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Athletes of the Week

| Sports | May 18, 2018

Shea O’Leary

A senior at Valencia High School and pitcher on the softball team, Shea O’Leary pitched a complete game last week, striking out eight batters, allowing three hits, and two walks in the Vikings’ 1-0 Foothill League victory over Golden Valley. After ensuing wins over West Ranch and Canyon, Valencia finishes with a perfect 10-0 league record, and finished the regular season this week against Vista Murrieta at Valencia High School.

“Shea is a hardworking, dedicated and passionate athlete, who strives to be the best,” said Valencia High School softball coach Donna Lee. “Shea is a Texas-bound ace, 24-7 record, with a 1.32 ERA and 272 strikeouts in 201 innings.”

Cameron Graves

A volleyball standout at Valencia High School, senior Cameron Graves opened the CIF-SS Div. 2 boys’ volleyball tournament with a team-high 12 kills in the Vikings’ 3-0 sweep of Bishop Cardinal last week. Graves followed this strong outing with a team-high 22 kills in Valencia’s second round match against Vista Murrieta on May 10. In the second game, the Vikings needed to go five games to advance, winning the first two sets 25-13 and 251-15, before dropping games three and four 24-11 and 25-22. In the fifth set, Valencia was able to pull away with a 15-6 win. This week the Vikings beat Mission Viejo and headed to the semi-finals for the first time in three years.

“Cameron is one of the best all around athletes to play for Valencia,” said Kevin Kornegay, Valencia boys’ volleyball coach.  “He has a steady-as-she-goes attitude … never too up or never too down! Makes for a good combo when playing volleyball.”

Lottery Luck Set Up Clippers for Future Success

| Sports | May 18, 2018

The Los Angeles Clippers are entering offseason number two in what appears to be a different approach to reaching the NBA Finals. Long gone are the faces that made up Lob City, except for Deandre Jordan, who may be out the door as well, if he does what everyone expects, and opts out of his contract.

Jerry West, the architect of the current Golden State Warriors, took on a risk by blowing up the most successful Clippers team in franchise history. He let J.J. Redick walk away in free agency without a fight, and made a blockbuster deal with Houston that sent Chris Paul packing in exchange for Patrick Beverley and a host of role players.

His biggest move, however, came on January 29, when Blake Griffin was shipped off to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, and Detroit’s first-round pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. The pick was 1-4 protected, meaning, if the Pistons received a top-four draft pick, they’d get to keep it.

This was not the case. Detroit was awarded the 12th pick during Tuesday’s Draft Lottery, which they immediately handed over to Los Angeles. The Clippers then earned the 13th pick due to their own record, giving them two subsequent picks in a strong part of the NBA draft.

The immediate thought is that the team should trade one, or package both of these picks into a trade for established NBA players, or to move up in the draft to take a prospect that can contribute faster. However, the teams at the top of the draft order have very little need to move down. As for NBA-ready players available for trade, point guard Dennis Schroder of the Atlanta Hawks is the only one who has expressed interest in finding a new home. The Clippers’ best bet at this junction is to use both of their picks to fill areas of need. The expected departure of Jordan leaves a hole at the center position, and although Beverley has been a serviceable point guard in the past, especially on the defensive front, he only played 11 games with Los Angeles last year, so no one really knows how well he fits with the team.

Three prospects come to mind when looking at the middle of the first-round. Multiple mock drafts have the Clippers taking Shai Gilgeous Alexander, a point guard out of Kentucky, but it’s the second pick that is up for debate. Centers Robert Williams and Mitchell Robinson are expected to be available when Los Angeles is on the clock, but both are far from a sure thing. Alexander could very well be the Clippers’ answer at starting point guard for a very long time. He is an excellent ball handler and gets into the paint with ease. This makes him an excellent pick and roll point guard, as he can use a screen at the top of the key to get to the rim. There, he has a host of moves that allow him to create his own shot, and when he draws multiple defenders, he has the vision and passing ability to find the open big man for an easy bucket. This is what allowed Alexander to be an efficient offensive player in his time at Kentucky. He maintained a true shooting percentage of 58 percent with an offensive rating of 117 points per 100 possessions. He also averaged 5.1 assists per game, which isn’t an eye-popping stat, but is a good foundation for him to grow.

