Tritons hit the pitch, pools and hardwood, looking for winter success
By Steve Breazeale and Darian Nourian
San Clemente sports teams should be interesting to watch this winter, as several programs are coming off successful seasons and look to keep momentum going. The girls soccer team fell just short of a CIF-SS Division 1 title, but return plenty of players who want a shot at redemption. The wrestling team is poised to have another solid season with the deepest team their head coach has seen in six years.
There’s a lot going on this winter so make sure to log on to our sports page at www.sanclementetimes.com and follow us on Twitter @SouthOCsports for in-game updates, news and scores all season long.
Under the direction of head coach Marc Popovich, who enters his sixth season at the helm for the Tritons, the San Clemente boys basketball team has made the playoffs in each of the last four seasons. Entering the 2012 season, Popovich and his squad look to continue that streak, which would be the longest for the program since the 1970′s.
Last season ended with a first-round playoff loss to Etiwanda following a third place Sea View League finish, and the Tritons return a handful of players from last year’s relatively senior-heavy team. But even without a strong senior presence, Popovich considers this year’s group one of the county’s up and coming squads, considering all of the young talent they have.
Leading the way for the upstarts will be sophomore football stand-out Sam Darnold, who is expected to play a large role for the Tritons at the forward position. Two other underclassman to look for are sophomore guard Nick Crankshaw and freshman Cole Fotheringham.
Returning letterman for the Tritons include seniors Cody Bean, Brock Eissman and Jake Terkoski.
Eissman, who was among the Triton’s top scorers last year, was named second team All-Sea View League at forward, while Terkoski, one of their top rebounders, won honorable mention at center.
Senior Jimmy Bankson, a 2011 junior varsity standout, is considered to be the Triton’s greatest three-point threat this year and will be a key player on offense, according to Popovich.
With this new, younger group, Popovich is looking to change things up in 2012.
“We are looking to apply more full-court-pressure and play at a faster pace,” Popovich said. “Playing up-tempo, we are looking to score more, and we are able to do this because we have such a deep team. I would feel comfortable running a nine to 10 man rotation.”
An X-factor coming off the bench for the Tritons will be senior forward Anthony Pinelli, who impressed Popovich in summer league play. According to the veteran coach, Pinelli will be a valuable, skilled big man down low in the paint this season.
With his team this year, Popovich expects the Tritons to finish at least in the top three in the Sea View League, but wouldn’t be surprised if they beat Trabuco Hills or Dana Hills to finish higher.
Regardless, if the Tritons finish in the top three, it would clinch them an automatic playoff berth for the fifth consecutive year. —Darian Nourian
The list of accomplishments the girls soccer team has earned under the tenure of head coach Stacey Finnerty is a long one.
In her time at San Clemente, Finnerty has led the Tritons to five CIF-SS championships, nine league championships, a state championship and nine CIF-SS championship game appearances, including a current four-year streak, transforming the girls soccer program into a renowned national powerhouse in the process.
After losing 10 seniors from last year’s CIF-SS finalist team, the Tritons return 13 varsity players and are looking to once again make a run not only at a South Coast League title, but also a CIF championship.
Key returnees for the Tritons include junior forward Nikki Faris and junior center-midfielder/forward Natalie Higgins, both Oregon State University verbal commits. The two are expected to lead the Triton scoring attack this year.
Junior midfielder Ally Lynn is looking to provide a spark for the team from an outside midfielder position, while the Triton’s back line will be anchored by senior defender Sydney Fuertes, a UC Santa Barbara commit. Junior Emma Burns, sophomore Sami Engel, and
Sophomore Amanda Gerrain will help Fuertes hold the back line.
Senior Danielle Mellem, now a three-year varsity letterman, is also going to play a very important role for the Tritons from the midfield position.
With a strong core of players returning from last year, coach Finnerty is optimistic about the upcoming season.
“We play in a very strong South Coast League, better known as the ‘league of death’, so we are looking to clinch a playoff berth and from there, we will see what happens” Finnerty said.
It should be interesting to see if the lady tritons are able to make it to their fifth consecutive CIF championship game, which at four is already a county record. – DN
San Clemente graduate and former player Lacey Burns is entering her second season as head coach of the Tritons girls basketball team and is looking to improve on the team’s third-place South Coast League finish in 2011, which took them to the CIF-SS playoffs.
Burns is a strong believer in the mantra “a good defense leads to a good offense,” and this is a philosophy she is preaching to her players in the early goings.
“Defensively, we are really looking to pressure the ball full court with our speed, and from there we will be able to get out and run fast breaks in the open court, which will lead to easy baskets for us,” Burns said.
The team returns all five starters from last year and Burns says that each one of these players is going to be playing an important role for the team in some capacity.
“We don’t really have one star player, so it’s going to be fun to see who steps up every game, but overall, we have a great squad,” Burns said.
Returning players expected to carry the Tritons on offense this year are senior guard Frankie Pinto and senior forward Alexa Johnson, who were the team’s top two scorers last season.
