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The NBA Faces Its Fear of Four-Year College Players

| Sports | March 23, 2017

by Keir Chapman, Mr. Sports 

College basketball freshman phenoms are regularly guaranteed a high selection in the NBA Draft, as scouts are searching for potential superstars, and will jump at the chance of drafting a youngster who may not be pro-ready on day one, but shows glimpses of transcendent talent.

This influx of “one and done” players has created a negative bias towards those who choose to stay in school for four years to develop their abilities to NBA standards. Often, four-year students will find themselves selected in the second round of the draft, or not at all, and must earn their way onto a roster.

Because of this view of the more seasoned rookies, two notable players slipped through the cracks, and are making major contributions for their respective teams. They are: Norman Powell out of UCLA and Malcolm Brogdon of Virginia. These two have so far defied what is expected of a four-year college player, and will be all-stars if their numbers continue to trend upwards.

Norman Powell

Bruins fans will remember Norman Powell as the extremely athletic shooting guard, whose emphatic dunks could bring Pauley Pavilion to its feet, or quiet a raucous crowd when UCLA was on the road.

Aside from being a four-year player, there were two major knocks on Powell that caused concerns for NBA front offices. First, at 6 feet, 4 inches, Powell appeared to be too undersized to defend guards at a higher level. And second, his 32 percent 3-point shooting left a lot to be desired for someone in his position.

While the shooting woes were valid, Powell posted a defensive rating of 98.9 points per 100 possessions in his final year at UCLA. His defense was pivotal in allowing the Bruins to hold their opponents to 68 points per game in the 2014-15 season.

However, due to these concerns, as well as the fact that Powell would be entering the league at 22 years old, he went to the Toronto Raptors with the 16th pick in the second round of the NBA Draft.

Powell’s first year found him riding the bench for most of the season, until March of 2016, where he registered 21 minutes per game. In his extended time on the court, Powell posted eight points per game on 42 percent from 3-point range. This led to more minutes in the month of April, where his scoring average sky-rocketed to 15 points per game.

Despite glimpses of Powell’s potential, he still found himself struggling for minutes, as incumbent backup shooting guard Terrence Ross was still the more trusted scoring option off the bench for coach Dwane Casey.

This caused Powell’s numbers to dip back down at the start of the 2016-17 season, where he averaged just seven points per game before the All-Star break. That’s when Toronto made a move that strengthened its starting five, while also allowing Powell to break free.

The Raptors picked up power forward Serge Ibaka from the Orlando Magic in exchange for their first round pick in 2017, and Ross. With the move, Powell became the go-to option off the bench, posting 11.7 points per game post All-Star break, and improving his rebounding from two per game, to 3.5, since becoming the primary backup.

Powell’s advanced stats, while promising, show that there have been some growing pains in his transition to an everyday player. His eFG percent sits at slightly under 50, while his defensive rating has dropped from 106.7 points per 100 possessions in his rookie season, to 109.9.

His offensive numbers, however, have already improved from a season ago. Powell scored 1.24 points per field goal attempt, and has an offensive rating of 109.1 points per 100 possessions, almost two points higher than the 107.4 he held last year.

Since the beginning of March, the first full month after trade that sent Ross away, the Raptors have struggled to replace Ross’ ability to score. The team averages just 99 points per game, the first time its scoring has dipped under 100 all season, and makes 44 percent of their shots, which is the lowest for the year as well.

Defensively, the Raptors have made vast improvements in March, allowing opponents to score just 97.5 points per game, Toronto’s best total since October, and grab just 41.4 rebounds per game, five less than the 46.4 the Raptors collect per game in the month.

With the postseason more or less a guarantee for Toronto at this point, Powell’s biggest test will come in the playoffs. He will be tasked with stopping the likes of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Isaiah Thomas, John Wall, Bradley Beal, Paul George, and many other big name players that can get on a role offensively.

If the Raptors can make a deep playoff push due to contributions from Powell, he will likely earn a starting spot for next season, and the chance to grow even more.

Malcolm Brogdon

Despite being at the helm of a successful Virginia Cavaliers team, Malcolm Brogdon didn’t always receive the national attention some of the younger college stars did.

Even after putting up 18 points per game with an eFG percent of 53, an outstanding offensive rating of 122.7 points per 100 possessions, and an even stouter defensive rating of 98.9 points per 100 possessions, Brogdon slipped to the sixth selection of the second round, where the Milwaukee Bucks were glad to take him.

The main concern that caused Brogdon to fall so far was the fact that he had redshirted during his 2012-13 season of college, meaning he would be 23 at the time he would be drafted. With the average peak years of an NBA player being 27-30, Brogdon’s proximity to his maximum potential without ever playing in an NBA game was cause for concern.

After acquiring Matthew Dellavedova from the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Bucks felt comfortable using a second round selection on a project guard like Brogdon, who might not have panned out, but would make Milwaukee look like geniuses if he did.

So far, so good for the Bucks, as Brogdon has continued where he left off at Virginia, efficiently scoring the ball while dishing out a high number of assists. The only difference from college to the pros is that Brogdon is producing from the bench in 26 minutes per game.

Aside from Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid and Dario Saric, both playing in the NBA for the first time despite being drafted in 2014, Brogdon leads all rookies in scoring with 10 points per game with an eFG percent of 51. He is also the leader in the 2017 rookies class with 4.1 assists and 1.15 steals per game.

For Milwaukee, Brogdon accounts for 23 percent of the assists generated while he is on the court, and scores 1.2 points per field goal attempt en route to an offensive rating of 110 points per 100.5 possessions.

These efficient numbers in limited minutes help mask the flaws that Brogdon has had in overall defense, as well as turning the ball over. Among all rookies, he is fifth in turnovers with 1.5 per game. As a team, the Bucks sit right in the middle of the NBA on points allowed to opponents off of turnovers, with 16 per game.

Brogdon also allows opponents to score 111.9 points per 100 possessions while he is on the court, numbers that suggest he is still learning to lock down the bigger players that populate the NBA. However, in just his rookie year, he has already logged 20 games as a starter, showing the Bucks he has the potential to be their point guard of the future.

AYSO Team Has Winning Combination

| Sports | March 18, 2017

What could have been an ordinary season for a team of girls in AYSO has become much more. And according to coach Leda Mora, it’s more than just a championship.

“As a soccer coach I can tell you that I have never (coached) a team like this,” Mora said. “These girls (taught) me that, more than just coach them, sometimes we have to be friends with them, (and) that winning a season without losing any games can be possible if we practice with a positive attitude. Every girl is different and … I have to be able to teach them as they need.”

The Royals won first place in the AYSO GU14-Region 46, followed by the championship in the section league and then took fourth place in the section championship.

“The Royals are a group of girls that built a friendship, they believe in (themselves) and they are positive,” said Mora, a native of Costa Rica. “They are girls from different schools, with different knowledge, but they all have the same goal – play soccer.”

Mora is taking time to reflect, as this was his last season coaching. He commends supporters in the stands, as well as the players. “To be a complete team, we have to have good parents, and we did,” he said. “I am sure that I will never forget these girls and I know that I am going to see many of them play in high school.”

Male Athlete of the Week – Chase Wheatcroft

| Sports | March 17, 2017

College of the Canyons sophomore Chase Wheatcroft is a right-handed pitcher on the college baseball team. Last week he threw seven innings in the Cougars’ 12-0 win over Barstow. In those innings, he threw seven strikeouts while allowing no earned runs, and is now 5-0 in the season.

“Chase has thrown well all season and has been our most consistent pitcher this season,” said COC baseball coach Chris Cota. “He is a hard worker who loves to compete. His next start will be Saturday against Glendale at COC.”

