It was 2009 and we lost in the championship game to the same team we play in the (state) semi-final on Friday,” the Cosumnes River College womens’ coach said on Tuesday.

That team is Santiago Canyon, a squad that stands at 20-0-3 and is the number one seed from southern California. The two colleges face off Friday at 7 p.m. in the women’s semi-finals being played at Mt. SAC College in Walnut.

The Lady Hawks entered the California Community College soccer playoffs an 11th seed after going 8-7-6 during the regular season. But, then the girls caught fire.

“I always thought our team was little better than our record and what we showed on the field,” Plasencia said. “Injuries affected us in a portion of the season that was difficult for us. We were unable to overcome and we were playing some real difficult teams.”

The Hawks played the most difficult schedule in the state, too, having faced all the top five ranked teams in California.

“I do that purposely trying to prepare my team for the playoff run,” Plasencia added.

CRC has been impressive in the regional games. They started off with a 1-0 win over No. 6 Folsom Lake College on Nov. 22. In the second round, the Hawks beat No. 14 Taft College, 3-1, on Nov. 25.