One potential cause for concern with Alexander is his weight. At 180 pounds, Alexander may find himself getting bullied by bigger NBA guards as he begins his professional career. It’s easy to say he can just gain the weight to ensure this doesn’t happen, but it’s a harder concept to put in to practice.

Even if Alexander doesn’t bulk up significantly, he is 6 feet 6 inches, with lanky arms and fast feet. These attributes helped him on defense in college, where he had a defensive rating of 100.8 points per 100 possessions.

Now comes the difficult task of figuring out who Los Angeles should take with their second first round pick. Williams is consistently projected to be taken higher than Robinson, and there is merit to that argument. First and foremost, Williams has two years of college basketball at Texas A&M under his belt, whereas Robinson committed to Western Kentucky before un-enrolling and taking the 2017 NCAA season off to prepare for the draft.

Williams was a defensive force for the Aggies, posting a team-best defensive rating of 91.9 points per 100 possessions. He used the entirety of his hulking frame to ensure opposing teams rarely had an easy path to points in the paint, and averaged 2.63 blocks per game in doing so.

Offensively, Williams was the most efficient member of the Texas A&M squad. He had a team-high true shooting percentage, at 61 percent, and had the fourth best offensive rating, at 114.1 points per 100 possessions. He was able to post such lofty numbers because all of his points came at the rim. There weren’t too many players that he was unable to post-up and out muscle. His skill-set is eerily similar to Jordan’s, making the All-Star center’s departure slightly more bearable. The two share the same weakness as well. Williams’ offensive game is limited to the paint, allowing defenders to focus their attentions there. Today’s NBA seems to be shying away from the traditional center, in lieu of a big man who can stretch the floor by shooting jump shots. This is what makes Robinson such an appealing prospect.

Robinson takes the edge in height, standing at seven feet compared to Williams’ 6-foot-10 inches, but Williams outweighs Robinson 240 pounds to 223 pounds. It’s the difference in weight that truly dictates the differing styles between the two. Unlike Williams’ brand of physical play, Robinson uses his exceptional athleticism to excel.

He moves his feet very quickly on defense, so even if a player initially gets by him en route to the rim, Robinson can easily recover and disrupt the play. He is also lankier than Williams, and can use his long arms to swat away shot attempts. Like Williams, Robinson looks to score in the paint first. His speed gives him the potential to succeed in pick and roll plays, as he can set a screen to free the point guard, and quickly get to the basket, where his height will make it hard for a defender to stop him from scoring.

The fact that Robinson has a jump shot in his arsenal, makes him different than any center the Clippers have had in a long time, and adds a new wrinkle to their offense. Although Robinson hasn’t demonstrated the ability to shoot NBA-range 3-pointers yet, just having him able to take and make shots outside of the paint spaces the floor, and forces defenders to have to guard Robinson anywhere, instead of focusing all of their efforts inside.

All of Robinson’s strengths are well and good, but it is hard to have complete faith in him, as he has yet to demonstrate his ability against college, let alone NBA caliber players. The Clippers would need to know they are taking on a project by picking Robinson, a risk they may be willing to take, as they are not looking to compete for the championship in 2018.

With a president like West, it is impossible to tell what will happen with these draft picks. He may very well be able to pull off an amazing trade and snag Kawhi Leonard from the Spurs, but more likely than not, the two picks will become two players that set Los Angeles up for success in the long-term.

The Warriors rule the Western Conference for now, due in large part to West’s ability to build a team. If he can work his magic again, the Clippers could be on their way to dominating the conference as Golden State begins to decline. The players taken in the 2018 NBA Draft aim to be a big part of this plan.

Male Athlete of the Week – Ryan Camacho

| Sports | May 10, 2018

A junior and an outfielder on West Ranch High School’s baseball team, Ryan Camacho led off the Wildcats’ 10-1 win against Valencia with a home run last week. He then hit a single to bring in his second run of the game, making the score 4-0. With the series win over the Vikings, West Ranch secured a playoff berth. They finish the regular season against Golden Valley this week.

“Ryan has been one of our best hitters this year, leading West Ranch with 30 hits in 26 games,” said Casey Burrill, WRHS baseball coach. “He has scored 23 times and driven in 17 runs. He is a high energy player who has all the tools of a college player and beyond.”