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Female Athlete of the Week – Angel Riley

| Sports | March 17, 2017

As pitcher for Saugus High School’s girls’ softball team, Angel Riley led the team to a win last week against the Cleveland Storm of New Mexico. She allowed just three hits and pitched six strikeouts, beating them 7-0. This was the second game for Saugus in the Tournament of Champions in Bullhead City, Ariz. The Centurions won the first game 4-1 against Fountain Valley High School.

“Angel is a fierce competitor and a great pitcher,” said Julie Archer, coach of the Saugus High School softball team. “She continues to work hard daily, which allows her to be prepared on the field. Angel is always a team player and very supportive of her teammates. Her leadership skills have helped the team’s chemistry this season.”

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Fourteen COC Football Players Named Scholar-Athletes

| Community, Sports | March 17, 2017

The College of the Canyons football program had 14 players named to the 2016 Southern California Football Association (SCFA) Scholar-Athlete team.

To be eligible for inclusion on the team, players must participate on their respective school’s football team for two seasons, while successfully completing a minimum of 36 units. At least 27 units must be in academic courses (non-PE or collegiate sport activity). Scholar-Athlete team honorees must also achieve a GPA of at least 3.0.

“We could not be more proud of our SCFA Scholar-Athlete honorees,” said COC head coach Ted Iacenda. “These young men have dedicated hours of hard work to their studies and understand that the true purpose of College of the Canyons football is for student-athletes to pursue both their academic and athletic goals.”

Representing College of the Canyons on the 2016 SCFA Scholar-Athlete team are:

Blake Austin, Safety — 3.15 GPA

Tyler Bjorklund, Offensive Line — 3.17 GPA

Raymond Calles, Defensive Line – 3.33 GPA

Gabriel Gaitan, Offensive Line — 3.27 GPA

Zach Gragas, Linebacker — 3.68 GPA

Jerel Hall, Linebacker — 3.15 GPA

Andrew Karatepeyan, Defensive Line — 3.09 GPA

Austin McKinney, Punter — 3.07 GPA

Matthew Moore, Quarterback – 3.05 GPA

Jesus Mota, Offensive Line — 3.19 GPA

Tobenna Okunna, Linebacker — 3.0 GPA

Colton Oshiro, Safety — 3.70 GPA

Jacob Sammut, Long Snapper — 3.07 GPA

Hayden Wright, Safety — 3.88 GPA

Additionally, Austin, Bjorklund and McKinney were each named to the All-SCFA Team for their efforts on the playing field. McKinney also earned 2016 Region III All-California Community College Football Team honors.

“At College of the Canyons, academic support and achievement are the core tenets of our football program,” said Iacenda. “We stress that winning on and off of the field are of equal importance.

“Obviously this type of success would not be possible without the great partnerships we have formed with Albert Loaiza, our incredible athletic counselor, and Matt Crater, who is so instrumental in his role as student-athlete academic mentor in The Learning Center,” added Iacenda. “I thank both of them for their tremendous support and role in helping our players realize this achievement.”

UCLA vs. Kent State: March Madness Preview

| Sports | March 16, 2017

After an 86-75 loss to Arizona in the semifinals of the PAC-12 Tournament, UCLA finds itself the 3rd seed in the Southern Region of the NCAA Tournament. This placement theoretically affords the Bruins an easy route to the Sweet 16, where they will most likely face Kentucky. As has been demonstrated in years past, however, an upset is possible at any stage.

March Madness has seen the 14th seed take down the 3rd seeded team 21 times — numbers that favor UCLA by a large margin, but still leave room for caution. Another factor that should give the Bruins and their fans a pause is they have never faced the opponent they are set to square off against in Sacramento, the Kent State Golden Flashes.

By virtue of winning the Mid-American Conference (MAC) Tournament with a 70-65 victory over the Akron Zips, Kent State earned an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. Going head-to-head with a UCLA team that leads the nation in scoring (90.4 points per game) will be the toughest test the Golden Flashes have had to this point, but those expecting a Bruins blowout should temper their expectations.

Kent State’s defense holds its opponents to 72.3 points per game on 43 percent shooting and 35 percent from the three-point range. UCLA, which leads the nation in field goal percentage at 52 percent, struggled shooting the ball in the PAC-12 tournament, making just 41 percent of their shots and 26 percent from three.

If the Bruins are to avoid falling in the first round, Bryce Alford must fix his recent three-point shooting slump. In the PAC-12 Tournament Alford went 3-17 from deep in both games, including a 1-10 performance in the loss to Arizona. The 20 percent three-point percentage he posted in this stretch seems to be an outlier, as UCLA’s all-time leader in threes made shot 44 percent for the season from that range.

Aside from shooting the ball, UCLA struggled to score, averaging just 75.5 points per game. The Bruins’ poor shooting percentage, paired with an average of 13.5 turnovers per game, explains their inadequate play in the PAC-12 Tournament, and gives them a blueprint of what to focus on in preparation for their upcoming matchup against a Golden Flashes team that forces its opponents to turn the ball over 14 times a game.

UCLA was much maligned during the season for playing down to its opponents, reflected by the fact that it allowed teams not ranked in the top 25 to score 92 points per game. If this trend is to continue against Kent State and their star senior, Jimmy Hall, the Bruins could easily receive an early exit from the NCAA Tournament.

Hall, like UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, does a little bit of everything for the Golden Flashes. Hall leads the team in scoring, with 18.9 points per game and an eFG% of 52, rebounding, with 10.5 per game (12th in the nation); assisting, at 2.8 per game; and blocking, with 1.4 per game. When he’s on the court, Hall helps the offense score 116.5 points per 100 possessions, while allowing opponents only 96.7 points per 100 possessions.

What makes Hall a nightmare matchup for the Bruins is that he stands at 6 feet, 8 inches and 235 pounds. Although UCLA holds the height advantage, Hall’s speed at the forward position will make it difficult for the Bruins’ forwards to defend him one-on-one.

The zone the Bruins have implemented since losing to USC has allowed them to hold opponents to 72 points per game, and would be the best way to defend against Kent State. Although the Golden Flashes don’t shoot the three-pointer particularly well, UCLA’s zone allowed USC and Arizona to shoot a combined average of 43 percent from deep in the PAC-12 tournament.

If Kent State’s shots start to fall in a similar way, it would behoove the Bruins to put Ball on Hall, as Ball stands at 6 feet, 6 inches and 190 pounds. He averages 1.9 steals per game and 0.8 blocks, and allows opponents just 98.4 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court. His knack for reading plays and hounding the players he defends could cause Hall to be thrown off his game.

Another area of concern for UCLA is the amount of offensive rebounds they allow. For the season, their opponents have grabbed 10.5 offensive rebounds per game, doing this against a Bruins lineup that boasts five players that stand 6 feet, 10 inches or taller.

If any team was built to exploit this weakness, it’s Kent State, which is second in the nation in offensive rebounds, with 15 per game, and Hall coming in fifth in the nation individually, with 4.1 per game. This affords the Golden Flashes multiple opportunities to score in rapid succession, putting more pressure on the Bruins’ defense.

When it comes to sharing the ball, saying UCLA takes the advantage is an understatement. The Bruins lead the country in assists, with 21.9 per game, while Kent State comes in 240th, with 12.5 per game. To make matters worse for the Golden Flashes, they turn the ball over 13 times per game for an assist-to-turnover ratio of 0.96. On the other hand, UCLA has 11.5 turnovers per game, good for an NCAA leading assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.86 per game.

UCLA’s height gives them an edge over Kent State in shot blocking, with the Golden Flashes carrying only one player over 6 feet, 10 inches on their roster. Because of their length, the Bruins have tallied 5.4 blocks per game, which is 13th best in the nation. They have been able to accomplish this feat while only committing 542 fouls during the season, giving them a .33 block-to-foul ratio, making them 7th in the nation in this category.

