San Clemente senior co-captains Jessica de Gree, left, and Hailey Ord look to lead the girls basketball team, which won the South Coast League title last year. Photo by Steve Breazeale
San Clemente senior co-captains Jessica de Gree, left, and Hailey Ord look to lead the girls basketball team, which won the South Coast League title last year. Photo by Steve Breazeale

Tritons hit the hardwood, turf, mats and pools, looking for success.

By Steve Breazeale

The San Clemente High School winter season is about to begin. Here is a breakdown of each Tritons winter sports program along with their season outlook for the coming year. For in-game updates and news regarding all the winter teams, follow us on Twitter @SouthOCsports.

Girls Water Polo

Last Year: The Tritons tied for second in the South Coast League in 2012 record-wise but entered the CIF-SS Championships as the league’s No. 3 representative due to a coin flip loss. They won a wild card and first round playoff game before losing in the Division 2 second round to Santa Margarita.

Players to Watch: Brigette Kimbrough, Sabrina Schundler and Amber McCutcheon

Circle ‘em: Preseason matches against Laguna Beach (12/31) and Los Alamitos (12/28) will highlight the Tritons tough preseason schedule. A preseason tournament in Santa Barbara (1/17-18) will show how they match up against elite talent.

Makenna Smith looks to pass during practice. Photo by Steve Breazeale
Makenna Smith looks to pass during practice. Photo by Steve Breazeale

Outlook:

The Tritons strength lies in their experience. They lost only one starter to graduation and return a deep roster filled with players who were on the team that advanced to the CIF-SS Division 2 quarterfinals last year. This experienced roster has the Tritons sitting at No. 4 in the CIF-SS Division 2 preseason coaches’ poll.

They have senior leadership in Kimbrough, an attacker, and Schundler, two-meter guard, and a young crop of players who have valuable varsity experience.

There are five sophomores on the Tritons roster, including Amber McCutcheon, who was an integral part of last year’s team at the center position. Sophomore attacker Alaina Cousineau will provide an extra boost to the roster. As a freshman, Cousineau was sidelined for all of the season with an injury but has returned to the team over the offseason and head coach Logan Powell is optimistic about her chances of having a breakout year.

From the Coach: “I think part of the girls strength is their self-awareness. They know where they are, where they stand. But they’ve got a hunger for it,” Powell said. “We’re experienced enough to know where we’re at and know what we need to do to be successful, it’s just a matter of doing it.”

 

Boys Basketball

Last Year: The 2013 season was among the most successful in recent San Clemente boys basketball history. The team went 18-11, including a 7-1 record in-league en route to capturing the school’s first title since 1975. The Tritons advanced to the second round of the CIF-SS Division 1A Championships, where they lost to Millikan.

Players to Watch: Sam Darnold, Nick Crankshaw, Cole Fotheringham and Gage Shelmidine

Circle ‘em: The Tritons significantly increased the level of difficulty in the preseason, highlighted by their entrance into the Diablo Inferno Tournament at Mission Viejo (12/2-5). The tournament is historically filled with playoff-caliber teams and the Tritons will see plenty over the four-day stretch. A preseason game against Edison (1/3) will prepare them for league play while two games against rival Dana Hills (1/22, 2/1) could decide the league title.

Junior Nick Crankshaw puts up a shot during an offseason practice. Photo by Steve Breazeale
Junior Nick Crankshaw puts up a shot during an offseason practice. Photo by Steve Breazeale

Outlook:

The Tritons were senior heavy last year and return only three players to the varsity roster. One of those returners, Sam Darnold, is the reigning Sea View League MVP—but there’s a catch. Darnold fractured his foot playing football in the fall and has been sidelined since mid-September. He is eyeing a late December or early January return.

With Darnold on the mend and an influx of new talent, head coach Marc Popovich has been letting his players compete for playing time in the offseason.

Among the newcomers who have impressed Popovich, and will be in the mix for a starting job, are junior guard Elijah Morris, senior guard Rico Young and junior guard Cade Griffin.

Shelmidine, a sophomore transfer from Saddleback Valley Christian, will have to sit out 30 days on the sidelines due to transfer eligibility requirements. Once he returns, he figures to be the starting point guard.

Returning players Crankshaw, the resident defensive stopper, and Fotheringham, usually the second player off the bench, played roles on last year’s team and will be called upon again to lead the Tritons with increased workloads.