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Female Athlete of the Week – Abbey Bryant

| Sports | May 10, 2018

A top hurdler for Saugus High School’s track and field team, Abbey Bryant broke the Foothill League record for the 110 hurdle run with a time of 14.55 seconds. The previous record of 14.61 seconds was set by Katie Kirst in 2004. Abbey also took first place in the 300 hurdles with a time of 44.96 seconds. She qualified for the CIF Southern-Section prelims in both events.

Abbey also holds the record at Saugus High School, and she broke Wendy Bradshaw’s 1983 record, whose previous time was 15.15, converted from 14.88 (they ran low hurdles in the past).

“She is an amazing athlete who trains hard and is an even better person,” said Kevin Berns, Saugus High School’s track team coach. “Abbey has persevered, overcoming injuries throughout her high school career, which makes her accomplishments even more special.”

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Bike to Work Day

| Community, Sports | May 10, 2018

Every year, Santa Clarita employers engage in friendly competition to see who can get the most employees to bike to work. This year’s Bike to Work Day is Thursday, May 17, 2018, during Bike Week Santa Clarita, which will include several bike-related events. Businesses with the highest participation rate in each category – small, medium and large – will win a gift certificate to the restaurant of their choice and a free smoothie from Juice It Up – Santa Clarita for all the business team members who ride.

There are three categories of competition:

-Small Business (2-25 employees) Prize – $75 Gift Certificate to restaurant of choice & free Juice It Up smoothie
-Medium Business (26-100 employees) Prize – $150 Gift Certificate to restaurant of choice & free Juice It Up smoothie
-Large Business (over 100 employees) Prize- $250 Gift Certificate to restaurant of choice & free Juice It Up smoothie

Team Information
Businesses should designate a “lead rider” who will be responsible for registering their business, encouraging co-workers to ride, and act as the point of contact. Each lead rider is required to submit a list of cyclists who are riding by May 17, 2018 to Laura Jardine at ljardine@santa-clarita.com or by pledging each rider online. These names will be entered into the city’s raffle for prizes. The prizes include KHS bicycles, gift certificates, quality cycling gear, movie tickets, and more.

Santa Clarita Transit and Metrolink are offering free rides for anyone on local routes who have bikes and/or helmets.

Five bicycle pit stops, hosted by the City of Santa Clarita and local bike shops, will be stationed throughout the city with snacks, giveaways and raffles to help riders fuel up on their car-free commute. The city has teamed up with Bicycle Johns, Valley Bicycles, and Performance Cyclery to host the following pit stops, which will be open from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. on May 17, 2018:

-City Hall – 23920 Valencia Boulevard
Hosted by the City of Santa Clarita
-Bouquet Junction (Valencia Blvd. & Bouquet Cyn Rd.) – Behind Chi Chi’s
Hosted by Performance Cyclery
-Trail access at Camp Plenty & Soledad Canyon
Hosted by Bicycle Johns
-Trail access at Newhall Avenue & 16th Street
Hosted by the Valley Bicycles
-City Public Works Yard – 25663 Avenue Stanford Hosted by City of Santa Clarita
-Princess Cruises
Visit them at 24303 Town Center Drive – behind Soup Plantation in courtyard
-The Paseo Club
Visit them at 27650 Dickason Drive

Online Resources:
The Santa Clarita Valley Bicycle Coalition Official Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/SCVBicycleCoalition/
www.metro.net/bikes
Los Angeles County Metro information http://bikesantaclarita.com/
Plan your route on City of Santa Clarita’s trails and find out about other bike events
Get bicycling directions on Google Maps www.la-bike.org Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition
www.performancecyclery.com or Bicycle John’s – Local bike shops that service & repair all types of bicycles
www.khsbicycles.com KHS manufactures road, track, mountain, tandem, folding, cruiser, and youth bicycles.
GreenSantaClarita.com
City’s environmental resource
Call the city at (661) 286-4098 with additional questions. To register your business or organization for Bike to Work Day, register online or contact Laura Jardine at 661-255-4376 or ljardine@santa-clarita.com.

Bicyclists ‘Hit the Trail’ Saturday

| Community, Sports | May 10, 2018

Residents can take advantage of Santa Clarita’s prevalent pedestrian and cycling trails Saturday during the annual “Hit the Trail Community Bike Ride.” There will be a guided, non-competitive bicycle ride and a family fun fair with activities and giveaways. Jersey Mike’s and the City of Santa Clarita will offer free sandwiches to those who ride, while supplies last.