Ike Anigbogu, UCLA’s 6-foot, 10-inch freshman accounts for an astounding 9 percent of the team’s total blocks when he’s on the court en route to 1.3 blocks per game. However, his inexperience has led to an average of 2.6 fouls per game. This problem should be negated by the fact that Kent State won’t have many post players, giving Anigbogu less opportunities to foul.

There is just a 16 percent chance that UCLA is ousted by Kent State in the first round, and by all accounts, the Bruins should be moving on to the second round. But March Madness isn’t just a nickname for the NCAA Tournament. It conveys the idea that no opponent should be taken lightly, and upsets are always around the corner. After an incredibly successful regular season, UCLA hopes it doesn’t find itself as one of March Madness’ first victims.

Wolitarsky Could Be a Great Catch for NFL

| News, Sports | March 16, 2017

As a 2013 graduate of Canyon High School, Drew Wolitarsky already had his name in the history books for record-breaking football stats. He cracked the ceiling on total receiving yards and total number of receptions among all California high school football players that came before him.

He continued to perform as a University of Minnesota Golden Gopher, where he finished his college career at the Holiday Bowl in San Diego on Dec. 27. It was Wolitarsky’s 26th consecutive game, with a catch that put him among the top 10 receivers in Gopher history for that category.

The season for NFL scouting starts in late February with the Combine, where football players show their abilities to scouts. After that invitation-only event, each of the larger colleges host their own Pro Days, drawing scouts to their schools to showcase their best players.

Last week, Wolitarsky was one of 10 players who performed for approximately 46 NFL scouts representing 26 teams at the University of Minnesota’s Pro Day. They ran pretty much the same drills as the Combine, timing their speed and testing their strength.

“They literally just jot things on their clipboards and go to the next Pro Day,” explained Drew’s father, John Wolitarsky, who attended the event. “For the next three weeks or so that’s what they’ll be doing … fact-gathering.”

What it means is that Wolitarsky’s a contender.

After the Holiday Bowl, the University of Minnesota senior began training with Bill Welles, the personal trainer for Larry Fitzgerald, an All-Pro NFL wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals. The trainer’s indoor facility is about 30 miles from the university.

Drew Wolitarsky, who turns 22 next week, spent eight weeks doing intense training there, all leading up to Pro Day. Part of the demonstration for scouts includes bench pressing, where they put 225 pounds on the rack and see how many times the player can bench it. Wolitarsky did 14 repetitions of the 225 and then he ran a 4.67-second 40-yard dash.

The players also completed two other drills, which are important for receivers: the 3-cone drill, which Wolitarsky whizzed through in 6.88 seconds, and the shuttle drill, which took him 4.22 seconds.

“It was an amazing experience to remember when Drew started playing flag football at seven years old to now watching him perform in front of a bunch of NFL teams,” John Wolitarsky said.

He began with Santa Clarita Parks & Recreation football and later joined the Canyon Country Athletic Association Outlaws team before joining the Canyon Cowboys and on to Minnesota.

“Then to play in the Big 10 with a fantastic senior campaign, ending it all in San Diego at the Holiday Bowl—it’s been fun to watch the journey,” John said.

Now on spring break, Drew will return to train right through the NFL Draft April 27, because if his name is on a roster, the Gopher grad will have to head to camp right away, according to his dad.

Santa Clarita is convinced Wolitarsky is a great catch. In another month, we’ll know if he’s also caught on with the NFL.

Losing to Win: The Lakers Look to the Future in the Looming NBA Draft

| Sports | March 10, 2017

While the NBA’s top teams duke it out for prime playoff positions, the league’s low-tier squads stage a similar fight for a better selection in the 2017 NBA Draft.

The Los Angeles Lakers find themselves in a tricky situation because, if their pick falls out of the top-three, they must forfeit it to the Philadelphia 76ers.

This threat has caused Los Angeles to make moves that, while detrimental to the team’s immediate success, will increase its chances of keeping its draft selection. First and foremost is the trading of Sixth-Man of the Year candidate Lou Williams to the Houston Rockets for Corey Brewer and Houston’s first round selection.

Now ranked at the bottom of the Western Conference, the Lakers’ odds of holding onto their pick looks bright and, with that in mind, it’s time to look at three players who can make an immediate impact on a Los Angeles team deep in the midst of a rebuilding process.

Markelle Fultz

If the Lakers’ pick is anything but first overall, Fultz may be out of their reach, as the freshman from Washington University is considered the top prospect of 2017 and the consensus first choice in the draft. However, if the lottery selection falls in L.A.’s favor, Fultz is an immediate upgrade to the team’s point guard needs.

Currently, second-year player D’Angelo Russell is slotted as the Lakers’ starting point guard. As a scoring option, Russell is second to none, producing 15 points per game with an efficient field goal percentage (eFG%)* of 48 percent. This means that Russell scores 15 points per game, all while shooting the ball efficiently on almost half of all his attempts.

Along with scoring, point guards must also excel at distributing the ball, a stat that Russell has improved on from his rookie season. He has gone from averaging three assists a game, to five in just one season, and also accounts for 29 percent of the team’s total assists while he is on the court.

The progress Russell has shown in such a short amount of time offers hope of an upward trend throughout his career, but the addition of Fultz as the team’s primary point guard would relieve Russell from having the responsibilities of being the Lakers’ leading scorer and distributor.

In Fultz’s freshman year, he has averaged six assists per game and accounts for a whopping 34 percent of Washington’s assists while he is playing. Paired with only three turnovers a game, Fultz already demonstrates elite efficiency at the age of 18.

His scoring is also above average, as Fultz accounts for 23 points per game with an eFG of 53 percent. With Russell and Fultz as L.A.’s starting backcourt, opposing teams would have to contend with two guards who can create their own shot, while helping their teammates find better looks to score, as well.

The knock against both players is that their defensive ratings leave something to be desired. Russell allows 111 points per 100 possessions, while Fultz allows 108. This could be the product of both playing on less than stellar teams, but that will be revealed when the Lakers begin to hit their stride.

Lonzo Ball

Ball breathes Los Angeles basketball. The PAC-12 Freshman of the Year gained notoriety on a Chino Hills High School team that is ranked as one of the best high school teams in America. From there, Ball excelled at UCLA, helping the Bruins earn a spot as the number three ranked team in the nation.

Like Fultz, Ball plays the point guard position. Unlike Fultz, however, Ball emphasizes distributing the ball over scoring.

UCLA leads the nation in assists per game, with 21.7, due in large part to the efforts of Ball, who also leads the NCAA individually, with 7.8. Although Ball accounts for 32 percent of the team’s assists while he is on the court, one percent less than Fultz, this is due to the fact that Aaron Holiday accounts for 23 percent. Washington’s next highest distributor is David Crisp at 16 percent.

Ball doesn’t post eye-popping numbers in terms of scoring (15 points per game), but the efficiency in which he scores is a factor that would help the Lakers greatly. Ball’s eFG% is a staggering 62 percent, making Los Angeles’s Nick Young’s 57 percent seem pedestrian.

Another aspect of Ball that makes him such a tantalizing prospect is his build. His 6-foot, 6-inch, 190-pound frame is above average for his position and, as such, has helped him grab six rebounds per game. Ball has yet to record a triple double in his collegiate career, but the freshman has the potential to record one in any given game.

A major criticism of Ball, however, is his shooting form. On jump shots, he brings the ball up from his hip in a wind up motion that prognosticators predict will be easy to block at the NBA level. However, Ball makes 42 percent of his three-point shots, so this critique is all speculation at this point.

Jonathan Isaac

After Fultz and Ball, the third pick is not as set in stone. While many mock drafts have freshman small forward Josh Jackson out of Kansas at this spot, the Lakers used their second-overall pick in 2016 on a similar prospect in Brandon Ingram.