On defense, the team is to be anchored by seniors Natalie Tye and Gabby McGann.
Senior guard Brogan Griffin, who is currently injured, is also expected to play an important role for the Tritons once she is healthy.
Facing a tough South Coast League, the Triton’s team goals seem pretty simple.
“Win,” Burns said of the teams’ aspirations. “If our players are successful as student-athletes, that success will transfer on to the court and hopefully result in us winning a league and ultimately, a CIF title.” –DN
Skill is the name of the game for this year’s San Clemente boys soccer team.
Teams from years gone by might have been bigger, stronger or faster, but when looking over the roster of his 2012 squad, the one thing head coach Mike Pronier keeps coming back to is the overall skill his team possesses.
There will be a lot of creative minds out on the pitch for the Tritons this season and the prime example of that will be the intertwining play between the midfielders and forwards.
They have a legitimate goal scorer in senior forward Gage Zerbonie, who led the team with 19 goals last season and an experienced and talented midfield ready to feed the offensive attack.
Senior captain and defensive midfielder Oscar Vasquez played a part in the Tritons State championship season of 2010 and will be the one patrolling the middle, running the offense while also clamping down on defense. Vasquez has also been playing with Zerbonie for years and the two have strong, on-field chemistry. Pronier pegged Vasquez as an “old head,” which means he’s smart with the ball and is able to control the tempo of a game. Vasquez is moving up from the stopper role he played last season and is expected to get more touches on offense.
Junior Alek Cucuk will be the offensive-minded center midfielder playing alongside Vasquez while junior Oscar Hernandez will be out on the wing, getting involved on both offense and defense. Hernandez possesses both a strong left and right foot and saw a lot of time last season and will be even more involved this time around, according to Pronier.
“We have one of the strongest, skill-wise, midfields that (San Clemente) has ever had,” Pronier said. “(The midfield) helps because we now can score from different places.”
Pronier says the success of this year’s team will lie with the ability of the senior class to seize the moment.
“I think they want that season where they think ‘Every game is ours’,” Pronier said. “If they put good ability with some hard work and desire…I think we’ll have a good year.” – Steve Breazeale
Last season the Tritons started their year off unheralded and definitely under the radar, according to head coach Mark Calentino. The team did not have a lot of experience but surprised most by rattling off tournament win after win and finished the season with a strong 13-1 overall record.
This season the Tritons will have eight returning starters who played important roles in last year’s success with a deep roster that has Calentino excited about this year’s prospects.
“This year we have a really deep roster with good kids…They’re comparable to the teams we had in 1996 and 2006, which were just dominant,” Calentino said. “There’s nothing in their work ethic that leads me to believe they won’t excel like last year…this season they’re starting off in a different spot. They’re so much further ahead (than last year).”
Wrestlers to watch this season include seniors Jon Castellini and Ash Ryan. Castellini placed third in the CIF-SS tournament last year and will be wrestling in the 138-pound category. Ryan placed fifth at CIF and went 2-2 overall at the Masters tournament, missing out on the state finals by one match. Ryan will wrestle in the 195-pound category in 2012.
One junior who impressed Calentino last season and is poised to have a breakout year is junior Daniel Garcia, who will be wrestling in the 118-pound category.
When sizing up the competition in the South Coast League, it is hard to ignore the success of the Tritons league rival Laguna Hills, who have not lost a league tournament in 26 years. Calentino has deep ties to the Hawks program and was a former wrestler and team captain at Laguna Hills in his high school days. The Tritons lone loss last season came at the hands of the Hawks and the two are set to square off in 2012 on December 18 at San Clemente.
Calentino has seen a noticeable edge emerge out of the senior contingent of this year’s squad and it’s something he believes will lead them to success. –SB
Girls Water Polo
As the reigning five-time South Coast League champions, the San Clemente girls water polo team will attempt to make it a sixth consecutive league title this season with a relatively young roster full of underclassmen.
With 10 former starters gone to graduation and only one returning, head coach Logan Powell has spent the offseason attempting to get a brand new roster all on the same page.
Two key players returning to the lineup will be junior driver and team captain Brigette Kimbrough and sophomore utility Cassidy Smithson. Kimbrough was an effective bench player for the Tritons last season while Smithson saw starting time as a freshman.
The team will only field two seniors in June Huston and Amanda Giannelli, both of whom split time on varsity and junior varsity last season.
With a lack of senior presence, something the team had plenty of last year, the door is open for Powell’s younger players to establish themselves on the Triton depth charts.
Powell pegged freshman center Amber McCutcheon as a new player to watch heading into the season. McCutcheon comes to San Clemente after playing at the club level for the past several years, which Powell believes gives her an edge.
“(McCutcheon) is still young but she knows the game really well…She’s a strong player and a lot of our offense will depend on her,” Powell said.
If the Tritons want to repeat as South Coast League champions for the sixth time in a row, they will have to go through perennial league rival El Toro. The two teams are set to square off on January 3.
Until then, the new-look Tritons will have to focus on the present, as they open their season December 6 on the road at the Villa Park Classic tournament. — SB