Riders have a choice of a full 9-mile route or a 4-mile route for those with younger children. Both rides begin and end at Valencia Heritage Park, 24155 Newhall Ranch Road in Santa Clarita.

The Hit the Trail Community Bike Ride will be held on Saturday, May 12 at 10 a.m., timed to coincide with Bike Safety Month. You can get more information at BikeSantaClarita.com or contact Pat Downing by calling 661-250-3783 or emailing PDowning@santa-clarita.com.

Athletes of the Week

| Sports | May 5, 2018

Blake Doremus

College of the Canyons sophomore first baseman Blake Doremus finished last week’s three-game series sweep vs. Victor Valley College an impressive 8-for-14 with three home runs, five runs and 15 RBIs to lead the Cougars. COC (27-12, 16-4) finished the regular season in second place in the Western State Conference (WSC), East Division, a game behind conference champ Glendale College. The No. 10 seed Cougars will next travel to take on No. 7 Palomar College in the opening round of the California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA) Southern California Regional Playoffs May 4-5 in San Marcos. The three-game series will begin at 2 p.m. on Friday. Photo by Jesse Muñoz/COC Sports Information Director

 

Mariah Castillo

A senior at Saugus High School and member of the track and field team, Mariah Castillo set the new top time in the nation in the one-mile race on Saturday, April 21 at the Mt. SAC relays, logging a time of four minutes and 45.24 seconds. Mariah’s finish affords her the opportunity to run in the Brooks PR Invitational in Seattle, Wash. this summer.

According to SHS track and field coach Kevin Berns, Mariah ranks number one in the nation in the 1600, number four in the 3200, and number nine in the 800.

“Nationally, she ranks number one when you combine the 16 and 32,” Berns said. “In California she ranks, one, two and three, respectively, in those events. On Friday night in league prelims she set the Foothill League record and COC High School stadium record in the 800, with a time of 2:12.05. Mariah is the fastest female in Santa Clarita history in the true mile at 4:45.24 and the 3200 at 10:09.12, breaking Shannon Marakami’s and Lauren Fleshman’s record.”

Los Angeles Chargers Select the Steal of the Draft in Derwin James

| Sports | May 4, 2018

The 2017 NFL season was a weird one for the newly minted Los Angeles Chargers. It began with the unpopular move to the city that had just acquired the Rams a year ago. Then, the Chargers opened the season losing four straight games, three of which were by a score of three or less, before winning nine of their last 12 matches.

Despite having one of the best passing offenses in the league last year, led by Philip Rivers’ second-best 4,515 total passing yards, along with a top-tier passing defense, Los Angeles finished the season with a 9-7 record and barely missed the playoffs. As a result, they were rewarded the 17th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.

Such a spot can potentially be a problem, as the player available may not be one that can have an immediate impact, thus leaving the team in a relatively similar position to before they made the pick. However, the Chargers found some draft night magic, and were able to snag Florida State safety Derwin James, a defender slotted to be unavailable by the time Los Angeles made their pick.

The fact that James was still on the board at number 17 took everyone by surprise. His ultra-athletic abilities and strength not often seen in his position made him a coveted prospect. At the combine, he was tagged as a top performer in bench press, knocking out 21 reps, in the vertical jump, showing off his 40 inch vertical, and in the broad jump, leaping 132 inches. His showing at the combine was so strong that NFL.com gave him a prospect grade of 6.44, deeming him an instant starter.

Anyone watching Florida State football could have told you James had all the makings of an excellent NFL defender. He came in second on the team in total tackles, with 84, and his 5.5 tackles for a loss were the most of any defensive back. He also led all players in passes defended, with 11, and was tied for most interceptions, with two, one of which he returned for a touchdown.

What makes James so dangerous is his field vision. This is how he is able to snuff out if a play is pass or run, follow the action as it unfolds, and make a play on the ball, whether that be break up or intercept a pass, or take down the ball carrier. With James’ strength, it isn’t very often that an offensive player breaks free from one of his tackles.

On almost any other NFL team, James would be an unquestioned starter, and the de facto enforcer of the defense. However, as previously mentioned, the Chargers have an excellent pass defense, which is by no accident. Casey Hayward has been a revelation at cornerback since coming from Green Bay, and Jahleel Addae and Tre Boston are a fearsome duo at the safety position.