Isaac is also listed as a small forward, but stands at 6 feet, 10 inches and 210 pounds, giving him the size and strength advantage over Jackson.

This height has helped Isaac average 7.2 rebounds per game, while averaging 16 percent of Florida State’s total rebounds while he is on the court. The power he brings to the small forward position allows him to average 1.5 blocks per game, whereas Jackson only averages 1.1.

Jackson takes the edge in points per game, at 16.4 to Isaac’s 12.2, but Isaac shoots the ball more efficiently, with an eFG% of 59 percent to Jackson’s 55 percent. This, coupled with Isaac’s lower turnover rate (1.5 to Jackson’s 2.8 per game), is what allows Isaac to produce 125 points per 100 possessions for Florida State, to Josh Jackson’s 110 points per 100 possessions for Kansas.

Isaac also takes the edge in defense, allowing opponents to score just 94 points per 100 possessions while he is on the court, to Jackson’s 96 points per 100 possessions. Isaac also accounts for 6 percent of the Seminoles’ total blocks when he plays, to Jackson’s 3 percent.

Regardless of which small forward the Lakers choose, they will receive a potential building block for their future. The consensus may be in favor of Jackson at this time, but Isaac’s size and defensive efficiency would be a big boost to a Los Angeles team that allows its opponents to score 110.8 points per game, good for fourth lowest in the NBA.

Either selection projects to be coming off the bench to start his NBA career, and both will boost the Lakers’ second unit tremendously. But, seeing how close both Isaac and Jackson are in skill set, Los Angeles fans should hope for one of the first two picks in order to avoid this difficult decision.

* eFG% is “A measurement of efficiency as a shooter in all field goal attempts with three-point attempts weighted fairly,” according to realgm.com.

Male Athlete of the Week – Josh De Leon

| SC Living, Sports | March 3, 2017

A senior at Saugus High School, Josh De Leon is a game-changing contributor to the Saugus boys’ soccer team. Last week, he scored the only goal in the Centurions’ win over Colony High School in the CIF Southern Section Division 4 quarterfinals. Saugus plays Norwalk in the semifinals on Tuesday.

“Josh De Leon has been an instrumental player for us both last year and this year,” said Seth Groller, coach of the Saugus High School boys’ soccer team. “Last season we made it to the quarterfinals, and this year we have already surpassed that, thanks to his hard work and ability to come up with the big play in big games. His game-winning, golden goal in the quarterfinal game was an example of that.”

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Female Athlete of the Week – Alaina Garcia

| SC Living, Sports | March 3, 2017

A key member of the Canyon High School girls’ basketball team, Alaina Garcia showed her power last week. She scored 21 points and grabbed 11 rebounds as the Cowboys defeated Saint Anthony of Long Beach, 62-58, in the CIF Southern Section Division 1AA semifinals. Canyon will meet Valencia for the fourth time this season in the Finals on Saturday at the Honda Center.

“Alaina is a true competitor that was a key factor not only in this game but our victory over Valencia to share the league title,” said Jessica Haayer, coach of the Canyon High School girls’ basketball team. “She is extremely hard working and is dedicated to her team, her family and to basketball.”

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The Stage is Set for Lakers and Celtics Showdown at Staples Center

| Sports | March 3, 2017

November 9, 1948 is the first time the Minneapolis Lakers played the Boston Celtics. Nearly 70 years later, the rivalry has blossomed into the NBA’s most storied showdown.

Today, the two franchises face off for the 358th time, with the Celtics on the brink of winning their 200th game against the Lakers. Although the matchup has lost some of the fire in recent years as both teams have gone through a rebuilding phase, the second meeting of the season for both squads offers plenty of storylines.

Coming into their first matchup of the year on February 3 in Boston, the Celtics and Lakers were tied for most wins in NBA history at 3,252. The 113-107 victory for the Celtics gave them the record over their longtime foe, and set Boston up to potentially sweep the season series for the first time since the 2007-2008 season.

In that span, the Lakers have swept the regular season series against Boston in the 2008-2009, 2011-2012, and 2013-2014 seasons.

Los Angeles and Boston also boast two of the more promising rookies from the 2016 NBA Draft class in Brandon Ingram and Jaylen Brown, respectively.

Both players made an impact in the first meeting, logging over 30 minutes of playing time each. Along with their time on the court, the two players’ stat lines were nearly identical. Ingram scored 14 points on 50 percent shooting, grabbed six rebounds, and notched one assist. Brown scored 12 points on 43 percent shooting, snared seven rebounds, and recorded one assist as well.

For the season, Ingram averages 8.3 points to Brown’s 6.1, but Brown scores with more efficiency, posting an effective field goal percentage of 49 percent to Ingram’s 42 percent, according to realgm.com.

Since the All-Star break, both rookies have had strong showings, with Ingram averaging 16.5 points and 3.5 rebounds in 37 minutes per game, while Brown has averaged 13.6 points and 3.3 rebounds in 27 minutes per game.

One major change that may make the difference in the second meeting is the absence of the Lakers’ leading scorer for the season, Lou Williams (18.6 points per game). Williams was traded on February 22 to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Corey Brewer and the Rockets’ first-round pick in 2017.

Williams led Los Angeles in scoring against Boston with 21 points. Behind him was D’Angelo Russell, the second-year player with superstar potential, with 20 points. With Williams no longer with the team, Russell is given the reigns of the offense and has responded by averaging 23.5 points per game since the trade.

Whereas the Lakers will be without Williams, Boston will still have their leading scorer for both the first game and for the season in Isaiah Thomas. He dropped 38 points against Los Angeles, including 17 in the fourth quarter.

Thomas’s 29.6 points per game for the year is second in the NBA only to UCLA alumnus Russell Westbrook (who is currently averaging a triple double for the season). Thomas also averages 10.5 points per game in the fourth quarter.

A win over the Celtics would provide a moral victory for a Lakers team nowhere near contending for a playoff spot this season, but may hurt them in the long run. If Los Angeles’ draft pick falls out of the top three, it is owed to the Philadelphia 76ers. In a draft deep with talent — Washington University’s Markelle Fultz and UCLA’s Lonzo Ball are projected to be future superstars — the Lakers can ill-afford to lose their pick.

Still, Los Angeles won’t roll over against Boston, and can easily pull off an upset against a recently struggling Celtics team. However, Boston’s depth and Thomas’ prolific fourth quarter scoring should be enough to give them the edge.

The stakes in the Lakers-Celtics rivalry are not as high as they used to be, but the bad blood between the two fan bases, along with the history behind the matchup, will always lead to an exciting game. And, on March 3, the Staples Center will be treated to another installment of Los Angeles versus Boston, a showdown where anything can happen.

New Swimming and Diving Program at Master’s University

| Sports | February 24, 2017

Gabe Woodward, bronze medalist in the 4×100 meter freestyle at the 2004 Olympics, All-American swimmer and 2001 graduate of USC, joins The Master’s University to launch their first ever swimming and diving program for the Fall 2017 season.

Athletic Director at Master’s U, Steve Waldeck said, “Establishing this program with Woodward, as our Director of Aquatics, is a huge win for our university. Gabe fully understands our culture and will be recruiting students to that end. His swimming resume and accomplishments speak for themselves and he will be a great addition to our athletic programs.”

Jason Lezak, four-time Olympian and eight-time medalist, endorsed the decision.

“I’ve known Gabe for over 15 years and been able to see him achieve success in many aspects of his life, Lezac said. “I’m excited to see him do the same at The Master’s University as he starts a team that can compete for national championships and hopefully put a kid like Gabe on the Olympic team!”

The addition of men’s and women’s aquatics brings continued excitement to the athletic programs offered through the university. In its inaugural season, the team will train at the Santa Clarita Aquatic Center with its 50-meter x 25-yard competition pool and 25×25 meter dive pool, along with other aquatic facilities in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Master’s will soon be making its official application to become a member of the Pacific Collegiate Swimming Conference – a swimming only conference compromised of NCAA Division I, II, III and NAIA institutions in the southwestern United States.