The Tritons played an up-tempo style last year and Popovich envisions them sticking with that approach again. They may not shoot as many 3-pointers as they did last year, but the Tritons will look to their athleticism and speed to get wins.

From the Coach: “Not one guy can replace (Darnold), we’re going to have five guys replace him. Early on it’s going to actually be good because we’re going to give guys the chance to step up who otherwise wouldn’t have that opportunity. It can make us much deeper in the long run,” Popovich said. “Instead of having only seven guys that can play, now we have nine or ten, which is a really good thing for us.”

 

Girls Basketball

Last Year: The Tritons won the South Coast League title, going 8-0 in league play. They advanced to the second round of the CIF-SS Division 1AA Championships, where they lost to Santiago.

Players to Watch: Jessica de Gree, Haley Ord, Emma Bankson and Victoria Mendes

Circle ‘Em: The Tournament of Champions in Santa Barbara (19/19-21) will be the Tritons first real test of the season. Two tough games against Laguna Hills will highlight South Coast League play.

Outlook:

This year, the San Clemente girls basketball team will emphasize their presence in the paint, with starting center de Gree poised to lead the way.

Last season the Tritons were more perimeter-oriented, relying on the strength of standout shooting guard Frankie Pinto. But this year, with all of last year’s starting five gone to graduation, the Tritons will rely on post players like de Gree and senior Jenna Rodriguez.

Head coach Lacey Burns hopes that by consistently feeding the ball to the post players, designated shooters, like Bankson, will be freed up on the perimeter, giving their offense dual threat capability.

Unlike in year’s past, this Tritons team is planning on playing full-court pressure defense. Burns intends to use full-court pressure a majority of the time, which will ideally lead to fast break points.

Junior guard Serena Saba joins the Tritons after transferring from Dana Hills at the end of last season. Saba averaged eight points per game for the Dolphins and shot 41 percent from the field as a sophomore.

From the Coach: “We’re going to press you, trap you. We’re going to be playing all over the place. Last year we were more of a half-court pressing team but this year we are really looking to go hard for 32 minutes, scrambling everywhere,” Burns said.

 

Boys Soccer

Last Year: The hard part is figuring out what the Tritons did not do last season. They won the South Coast League title, won the CIF-SS Division 1 Championship and advanced to the final game of the CIF State Regional Championships, where they lost to El Rancho.

Players to Watch: Alek Cucuk, Bryce Kaminski, Blayne Martinez, Oscar Hernandez and Dylan Struthers

Circle ‘em: The Montverde Academy Soccer Tournament (1/16-18) will feature the top-3 teams, including San Clemente, in the winter soccer FAB 50 preseason national rankings. A preseason match at home against No. 4 ranked Alisal out of northern California (12/18) ensures the Tritons will play the top three teams in the nation in the preseason.

Sophomore Kenneth Higgins is among the new faces looking to make an impact on the San Clemente boys soccer team. Photo by Steve Breazeale
Sophomore Kenneth Higgins is among the new faces looking to make an impact on the San Clemente boys soccer team. Photo by Steve Breazeale

Outlook:

The defending CIF-SS Division 1 champion Tritons return six starters and 11 players overall, putting them in good position to reach the lofty heights they achieved in 2013, according to head coach Mike Pronier.

The Tritons are filled with talented midfielders and forwards but, as has been the case the past three seasons, the defensive positions need to be filled. They return Struthers, a senior, who saw regular playing time last year, and junior goalie Cole Martinez, who played in 11 games in 2013, logging 280 minutes. But outside of Struthers and Martinez, the Tritons will have new faces filling out the back line.

San Clemente was in the same spot with their defense last year and they ended up setting a school record by recording 21 shutouts. With plenty of players returning on the rest of the pitch, Pronier anticipates the team-defensive approach they used last year to work again this time around.

The team lost their leading goal scorer and captain Gage Zerboni, but they have several players who can fill the void left by the school’s record setting striker. Junior forward Blayne Martinez scored 22 goals last year and could be poised for a breakout campaign. Kaminski, a senior, was injured for most of last season but returned down the stretch and scored 11 goals in 16 games played. Pronier envisions Kaminski floating back and forth from a forward position to attacking midfield, especially in high pressure situations at the end of games.

Kaminski, and Pronier, touched on the fact that the Tritons are still searching for their team leader. With so many players returning to the mix, a team captain should emerge soon.

