Fall Ball in San Diego: Surprise teams
Fall ball is in the books, as San Diego teams prepare for the first official day of tryouts on November 5. We're taking stock of the fall "season," with a look at some of the teams who have exceeded expectations and look to be onto something this winter in their respective divisions.
1. Canyon Crest Academy
The Ravens lost leading scorer and do-it-all forward Miguel Yniguez to graduation, but this team is a quantum leap ahead of where it was a year ago. Brian Baum doesn't have any players who you'd classify as stars or top prospects, but he has a group that is deep, shoots the ball and buys into the defensive concepts. They press pretty much all game and have the bodies to keep players fresh in crunch time. Torrey Pines transfers Lachlan and Sean Hetrick fit seamlessly with holdovers Guy Rousseau, Ethan Kim, Johnny Chai (a very underrated junior) and Justin Bugocki. The Ravens 4-0 weekend at the Gamepoint Fall Showcase caught everyone's attention, and they have done nothing since to indicate it's a fluke. They're for real.
It was a safe better that things couldn't get worse for the Islanders after last year's 4-win campaign a year removed from a championship run that was marred by the now-infamous tortilla throwing incident in the State Regional Championship game. But 2nd Year Head Coach Anthony Ott has a team that will big a factor in the Eastern League championship race - and possible for the CIF Division 2 title hunt. The big reasons are the addition of transfer guard Justin Ayubi, a 6-3 sharpshooter from Oklahoma - and the return of now 6-1 guard Nolan Reuter, who missed last year with a shoulder injury. Add in New York transfer Loxly Johnson, a 5-11 sophomore guard to go along with dynamite undersized scorers Tekur Velasquez and Ben Lee, and suddenly the outlook is sunnier on the island.
3. La Jolla Country Day
The Torreys lost head coach DJ Gay earlier this fall when he took a job at LA Windward, but the Torreys, to their credit, have shown few signs of it impacting their play. That's been one of the surprise themes this fall, as the Coastal League co-favorites (with Santa Fe Christian) have had some solid wins (a really nice win in the Nick Herrmann Memorial Showcase over LCC to cap the fall) and look the part of a fringe Top 10 team in San Diego. At the heart of the strong fall was senior guard Anthony Aruffo and sophomore guard Chris Carrillo, who came on strong as the conductor of the team's offense. The return of senior guard Jake Altman after travel baseball has also buoyed the team.
4. El Camino
The Wildcats ascent technically began during the summer when they sprung and upset over Carlsbad without their best player, Euan Davis. This fall, new head coach Derick Jones' group has blitzed teams with its physical and intense man defense and, when healthy and accounted for, a diverse cast that can score enough to beat you. 6-4 junior Isaiah Pomare (nephew of former El Camino/USD standout Gyno Pomare) has been super impressive, and gives the Wildcats a versatile piece on the wing and the post. In a newly formed Palomar League where both of the perceived front runners have been vulnerable this fall, El Camino could be a dark horse in the title race.
5. Mission Bay
The Bucs took the biggest hit in the "transfer portal" this spring when All CIF point guard Angelo Gil transferred to San Ysidro. All the Bucs have done since is prove that they are built to withstand his loss. This fall, especially, the Bucs have been locked in and appear ready to compete for an Open Division berth. While the focus has been on the emergence of Charlie Hutchison as potential All CIF candidate, it's the supporting cast's growth that has the Bucs on everyone's watch list: Thomas Metcalf has become a bona fide college prospect on the wing, while the junior class of Charles Grebing, Isaah Whitehurst, Marcos Korch and Mira Mesa transfer Kumari West have all improved. Atreju De La Cruz is going to be the X-factor. If he can give them substantial minutes at the point guard position, they're gonna be tough all year.
The Aztecs had two questions looming after last year's Division 2 semifinals exit: How would the team absorb the loss of senior Tedrous Teshome (graduation) and could they make the jump from D2 to D1. This fall, they've proven they are well on their way to being not only fine after Teshome's graduation, they have a chance to be an Open Division squad. The freshman quartet of JJ and Alek Sanchez, Xair Mendez and Devin Hamilton (though the latter was injured for most of the summer), played all spring and summer together on the South Bay Show's 15u team, which accelerated their chemistry. Add in another key piece in transfer David Soto from Bonita Vista, and the Aztecs have a team that blends IQ, skill and defense.
The Panthers are in Division 2 for the first time in the Open Division era, but suddenly have their best team since early in Anthony Bolton's tenure as head coach. An influx of transfers - headlined by sophomores Gavin Guinn, Ashaun Mitchelll and CJ Coleman - checked in this fall to give the Panthers its deepest roster in recent memory. Holdovers LaCiya Garrett, Robert Friend and Gabe Molina have also shown flashes of improvement. The results this fall have been hit or miss, and much of the success of this team still revolves around its 6-10 center, Cyprian Hyde. If he can be a consistent post threat, this is a team that on paper should be among the favorites for the D2 title.
Others who have surprised: San Pasqual, Calvin Christian, Guajome Park Academy, Maranatha Christian, San Diego, Scripps Ranch