Having been trained under Olympic coaches Dave Salo and Mark Schubert, Keith Moore (head coach of Bakersfield Swim Club) and alongside other Olympic athletes, Jason Lezak and Larsen Jensen (two-time Olympian and two-time medalist), Woodward looks forward to bringing that expertise and training to Master’s U. He is already actively pursuing 2017 recruits that demonstrate a desire to pursue their love for Christ while competing at the highest level in the sport.

For more information about the university, contact admissions@masters.edu.

Male Athlete of the Week – Zach Phipps

| Sports | February 23, 2017

A senior at Saugus High School and a member of the basketball team, Zach Phipps led all scorers with 33 points in the first round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 2A playoffs last Wednesday night.

“Zach is a player that has a competitive fire that continues to grow,” said Bill Bedgood, boys’ basketball coach at Saugus High School. “Each season I’ve seen Zach show tremendous improvement in an aspect of his game. This year he improved a great deal as a leader. His leadership and consistency is one of the main reasons we have had a very successful season up to this point.”

Female Athlete of the Week – Kayla Konrad

| Sports | February 23, 2017

A senior at Valencia High School, Kayla Konrad has broken the school’s all-time scoring record.

During Saturday night’s CIF-Southern Section Division 1AA second-round win at West High in Torrance, Konrad’s 23 points got her to 1,774 for her career, just one point ahead of the record previously set by Kelley Tarver from 2001 to 2005.

“Kayla is having a remarkable senior season for Valencia,” said Valencia High School girls’ basketball coach Jerry Mike. “She has earned all tournament honors … this year. Kayla will be playing at the University of California, Davis next year.”

Athlete of the Week: Allyson Felix

| Sports | February 17, 2017

Last month, Olympic silver medalist and three-time world champion Allyson Felix appeared on an episode of “The Bachelor” on TV. There were three athletes who helped raise the ratings on the show, where women compete for the interest of bachelor Nick Viall. The guests were track star Carl Lewis, shot put gold medalist Michelle Carter and Felix, who hails from Santa Clarita. Viall was a track and field competitor, so it was a relevant theme to bring in the athletes. The bachelorette contenders on the show had to complete a 100-meter dash to win a large fake ring and a hot tub date during the episode.

Allyson Felix began her professional athletic career straight out of high school, when she signed a contract with Adidas and received full tuition for her schooling at USC. She earned a silver medal in the 200 meters at the 2004 Olympics, and Felix set a World Junior record of 22.8. In the Olympics last year in Rio de Janeiro, the 30-year-old Felix became the oldest woman to medal in the 400-meter race. She came extremely close to capturing the gold, but at the last minute took silver, when Shaunae Miller of the Bahamas came in first. It was her seventh medal, which set her ahead of Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who has six.

Super Sunday Breeds Big Moments for Boston Sports

| Sports | February 9, 2017

An article about Boston sports in an L.A.-area newspaper? The word “blasphemous” comes to mind.

However, the events that transpired on February 5 for both the Celtics and Patriots transcend city boundaries, and can be appreciated by sports fans the world over.

It began with the Celtics hosting the Los Angeles Clippers and the return of Paul Pierce for his final game at the TD Gardens.

Pierce, the Inglewood native, was drafted in 1998 by Boston and spent 15 years with the team he loathed growing up. In that time, Pierce became the face of the franchise, closing his Celtics career as the leader in 3-pointers with 1,823, and second in points with 24,021.

Alongside Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo, Pierce helped bring an NBA Championship to Boston in 2008, defeating the Lakers in the Finals, 4-2. For any L.A. fans that are offended, the Lakers got their revenge in the 2010 Finals, winning 4-3.

After being traded to the Brooklyn Nets with Garnett in 2013, Pierce bounced around the league, playing for the Nets and Wizards before finally settling down with the Clippers in 2015.

Super Bowl Sunday saw the Celtics’ arena sold-out as fans flocked to catch a final glimpse of one of the most iconic fixtures in the franchise, despite the fact he wore the opposing team’s jersey.

Pierce started the farewell game with an honorary spot in the starting lineup from one-time Celtics coach, Doc Rivers, who now runs the show with the Clippers.

The game itself saw the Celtics lead the entire way, prompting the crowd to chant for Pierce to retake the court throughout the final quarter. As time ticked down, it seemed as though that wouldn’t happen.

With 19 seconds remaining, however, Pierce entered the game for Blake Griffin and proceeded to create a highlight that will live on in Boston sports lore forever.

Pierce received the ball behind the three-point line and got a shot off with 10 seconds remaining. As it left his hands, those watching knew the ball had to go in. And then it did.

The crowd rose to its feet at the feat they had just witnessed. Pierce, who had never gone scoreless at the TD Gardens, ensured that would never change in dramatic fashion, creating a feel-good moment that made the final 107-102 score in favor of the Celtics, trivial. As a final goodbye, Pierce dropped to his knees at mid-court to kiss the “Lucky the Leprechaun” logo one last time.

Despite the beauty of this moment, Boston had to quickly turn its attention to Houston, as the New England Patriots were set to square off with the Atlanta Falcons.

The Patriots were looking to acquire their fifth Super Bowl victory in 15 years, cementing their dynasty as one of the best in the history of the NFL. But first, they had to get past a Falcons team that boasted the NFL MVP in quarterback Matt Ryan.
Along with Ryan, Atlanta’s number one offense in the League was led by wide receiver Julio Jones, as well as running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.

This lineup was poised to cause problems for the Patriots’ number one defense in points allowed per game. After the first-half, it appeared that the Falcons had gotten the better of their foe.

The first quarter began with a defensive battle, as both teams punted twice. The tide began to turn a minute into the second frame, as LeGarrette Blount fumbled the ball at the Atlanta 33-yard-line, which Robert Alford of the Falcons recovered.

From there, the Falcons marched down the field in five plays, ending in a 5-yard Freeman run for a touchdown.

The Patriots would punt on the ensuing possession, with the Falcons in full control of the game’s momentum. After another five plays, they were in the end zone again, as Ryan found tight end Austin Hooper for a 19-yard strike to make the score 14-0.

Three third-down defensive holding penalties on the Falcons kept the next New England drive alive, until Tom Brady threw a pass into tight coverage, and Alford took the interception 82-yards to the house, giving Atlanta a 21-0 advantage.

After bringing the ball to the Falcons’ 10 yard line, a Martellus Bennett hold, and a screen pass to Bennett that lost three yards forced New England to settle for a 31-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski.

Ordinarily, the Patriots’ 21-3 halftime deficit would mean their demise, as no team trailing by 10 points in the Super Bowl had ever come back to win. After Ryan found Coleman with 8:30 left in the third quarter to make the score 28-3, it appeared not even New England would find a way to win.

No one told them that, however.

Brady completed five of his six passes, for 36 yards, on the next drive, breathing new life into his team with a 5-yard touchdown pass to James White. Gostkowski knocked the wind right out of the team when he missed the extra point.

After an Atlanta three-and-out, Gostkowsi got redemption in the fourth quarter, putting a 23-yard field goal through the uprights to bring the score to 28-12. Then the defense began to come alive.

Dont’a Hightower, who leads New England’s defense from the linebacker position, sacked Ryan at the Falcons 36-yard-line, forcing a fumble which was recovered by Alan Branch.

The Patriots could ill-afford to waste time in putting up points, and with only two and a half minutes gone by, Brady found Danny Amendola for a 6-yard touchdown, with a much-needed two-point conversion from White, making the score 28-20.

The Falcons needed only a field goal to put the game to bed, and with a 39-yard pass to Devonta Freeman, followed by a spectacular 27-yard completion to Jones against the sideline, Atlanta was in prime position to pull off the upset.