From the Coach: “It’s an exciting year for us because we’ve had a series of decent years together and we have some opportunities in the palm of their hands that I tell them not every high school team is going to get,” Pronier said. “The opportunities and the experiences they’re going to have can vary depending on how much they want to commit to being good … You can do all the soccer in the world but they need to come together and get that desired bond.”

 

Girls Soccer

Last year: The Tritons narrowly missed out on winning the South Coast League title and lost in heartbreaking fashion in the second round of the CIF-SS Division 1 Championships by way of a last minute goal by Santa Margarita that broke a 0-0 deadlock.

Players to Watch: Nikki Faris, Audrey Kate Ward, Ally Lynn and Natalie Higgins

Circle ‘em: The Tritons will travel to Oakland to play in the high profile Tri-Valley Tournament (12/20). They will also play against No. 3 ranked Capistrano Valley (12/17) in the preseason. They open South Coast League play with a home game against last year’s league champion Dana Hills (1/9).

Senior Sara Sprenger and the San Clemente girls soccer team will rely on veteran experience and a crop of freshmen as they head into the 2014 season. Photo by Steve Breazeale
Senior Sara Sprenger and the San Clemente girls soccer team will rely on veteran experience and a crop of freshmen as they head into the 2014 season. Photo by Steve Breazeale

Outlook:

Depth is the name of the game for the Tritons heading into 2014. San Clemente will have 11 players returning to the pitch this year, including eight starters. Part of having that large number is coincidence, but the other part, is by design.

The Tritons were hit hard by injuries last season, and in order to combat that happening again, head coach Stacy Finnerty is carrying the largest number of players she has ever had in her tenure with the school. The deep roster, which also has five freshmen in the mix, has the Tritons sitting at the No. 8 spot in the CIF-SS Division 1 preseason coaches’ poll.

Two freshmen are poised to make an impact right away.

Freshman goalie Lauren Brzykcy could open the season as the starting net minder and Ward, a freshman forward, is looking to break into the starting 11. Finnerty said that Ward is a natural finisher that will mesh well with the other talented offensive players on the Tritons roster, like seniors Nikki Farris and Natalie Higgins.

The Tritons lost their standout sweeper Sydney Fuertes to graduation and Lynn, a senior, will be jumping in to fill the role. Lynn was an attacking player last season but Finnerty says her speed and strength suit her well for the role of sweeper on a defense that includes returners Emma Burns and Samantha Engel.

From the Coach: “I think a mix of our older experience and seniority, mixed with the freshman, will help them grow,” Finnerty said. “They’re extremely together, they’re a committed unit. They play for each other and I think we can contend.”

 

Wrestling

Last Year: The Tritons won the South Coast League dual meet season, highlighted by a win over Laguna Hills, who had not lost a dual league meet in 25 years. As a team, the Tritons advanced to the semifinals of the CIF-SS Dual Meet Championships, where they lost to Santiago-Corona. Seven Tritons represented the team at the CIF Masters Meet.

Wrestlers to Watch: Mike Marhsall, Danny Garcia, Zack Adcock and Tyler Mesinger

Circle ‘em: The Tritons will host their own 8-way dual meet (12/3) before heading to both the Edison Beach Bash Invitational (12/13-14) and the Mater Dei Invitational (12/14). The highlight of South Coast League play will be a dual meet against Laguna Hills (12/17).

Outlook:

Head coach Mark Calentino saw something out of his team when last season ended.

After losing 17 seniors to graduation, the younger crop of Tritons wrestlers didn’t miss a beat in offseason conditioning and competition, proving to the veteran coach that they will still be a force in both the South Coast League and CIF competition in 2014.

One of the young Tritons wrestlers who had a big offseason was Marshall. Marshall, who wrestled in the 160-pound class last year, finished third in CIF in 2013 and will be moving up to the 174-pound class. Last March, Marshall won the sophomore 160-pound USA Wrestling California Grade Level State Championship in Fresno.

As a freshman, Mesinger finished the year with a winning varsity record but did not start regularly due to accomplished seniors in front of him in the pecking order. Mesinger, along with seniors Garcia and Adcock, are wrestlers poised to make the jump to the next level, according to Calentino.

The Tritons roster is filled with players who were a part of last season’s success and now, with the large number of spots vacated by seniors, they will have the chance to step up and fill those roles.

From the Coach: “Watching this group in the offseason, I saw a group that knows how to compete. They’re kids who hate losing. They’re not just happy being a part of something, they want to be a part of a winning tradition. They’re fighters,” Calentino said.

 

 

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