In fact, Addae and Boston were the team’s leaders in total tackles, Addae leading the way, with 96, and Boston right behind, with 79. Boston also led Los Angeles in interceptions, with five. These numbers aren’t just fluff either; the Chargers were third in the NFL in total passing yards allowed and passing yards per game, with 3,156 and 197, respectively. The 63 percent completion percentage they gave the opposing quarterback was middle of the pack, but the team’s 6.5 yards-per-reception was tied for third least overall.

This gives the Chargers an interesting, but overall, good dilemma. Depending on offseason performance, it is possible James takes one of the two starting safety spots, but it would come as no surprise if Addae and Boston were back on the field for the first defensive series. That’s no reason to assume James won’t see extended playing time, as he has incredible versatility, and can line up at multiple positions.

In specific situations, James will be slotted as either a cornerback or linebacker. As a corner, James’ 6-foot, 2-inch frame allows him to match up well with almost any receiver. Although speed isn’t one of James’ strongest attributes, he has the strength to disrupt a receiver’s route at the start of the play, and the athleticism to make a play on the ball in tight coverage.

The role of linebacker will put James closer to the initial offensive action. If a blitz is called, he will be a nightmare to block, and could easily find himself in the backfield to disrupt a play at its inception. If asked to drop into coverage, James has more than enough experience to do that as well. Although tight ends will most likely have a few inches on him, James’ athleticism and ball tracking capabilities should even out his height disadvantage.

After the turmoil that marred the beginning of last season, the tide seems to be turning in the Chargers’ favor. If the team remains healthy, they will have a host of weapons. On offense, Rivers, running back Melvin Gordon, and wide receiver Keenan Allen are an unstoppable trio. On defense, the sack machines of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, along with the aforementioned strong secondary, give Los Angeles an almost unmovable wall.

That doesn’t even factor in the impact that James will have for the team. If he isn’t a week one starter, he will eventually find his way into the starting lineup, and has the potential to be the leader of the defense. It is rare that a player like James tumbles to the middle of the first round of the NFL draft, and Los Angeles was wise to ensure he fell no further.

Now the Chargers have all of the makings of a championship team, one that will not be underestimated in 2018. Not only are they set for the short term, but young defenders like Bosa and James also ensure the team will have a potent defense for years to come.

Female Athlete of the Week

| Sports | April 26, 2018

College of the Canyons sophomore shortstop Danielle Chatman went 2-for-4 with a home run and four RBIs in the Cougars’ 13-4 win over Antelope Valley College last week. With the victory, Canyons clinched the Western State Conference, East Division Championship. For the season, Chatman has 10 home runs and 47 RBIs to lead the team in both categories. She also ranks second on the team with a .420 batting average.

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Paseo Aquatics Shines at Far Western Short Course Championships

| Sports | April 26, 2018

Teia Salvino Earns Fastest Time in 100 IM in SCV History

While the swimmers from the Paseo Aquatics Club may have been considered underdogs among their competitors in the recent Speedo Short Course Far Western Championships, they rose to the occasion once again. The team came away with a 15th place finish against 75 other teams, many of which were double and triple in size, at the event, hosted by Santa Clara Swim Club.

Like they did in the Southern California Junior Olympics meet a few weeks ago, Paseo again went up against larger, long-established clubs from Southern and Northern California, and even Canada and Mexico.

“It was kind of like, ‘Ok, let’s see what we can do,’ ” said Paseo Aquatics Head Coach Chris Dahowski. “What makes this truly amazing is we did it with only 14 athletes able to score points. Paseo qualified 24 athletes in total, but due to CIF high school swimming rules, 10 athletes were unable to participate as point scorers for the team.”

Over the duration of the four-day meet, Paseo Aquatics repeatedly brought back swimmers in multiple events to swim in finals. And they all produced outstanding swims lowering personal best times and shattering team records.

Teia Salvino with Coach Daiki

Teia Salvino won first place in the 11-12 Girls’ 50 freestyle with a time of 24.26, earning her first Futures cut. Paseo has won back-to-back years in the 11-12 Girls’ 50 free at Far Westerns, as last year was won by Riley Botton.