With just under four minutes remaining, however, Atlanta elected to pass instead of running out the clock, leading to a sack from Trey Flowers, who registered 2.5 sacks for the game.

The loss of 12 yards was almost gained back on the following play, a 9-yard completion to Mohamed Sanu, but a Falcons holding penalty made it 3rd and 33 from the New England 45-yard-line. A Ryan incompletion forced the Falcons to punt.

Despite the defensive stand, the odds were still against the Patriots, as they had to travel 91 yards with only 3:30 remaining, and convert a second two-point conversion, to tie the game.

After Brady completed six of his next nine passes for 90 yards, White hammered the ball home on a 1-yard touchdown run, and Amendola tied the game with a two-point reception from Brady. Tied 28-28, the Super Bowl was going into overtime for the first time in the history of the game.

When New England won the coin toss, the world knew the game was over. Brady threw just one incompletion as the Patriots moved the ball with ease 75 yards down the field. White made sure the Falcons would not have a chance to touch the ball again, scoring from one yard out to bring the final score to 34-28.

The Patriots’ 25-point comeback is being hailed as one of the best performances in any Super Bowl, and gives Brady five rings, one more than any other NFL quarterback.

The win also brings an end to the Deflategate debacle that caused Brady to miss the first four games of the season, and has haunted the franchise since its birth in 2015.

Now, New England is favored to win next season’s Super Bowl, and with Brady confirming his return, the possibility looks ever more likely.

Whether they repeat or not, however, remains to be seen. But, February 5, 2017 will be remembered in Boston for years to come, and will be celebrated as one of the most historic days in the city’s sports history.

Taking a Trip Through Time with Tennis

| Sports | February 3, 2017

Serena Williams versus Venus Williams and Roger Federer versus Rafael Nadal in the finals of the Australian Open.

No, this isn’t the early 2000s. These were the actual pairings for the 2017 Australian Open Finals, matchups that harkened back to a time before the likes of Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, and Angelique Kerber were the stars of tennis.

Just how unlikely was this outcome?

The last time Federer and Nadal squared off in the final round of a Grand Slam tournament was in the 2011 French Open, which Nadal took in four sets.

The Williams sisters last met on the court of a Grand Slam final in the 2009 Wimbledon Championship, a match that Serena won in two sets. It also marked the last time Venus made it to the finals of a Grand Slam tournament.

Serena’s path to the 2017 Australian Open Finals saw that she never surrendered a set to any of her opponents.

Venus, on the other hand, was tested by fellow American Coco Vandeweghe in the semifinal round. Vandeweghe had previously ousted the tournament’s number one seed, Kerber, 6-2, 6-3. A two-set victory over Garbine Muguruza in the quarterfinals left Vanderweghe face-to-face with the older Williams sister.

The first set between the two was tightly contested, with Vanderweghe winning 7-6 (7-3). From that point on, Venus took control of the second and third sets; she won the match with a score of 6-7 (3-7), 6-2, 6-3. Although Vanderweghe led Williams in winning shots (37 to 30), it was her unforced errors (51 to 35) that eventually led to her falling short of the final round.

Serena swept the final match against Venus 6-4, 6-4 in an hour and 21 minutes, but statistics show a closer match than one would assume from the outcome. Serena had the advantage in winning shots (27 to 21), while also winning a higher percentage of points at the net (86 percent to 63 percent).

Venus had slightly more unforced errors (25 to 23), but committed fewer double faults (3 to 5), and won a higher percentage of break point opportunities (67 percent to 36 percent). The win for Serena brings the overall record between the two to 17-11 in her favor.

Nadal (9) and Federer (17) were aided by two monumental upsets on their way to the Australian Open’s final round.

Djokovic was unable to make it out of the second round due to a strong performance from wildcard Denis Istomin, who upset the Association of Tennis Professionals’ (ATP) second-ranked player 7-6 (10-8), 5-7, 2-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4 in a time span of four hours and 48 minutes.

Murray, ranked number one in ATP, made it only to the fourth round, losing to another unproven commodity in Mischa Zverev, in four sets.

Despite not having to face the two toughest opponents in the Australian Open, both Nadal and Federer were still tested on their way to the finals.

Federer faced Kei Nishikori (5) in a match that lasted five sets before Federer came out on top. He later played fellow Swiss Stan Wawrinka (4) in the semifinals; it was another game that ended in a five-set thriller in favor of Federer.

Nadal had to take on the likes of Gael Monfils (6) in the fourth round, needing four sets to eventually advance. He then swept Milos Raonic (3), before going five sets with Grigor Dimitrov (15) in the semifinals.

The 35th meeting between Nadal and Federer was everything tennis fans hoped it would be. Neither player won consecutive sets in a match that lasted a little over three and a half hours, with Federer eventually winning 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.

Federer led the way in aces (20 to 4) and winning shots (73 to 35), but allowed Nadal to hang around for the entirety of the match because of unforced errors (57 to 28).

Nadal also took the advantage in points at the net percentage, converting 10 of his 12 opportunities (83 percent). Federer could only capitalize on 29 of his 40 chances (73 percent), keeping alive Nadal’s opportunities to score.

The victory for Federer is the first time since the 2007 Wimbledon Championship that he has gotten the better of Nadal in a Grand Slam final. However, Nadal leads the rivalry with an overall record of 23-12.

By virtue of making it to the Australian Open Finals, the champions and runner-ups find themselves jumping ranks. Venus Williams is now ranked 11th overall in WTA, while her younger sister, Serena Williams, snags the top spot.

Nadal moved up three spots in the ATP rankings, from 9th to 6th, while Federer had the largest jump in rankings, moving seven spots from 17th to 10th.

The next Grand Slam tournament is the French Open that begins on May 29, a tournament that Serena won in 2015, while Federer last won in 2009.

How the results of the 2017 Australian Open affect the rest of the tennis season remains to be seen, but the tournament gave viewers a glimpse of the sport’s most classic matchups, one that should be cherished by sports fans the world over.

Athlete of the Week – Whitten Dominguez

| Sports | January 26, 2017

A guard on the Hart High School basketball team, Whitten Dominguez scored 24 points in the Indians’ win over the previously undefeated Golden Valley Grizzles last week. The win comes after a loss to West Ranch, and gives Hart a 2-2 Foothill League record.

“Whitten Dominguez is a hard working, very competitive basketball player,” said Thomas Kelly, basketball coach at Hart High School. “He’s a team leader and can impact the game in a variety of ways. He’s very versatile and a good shooter.”

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Bruins Looking to Losses to Build a Better Contender

| Sports | January 26, 2017

UCLA Men’s Basketball shocked the college basketball world when they traveled to Rupp Arena and took down the then number one ranked University of Kentucky Wildcats.

The 97-92 victory had many hailing these Bruins as the best team in the nation, one that would be able to bring the university its first National Championship since 1995.

Although UCLA is still on pace to make a deep push into the playoffs, the Bruins have had trouble against ranked opponents since their upset win over Kentucky.

Their first loss of the season came at the beginning of PAC12 play, when Dillion Brooks of the then ranked 21 Oregon Ducks hit a three-pointer with 0.8 seconds remaining in the game, giving them an 89-87 win over UCLA.

The six wins that followed made it seem as though the Bruins’ tough times were behind them, until they hosted the Arizona Wildcats on January 21. Ranked 12 at the time, Arizona looked in control all game against the once second ranked UCLA.

The 96-85 win for the Wildcats allowed them to leap-frog the Bruins in the standings, the former sitting at number seven in the country, while the later is now number eight.

There are a multitude of factors that led to UCLA’s two losses, the one common to both games being fouls. The Bruins committed 19 personal fouls in their defeats, allowing Oregon to go 18-25 from the foul line, and Arizona to go 19-21.

