Monte Vista or the field? A FTH Division 4 preview
At the beginning of the year, if you asked me who the odds-on favorite to win Division 4 was, I'd respond "Victory Christian" without hesitation.
Monte Vista got the message loud and clear. A year after winning the Grossmont Valley League title, the Monarchs (who returned most of last year's team) made another run through the league, earning a second shared title and th top seed -- and beat Victory Christian in late January to seal the top seed.
Is this the Monarch's division to lose, or will one of teams in a surprisingly deep and diverse field spring an upset?
The Top Seed
The Monarchs get it done with a senior-heavy lineup with tons of experience, and they have two highly underrated seniors in 6-5 forward Isaiah Hilke and 6-3 shooting guard Brandon Tully (head coach Mike Tully's son). The two give the Monarchs a potent inside-out duo who, along with the steady point guard play of senior Armando Rasing, are equally tough on defense. Not to mention, the Monarchs have played - and beaten - a number of D4 opponents throughout the season, giving them confidence heading into the bracket.
The Knights have the most decorated player in the field - San Diego Christian-bound Vinny Signorelli. The 6-1 sharpshooting guard has taken on more of a playmaker role this season for the team, and his presence has elevated the team's returners, most notably juniors Quinton Richardson and Anthony Contreras, who blossomed this season. But the addition of 6-1 senior Mekhi Sutton, who transferred from Cathedral Catholic, really gives this team an athletic slasher that a lot of D4 teams aren't equipped to handle. The duo of Signorelli and Sutton are as dangerous a guard tandem as you'll find in San Diego. The one chink in the Knights armor? A late season-ending injury to the team's interior presence, Josiah Fellows.
The White Tigers spent much of the past few seasons in the shadows of its Pacific League counterparts Maranatha Christian and Calvin Christian, but David Vidosic's team broke through this season with the team's first outright league championship. The "big" reason? Look no further than 6-7 big man Marley Gonzalez, who averaged 20 points and nearly 16 rebounds per game on the season. The young 2022 senior turned a corner this year and flat-out dominated most teams this year. But the Tigers also have solid guard play, including senior stalwart Tristan Hernandez, who became the school's first 1,000-point scorer this season (before being eclipsed by Gonzalez) and 5-5 junior sparkplug Danny Lopez, who is feisty and a capable scorer in his own right. Much like Victory Christian, the Escondido Charter prepared for the run by playing a tough nonleague schedule. Now's the time to see if it pays dividends.
Seeded higher than the White Tigers, who won league, the Firebirds are no slouches themselves. Led by do-it-all 6-4 senior wing Brady Burman, the program's all-time leading scorer, the squad thrives on unselfish ball movement and timely playmaking by Burman. With the Sarah Lawrence commit, the Firebirds have a walking mismatch who can beat you from the perimeter and slashing to the basket. Watch out for fiery point guard Victor Silverman and big-bodied wing Bird McGuire, who also had solid seasons.
The Komets finished the season on a two-game slide, including a last-second loss to league rival Crawford. But the fifth seed has one of the most potent scorers in the bracket - 6-0 senior combo guard Ubay Hussein - and a supporting cast that has length and athleticism. Watch out for underrated junior Isaiah Sutton and seniors Matthew Bowman and James Kirby.
Who is the Dark Horse?
The winner of the 6/11 Game
If there are two teams in this bracket who could really cause damage as lower seeds, it would be Crawford and El Capitan. The Vaqueros beat Victory Christian early in the season before Sutton was eligible and they played Monte Vista close in their second meeting on the eve of the playoffs. Crawford has wins over D4 opponents Hilltop (another dark horse) and Vincent Memorial and has athleticism in 6-4 senior twins Woodlain and Woodley Zachee. The only problem is that the teams play each other in the first round. I think the winner of this game has a chance to make a run to the semis.
Also, don't count Southwest SD out in the 8 spot. The Raiders have a very underrated sophomore in Aaron Rosillo (South Bay League Player of the Year), a solid senior in 5-11 G Nico Gonzalez and a 6-11 doorstop in the middle in Nicholas Ortega, who gets better with every viewing.
Players to Watch
Vinny Signorelli, 6-1 G, Victory Christian
Isaiah Hilke, 6-5 F, Monte Vista
Brandon Tully, 6-3 G, Monte Vista
Mekhi Sutton, 6-2 G, Victory Christian
Quinton Richardson, 5-10 G, Victory Christian
Marley Gonzalez, 6-7 F, Escondido Charter
Brady Burman, 6-4 G/W, Pacific Ridge
Ubay Hussein, 6-0 G, Kearny
Woodley Zachee, 6-4 W, Crawford
Woodlain Zachee, 6-4 W, Crawford
Steven Ruesga, 6-2 W, Hilltop
Damian Monge, 5-10 G, Hilltop
Aaron Rosillo, 6-1 G, Southwest SD
Nico Gonzalez, 5-11 G, Southwest SD
Nick Ortega, 6-11 C, Southwest SD
Daisean Desinor, 5-11 G, El Capitan
Charlie Stallings, 6-5 W, Fallbrook
Pancho Tejada-Perez, 6-0 G, Vincent Memorial
David Scariano, 6-5 W, Imperial
Jesse Nichols, 6-1 G, Imperial
Cristian Zamora, 5-11 G, San Pasqual
AJ Fournier, 6-5 W, San Pasqual
Leo Castillo, 5-8 G, Southwest EC
Final 4: Victory Christian vs El Capitan; Escondido Charter vs Monte Vista
Final: Monte Vista defeats Victory Christian