Despite coming in second in the 11-12 Girls’ 100 Individual Medley, Salvino’s time of 59.55 is the fastest time recorded in the history of swimming in Santa Clarita Valley, as she surpassed a time that has stood since 1994 by Jennifer Parmenter.

The 11-12 Boys’ 200 free relay finished second place at Far Westerns with a time of 1:40.06. The team consisted of Daniel Jo (lead off), Adam Meldrum, Nolan Hill, and Luke Bezanilla (anchor).

Jo finished fourth in the 11-12 Boys’ 100 freestyle with a time of 51.73, and Botton finished 5th in 13-14 Girls’ 50 free with a time of 23.87.

Check out www.paseoaquatics.org or call (661) 388-5301 to find out more information about the Santa Clarita club team.

California Kid Jrue Holiday Makes Waves in the NBA with the New Orleans Pelicans

| Sports | April 26, 2018

Jrue Holiday’s ties to Los Angeles are as deep as they come. He was born in Chatsworth, and led Campbell High School to the 2008 California Division IV state championship. He then attended UCLA, helping the Bruins reach the second round of the 2009 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

With such a strong Southern California connection, it comes as some surprise that his best body of basketball work is taking place in New Orleans. This is very much the case, however, as Holiday has helped make a name for himself in this year’s NBA playoffs. The sixth-seeded Pelicans weren’t given much of a chance to take down the third-seeded Portland Trailblazers in round one. Despite the naysaying, New Orleans came out of the first round as the only team to win every game against their opponent.

Holiday’s impact on this series can’t be ignored, specifically in games two and four. In the first of these two games, Holiday led all players in scoring and assists, with 33 points and nine assists. For all of the strong offensive numbers Holiday put up, it was his defensive effort, especially against Portland’s All-Star guard Damian Lillard, that allowed New Orleans to walk away with a 111-102 victory. Lillard scored just 17 points on 7-18 shooting, while turning the ball over seven times.

In game four, the final bout of this series, the joint offensive explosion from Holiday and Anthony Davis was too much for the Trailblazers to overcome. The duo combined for 88 points, 41 of which came from Holiday. Again, Lillard was rendered harmless, as he was only able to score 19 points on 7-16 shooting. If it wasn’t for CJ McCollum’s 38 points for Portland, the 131-123 Pelicans win would have been much more lopsided.

As his stats for the series will show, Holiday had an impact that went far beyond high scoring and assist totals. This is not to say that his points and passes were trivial, as the Pelicans probably don’t sweep Portland if Holiday doesn’t score 28 points per game and dish out 6.5 assists. However, these numbers don’t encapsulate everything Holiday did in his time on the court.

It should first be mentioned that Holiday had the second highest usage percentage of the team, at 30.2 percent. According to realgm.com, usage percentage is “a measurement of the percentage of plays utilized by a player while he is in the game.” This means that Holiday was directly involved in 30 percent of all plays that occurred while he was playing.

With that in mind, it makes the fact that Holiday was able to maintain a true shooting percentage of 63 percent even more impressive. Factor in the fact that he also accounted for 29 percent of all assists that occurred while he was on the court, and it’s easy to come to the conclusion that Holiday was asked to do it all on offense. He more than answered the call, shown by his offensive rating of 118 points per 100 possessions.

It would be easy to excuse a poor defensive effort with so much offensive responsibility. Holiday need not make such excuses, as he was one of the team’s better defenders, as well. His defensive rating of 110.6 points per 100 possessions does leave a little to be desired, but his ability to lockdown Lillard all series should more than make up for any slight defensive indiscretions.

Lillard, who led Portland in scoring all season, with 26.9 points per game, averaged just 18.5 points in their first round series. Even reaching this total turned out to be a chore for Lillard, as he registered a true shooting percentage of 47 percent while having the second highest usage percentage of the team at 24.9 percent. He also was far and away the Trailblazers’ leader in turnovers, totaling 16 throughout the team’s four games.

Giving Holiday all of the credit in stopping Lillard wouldn’t do justice to the defensive performance of the other Pelicans players. Rajon Rondo, the other starting guard, had the fifth highest defensive rating of the team at 108.2 points per 100 possessions.