In the Bruins’ match with Oregon, UCLA’s uncharacteristic turnovers were another reason for their loss. The Bruins lead the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio, with 1.88 per game, but gave the ball away 14 times to the Ducks’ nine.

While the Bruins cut down on the turnovers against Arizona (six for the game), UCLA’s defense allowed the Wildcats to make 50 percent of their shots and 45 percent of their three-point shots. This, coupled with the Bruins’ offense only making 45 percent of their total shots and 37 percent of their threes, is how the nation’s second highest scoring team (93 points per game), was held to only 85.

The issues in UCLA’s two losses appear as outliers that can easily be addressed. However, a problem that may persist is the Bruins’ inability to grab offensive rebounds. Against Oregon, the Ducks grabbed 16 offensive boards to UCLA’s 11. Arizona’s margin was much closer, a 12-10 advantage for the Wildcats.

The Bruins’ 9.1 offensive rebounds per game is second lowest in the PAC12 and allowed Arizona to score 24 second-chance points. The height UCLA possesses should make this new-found weakness easy to correct, but they will have to have a renewed focus on boxing out opponents when they miss a shot, to make the necessary change.

At the end of the day, two losses is nothing Bruins fans should lose sleep over. Now that Oregon ranks 10th in the nation, UCLA’s defeats come at the hands of two top-10 teams, and have shown what the Bruins will need to work on, come March Madness.

UCLA’s high octane offense is the best basketball being played in Los Angeles, and even after facing adversity, still makes them a favorite to take home their first National Championship in 20 years.

Athletes of the Week

| Sports | January 20, 2017

Richard Kawakami

This sophomore at Golden Valley High School made the winning game layup last week in the boys’ basketball matchup against Valencia High School. Richard Kawakami scored 18 of the Grizzlies’ 56 points, giving Golden Valley a one-point win and a 2-0 Foothill League record.

“Richard has been a consistent performer all year and finds ways every game to help us compete,” said Larry Keys, Golden Valley boys’ basketball coach. “This is his second buzzer beater this year; he excels in clutch moments. Richard works hard on both ends of the court, and is well on the way to being a complete player. He wants to win and does what we need him to do to make that happen.”

Richard Kawakami, center, drives to the basket against South El Monte. Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea for The Signal.

 

Kayla Konrad

After showing her skills at Valencia High School, senior Kayla Konrad will play basketball at University of California, Davis next year. Last week, she scored 19 points in Valencia’s 62-20 win over Golden Valley High School. The Vikings are now 3-0 in Foothill League after the win.

“Kayla is having a remarkable senior season for Valencia,” said Jerry Mike, Valencia High School girls’ basketball coach. “She has led the Vikings to a 3-0 league start and has hit two game-winning shots in the final seconds. She has earned all tournament honors in all three tournaments this year.”

 

The Chargers Long for Cheers as They Look for Love in Los Angeles

| Sports | January 19, 2017

As was discussed in a previous article, the idea of the San Diego Chargers moving to Los Angeles was not a cause for celebration in either city.

The thought came to fruition on January 12, when team chairman Dean Spanos announced that the Chargers would be moving three hours up the road to make a new home in the City of Angels.

The response has been less than heavenly.

With the announcement came the unveiling of a new team logo, the initials “LA” in white over a dark blue background. Sound familiar? Aside from the text being shaped to look like lightning, the Chargers essentially copied the logo of Los Angeles’ favorite baseball team, the Dodgers.

Football fans and sports pundits alike had a field day, making jokes and memes fueled by the counterfeit logo. The immediate backlash brought about an immediate update to the design, making the “LA” initials yellow and the background powder blue.

In reality, however, it didn’t matter what the Chargers did for a new logo, as the negative response was more a reflection of the feelings that the move has caused in the football community.

The day of the announcement saw fans burning San Diego memorabilia, flipping off, and even egging, the team’s headquarters.

In Los Angeles, LA times writer Bill Plaschke wrote that the “Chargers shouldn’t look for a welcome wagon in L.A.”

The public’s rejection of this move mirrors the response seen last year when the then St. Louis Rams decided to make the trek to Southern California. Rams fans in St. Louis felt betrayed by a billionaire owner who, instead of funding the building of a new stadium in St. Louis, asked the community to pay for it through taxes, and left when they said no.

Chargers owner Alex Spanos made the same move in last November’s election with “Measure C,” which San Diego residents shot down. The result had members of the media immediately predicting the team’s move. What came as a real surprise, however, is where the Chargers have decided to set up shop.

While both Los Angeles teams await the completion of the new stadium in Inglewood in 2019, the Chargers have announced they will be playing their home games in the StubHub Center, the home stadium for L.A.’s professional soccer team, the Galaxy.

With a capacity of 30,000, the StubHub center is easily the smallest current NFL stadium. And with the stadium’s director of communications, Brendan Hannan, saying that “the Galaxy is the main priority for StubHub Center,” it appears the Chargers would have been better off in San Diego.

For better or worse, the Chargers will be Los Angeles’ newest team, and while ownership and marketing have both been floundering during the entirety of this saga, the product on the field looks very promising.
Although the Chargers finished 5-11 last season, injuries and poor late game execution can be pointed to as factors in the less than stellar record. The result of the down year was the firing of head coach Mike McCoy, and the 7th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
To replace McCoy, the Chargers named Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn as the team’s newest head coach. Lynn, who also served as the Bills’ running backs’ coach, helped Buffalo lead the NFL in rushing touchdowns, with 29, as well as rushing yards, with 2,630.

Lynn will inherit Melvin Gordon in Los Angeles, a third-year running back who came within three yards of a 1,000-yard rushing season and posted 10 rushing touchdowns. The running back position was the weakest part of the Chargers’ strong offense, and looks to further improve under the guide of Lynn.

The defensive end of the ball is where Los Angeles should be looking to make major improvements if they want to get back to their winning ways. This begins with resigning pending free agent linebacker Melvin Ingram, who had 10 tackles for a loss, eight sacks, and five forced fumbles in 2016.

They can also use the seventh pick in the draft to shore up a defensive line that allowed 20 rushing touchdowns for the season. Malik McDowell, a defensive tackle out of Michigan State, is projected to be available when the Chargers make their first selection, and with a 6-foot, 6-inch, 276-pound frame, McDowell would be the perfect nose tackle to plug up running holes up the middle.

Every facet of the Chargers’ move to Los Angeles has looked bad up to this point, but winning will solve all of their problems. The newest L.A. team looks closer to competing than the Rams, and when the Chargers find more immediate success, it will be easier for football fans in Los Angeles to embrace them.

Male Athlete of the Week – Alex Sanchez

| Sports | January 13, 2017

College of the Canyons sophomore guard Alex Sanchez scored a game high 19 points and grabbed eight rebounds during the team’s 70-58 win vs. Ventura College on Jan. 5, 2017.

Sanchez, who is a two-year starter for the Cougars, is averaging 10.6 points and 3.8 rebounds a game through the first 18 contests of the season. Canyons (8-10) will return to the Cougar Cage at 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 21.

Female Athlete of the Week – Erin Meottel

| Sports | January 13, 2017

A senior at West Ranch High School, Erin Meottel is one of three captains on the Wildcats girls’ soccer team. She scored the game-winning goal against the Simi Valley Pioneers last week in the Wildcats’ 3-2 win. The win brings West Ranch to a 6-3-1 record.

“She is a returning all league and all SCV Foothill League second team honoree,” said Jared White, coach for the WRHS girls’ soccer team. “She was second on the team last year with 13 goals and currently has four goals and four assists this year. She is a fantastic player with a great work ethic, and embodies everything it means to be a Wildcat girls’ soccer player. I couldn’t be prouder of the person and player she has grown into!! A fantastic example of what it means to sacrifice and the epitome of being a great teammate!!!”