Davis and Nikola Mirotic can be thanked for closing off the paint, as the pair had defensive ratings of 100.9 and 100.7 points per 100 possessions, respectively. Both were also the team leaders in block percentage, with Mirotic accounting for 5.5 percent of all blocks that occurred with him in play, and Davis blocking 5.8 percent of all shots with him on the court.

New Orleans’ sweep of Portland was a team effort through and through, but Holiday will receive the most recognition from it, as no one expected him to dominate every facet of the game as he did. Before the season began, he was much maligned after receiving a five year, $131 million contract. Most fans didn’t believe Holiday was worth that much of the team’s money, and that any other guard could produce the same results for a cheaper price tag.

Holidays’ first round performance should serve as some vindication for the bonus he received, but the NBA is very much a “what have you done for me lately,” kind of league. If Holiday struggles throughout the rest of the Pelicans’ playoff appearance, his incredible play against Portland may be forgotten.

The road to being crowned NBA champions is a long one. New Orleans will need to take down the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, and whoever survives the free-for-all that is the Eastern Conference playoffs, in order to take home the trophy.

Realistically, this isn’t the Pelicans’ year, but with Holiday, Davis, and Rondo in the fold, as well as Demarcus Cousins returning next season from an ACL tear, the team is set up for future championship runs. Holiday will be an integral part of this team’s success if he continues to play the way he did against the Trailblazers.

Male Athlete of the Week – Ethan Danforth

| Sports | April 19, 2018

A junior at Canyon High School, Ethan Danforth is a runner on the Cowboys track and field team. He took first place in the 1600-meter race with a time of 4 minutes and 29 seconds, and took first in the 3200-meter race with a time of 10:45. His efforts were pivotal in Canyon’s 71-65 win over Golden Valley last week. The win ensured the Cowboys would have at least a share of their ninth straight Foothill League title.

According to CHS Track & Field Coach Paul Broneer, Ethan is the CIF Div 2 Cross Country champion. His best time in the 3200-meter race is 9:10.80. He is competing in the 4×1600 relay Friday and the Distance Medley Relay Saturday at the Mt. SAC Invitational to be held at El Camino College.

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UCLA Men’s Basketball Brings in Big Potential with 2018 Freshman Class

| Sports | April 19, 2018

The NCAA Men’s Basketball season came to a close recently, so all sights are set on the 2018-2019 season. The nation’s best high school recruits have all chosen the schools they’ll be suiting up for, and the anticipation is mounting to see which of these prospects help their respective programs make it to the pinnacle of college basketball, cutting down the nets as national champions.

In the mix is UCLA, after having yet another successful offseason. When all is said and done, the Bruins are projected to have a top-five recruiting class, strengthened by the additions of Moses Brown and Tyger Campbell, who both signed their National Letters of Intent on April 11. Although both will be true freshmen at the start of the new season, they have the potential to fill the voids left from losing Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday.

Campbell is a pass-first point guard who should be looked to as the engine of the offense any time he is on the court. He is a bit undersized, at 6-foot and 170 pounds, but his stature has not limited the impact he makes.

When going one-on-one with a defender, Campbell has the ball-handling skills to get separation and create his own shot. These same abilities are what allow him to penetrate the paint and score at the rim against much taller defenders. Even if he doesn’t score, Campbell can draw fouls and get his points at the free-throw line.

A pass-first point guard has to have incredibly good court vision, a trait that Campbell doesn’t lack in the slightest. This comes in handy when multiple defenders are required to stop Campbell from scoring at the rim, leaving another offensive player wide open. Campbell has the vision to find his open teammate, often leading to easy points. The one flaw with great court vision is that a passer may believe he can pass the ball to a tightly defended player, which can lead to turnovers.

Jaylen Hands is the projected starter at point guard, following a freshman season that saw him score just shy of 10 points per game, and register four rebounds and three assists per game as well. A bench role will give Campbell time to adapt to the speed of the collegiate game and the strength of the players in it. He will also be matched up against second string point guards, giving Campbell an opportunity to display his many talents.

Brown gives the Bruins something they were lacking last season, a true center. This isn’t to say Welsh wasn’t a fantastic center in his time at Westwood, but Brown plays the position in a completely different way. Welsh is a stretch center who can collect double-digit rebounds and hit shots from any spot on the court. Brown is a more prototypical big man, who can protect the rim, and score with his back to the basket.