NFL Division Roundup

| Sports | January 12, 2017

The Wild Card round of the NFL Playoffs was as exciting as watching the Cleveland Browns play the San Francisco 49ers. The first week of football’s postseason saw the home teams win every game, and the losing teams score no more than 14 points.

This weekend’s Divisional Round looks to differ from the dud that was last week’s matchups, as all top-four seeds have moved on to the second round and an upset is possible at any time.

Here’s a look at each match in the order they take place.

Seattle at Atlanta: 1/14 @ 1:35 p.m. on Fox

The battle of the birds boasts a battle between the third best defense in the league in points allowed (18.3 points per game) in the Seahawks, and the number one scoring offense (33.8 points per game)in the Falcons.

For the Falcons to continue scoring at such a high clip, Matt Ryan must continue to play at the MVP level he has demonstrated all season. Ryan has thrown just seven interceptions to 38 touchdowns, and was 56 yards shy of a 5,000-yard passing season.

While Seattle’s defense has been outstanding all season, creating turnovers has not been their strength. They have only forced 19 total takeaways, and will need to rely more on their ability to stop opposing offenses from gaining yards, to win the game. For the regular season, the Seahawks were fifth in the nation in yards-per-game, allowing only 318.7.

Ryan’s receiving core of Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, and Taylor Gabriel accounted for 16 of his touchdown passes, with Jones gathering 1,409 receiving yards. The Seahawks secondary, led by Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor, only allowed 16 touchdowns all season, and will need to play their best game to force the Falcons into running more.

However, running the ball is one of Atlanta’s strengths as well. The duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman combined for 1,599 yards and 19 touchdowns for the year. Seattle’s Bobby Wagner, who led the NFL in tackles, with 167, will be looked to to slow down Atlanta’s run game if the Seahawks are to pull off the upset.

For Seattle’s offense, the key to the game is to give Russell Wilson time to find his receivers. The quick-footed quarterback was sacked 42 times in the regular season, and will be faced with the NFL regular season sack leader, Vic Beasley, who got to opposing quarterbacks 15.5 times for the Falcons.

If the Seahawks can’t slow Atlanta’s offense, this game will quickly turn into a shootout, as the Falcons ranked near the bottom of the league defensively in points-per-game, giving up an average of 25.4.

Final score prediction:

Atlanta: 27
Seattle: 24

Houston at New England: 1/14 @ 5:15 p.m. on CBS

This match is projected to mirror the excitement of the Wild Card round, as the Patriots have begun the week as 16 point favorites over the visiting Texans, a spread that has only been seen three times in the past 40 years.

This comes as no surprise, as New England defeated Houston in week 3 of the regular season, 27-0, with third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett at the helm of the Patriots’ offense.

However, the Texans are playing much better football, especially on the defensive end of the ball. They finished the regular season as the league leader in yards allowed per game, with 301.3. Despite this, however, they ranked 11th in points-per-game, with 20.5.

They will be tested by Tom Brady, who was serving his four-game suspension during the first meeting, who threw for 3,554 yards, 28 touchdowns, and just two interceptions in only 12 games.

Houston’s defense only forced 11 interceptions (tied for 21st in the league), and defended 68 passes (tied for 20th). They also allowed 13 rushing touchdowns in the regular season, and will have to find a way to stop LaGarrette Blount, who scored the most rushing touchdowns in the NFL, with 18, from finding the end zone.

New England’s defense played at the same proficient level as the offense, leading the league in points allowed, with 15.6. The Texans struggled to score all season, culminating in a paltry 17.4 points per game.

Houston quarterback Brock Osweiler, who has earned back his starting position after being benched for Tom Savage in the 21-20 week 16 victory over Jacksonville, threw 16 interceptions to just 15 touchdowns, and will face a Patriot’s defense that forced 13 interceptions during the regular season.

The Patriot’s defense also only allowed 3.9 yards per rushing attempt to opposing running backs, which will challenge Houston’s Lamar Miller, who was 10th in the nation during the regular season in total yards, gaining 1,073.

Final score prediction:

New England: 34
Houston: 13

Pittsburgh at Kansas City: 1/15 @ 10:05 a.m. on NBC

The game between the Steelers and the Chiefs could be the lowest scoring match of the weekend. Kansas City’s defense was seventh in the nation during the regular season in points allowed, with 19.4 per game, which Pittsburgh’s defense nearly matched, with 20.4 per game, good for 10th in the nation. How the two teams achieved these numbers, however, differs greatly.

Kansas City led all teams in turnovers forced, with 33, 18 of which came on interceptions. Cornerback Marcus Peters finished the year with six interceptions, second best in the NFL. Safety Eric Berry was not far behind, with four interceptions of his own, two of which he returned for touchdowns.

The Steelers’ defense stopped offenses with pure strength, amassing 1,031 total tackles (12th in the NFL), and 38 sacks (9th in the NFL). While no Pittsburgh player led in these categories, Lawrence Timmons led the team with 114 tackles, and James Harrison got to the quarterback more than any other Steelers player, with five sacks at age 38.

Offensively, both teams produced points at a very similar rate, 24.9 points for the Steelers to the Chiefs’ 24.3. However, Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger threw 29 touchdowns to Alex Smith’s 15,

and has a top-tier wide receiver in Antonio Brown (1,284 yards and 12 touchdowns).

The Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell is also regarded as one of the best running backs in the league, and ran for 1,268 yards for the season while averaging 105.7 yards per game. Kansas City’s running attack as a whole only averaged 109.3 yards per game.

The Chiefs’ saving grace on offense comes in the form of rookie Tyreek Hill, who scored six receiving touchdowns, three touchdowns, two punt return touchdowns, and one kickoff return touchdown. Hill’s blistering speed gives him big play potential every time he touches the ball, and may be what gives Kansas City the edge in a game where points will be at a premium,

Final score prediction:

Pittsburgh: 20
Kansas City: 17

Green Bay at Dallas: 1/15 @ 1:40 p.m. on Fox

The NFL saved the best match for last in the Divisional Round, giving pundits time to ponder about whether Dallas’ rookie duo of quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliot, will be ready to perform in the playoffs.

Both players were named to the pro bowl after stellar years that saw Prescott throw for 23 touchdowns to four interceptions, and Elliot lead the league in rushing yards, with 1,631, and score 14 touchdowns on the ground as well.

Prescott will enjoy little pressure from the Packers pass defense, as Green Bay has allowed a league-worst 8.1 yards per completion, as well as 32 total passing touchdowns during the regular season. They were, however, able to force 17 interceptions, good for fourth in the league.

Elliot will have a tougher time facing the eight best rushing defense in total yards, as Green Bay only allowed 1,515 rushing yards for the year. Their 11 total rushing touchdowns for the regular season brought them to a tie for 10th place in the NFL.

The Packers’ Aaron Rodgers will once again have to put the team on his shoulders, this time without the help of his favorite receiver, Jordy Nelson, who will most likely miss the match due to fractured ribs suffered in the Green Bay’s 38-13 Wild Card win over the Giants.

Rodgers, who led the league in touchdowns during the regular season, with 40, will find little resistance from a Dallas defense that allowed 25 touchdowns to be thrown against them. They also rank near the bottom of the league in passing yards per game, with 260, a stat that Rodgers excelled at, throwing 277 yards per game.

The ground game for Green Bay, however, was essentially nonexistent. After starting running back Eddie Lacy was lost for the year, a carousel of rushers eventually led to once wide receiver Ty Montgomery taking the starting role.

This is why the Packers ranked 20th in both rushing yards (1,701) and rushing touchdowns (11) in the regular season. It will also make it easier for Dallas’ league-best rush defense to force Rodgers to be the only option for Green Bay to win the game.

Final score prediction:

Dallas: 23
Green Bay: 21

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