At 7-foot 1-inch and 241 pounds, Brown is a long-limbed center that any opposing offensive player will find difficult to score on. Brown’s presence in the paint should lead to teams trying to score on UCLA with jump shots. How the Bruins’ defense responds will be a story to follow when the season tips off, but forcing an opposing team into trying to win from the outside is a solid defensive strategy.

More jump shots will also lead to more rebounds, which Brown has no trouble collecting. In the 2018 McDonald’s All American Game, Brown was tied for sixth most rebounds, with five, in just 13 total minutes – the least amount of playing time for any player. With more floor time, it’s not hard to fathom Brown averaging nearly 10 rebounds per game.
The 2018 McDonald’s All American Game gave a glimpse of another one of Brown’s strengths – efficient scoring. He scored 11 points on 63 percent shooting from the field. Brown is able to score so easily because all of his offense takes place at the rim. He can post up any defender willing to go toe-to-toe with him, and has the footwork to make said defender pay. Brown is also strong enough to finish through contact, however his free-throw shooting needs improvement before it can be seen as a legitimate threat.

If Brown isn’t the player taking the shot on offense, he has a knack for corralling offensive rebounds and turning them into second chance points. This makes him a double-double threat on any given night.

The Bruins will be returning Hands, Kris Wilkes and Prince Ali, and will be looking to atone for a 2017-2018 season that ended in a 65-58 loss to St. Bonaventure in the First Four of the NCAA Men’s Division 1 Basketball Tournament. The additions of Brown and Campbell, as well as three other four-star recruits in Shareef O’Neal, Jules Bernard, and David Singleton III, helps fill out UCLA’s roster with young, athletic talent.

Yet again, the Bruins have a roster ripe with potential, and it is now up to Steve Alford to mold this talent into a top-ranked team. There is no reason this rendition of UCLA’s men’s basketball should be barely squeaking into March Madness. If all goes the way it should, the 2018 Bruins can rival the success of 2016, where Lonzo Ball and T.J. Leaf led the team to the Sweet 16. Only time will tell if this will be the case, but bringing Brown and Campbell into the fold are steps in the right direction.

Female Athlete of the Week – Allison Cho

| Sports | April 19, 2018

This Valencia High School swimmer took individual first places in the 200-yard freestyle with a time of 2:06.84, and the 500-yard freestyle with a time of 5:39.85. She was also a member of the 200-yard medley relay, and the 400-yard freestyle relay teams that took first place in their respective races. Allison Cho’s contributions helped the Vikings defeat Canyon 139-25.

“Allison is a true leader and a talented athlete,” said Kathy Rosenast, coach of the Valencia High School swim team. “She is always willing to swim whatever is needed to help the team and she is definitely capable of swimming any event. She has been a real team player the last three years and definitely a great student athlete.”

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Male Athlete of the Week – Jacob Lopez

| Sports | April 12, 2018

College of the Canyons sophomore pitcher Jacob Lopez scattered six hits with no walks and struck out 12 batters over seven innings of work during the Cougars’ 7-0 win over Antelope Valley College last week. Lopez is now 6-2 on the season and leads the state with 91 strikeouts on the season. The Saugus High School product has recorded double-digit strikeout totals in three straight, and five of the last six, games to go, with a conference-leading 1.97 ERA.
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Dodgers Bring Doubt to 2018 World Series Bid with Early Season Struggles

| Sports | April 12, 2018

November was bittersweet for Dodgers fans. On the bright side, it marked the first time since 1988 that the boys in blue returned to the World Series stage. Conversely, it also saw the team force a pivotal game seven, where the Houston Astros won with ease, taking home the championship with a 5-1 victory.

Although 2017 didn’t end the way Los Angeles would have liked it to, it did offer the hope that the Dodgers had a strong enough roster to contend for a World Series win, and that they could make it back for a chance to be crowned world champions.

The start of the 2018 season, however, has done very little to bolster that hope, as the Dodgers find themselves with a 3-6 record at the conclusion of their first three series. So far, they have faced the San Francisco Giants twice, with a series against the Arizona Diamondbacks in between.

Arizona was expected to be one of the stronger teams this year, after finishing last season at 93-69. The Giants, on the other hand, finished last season at 64-98, and are a team Los Angeles should be collecting wins from if they plan on contending again.

When a team with high expectations has a slow start to the year, the pitching situation must be examined. The Dodgers lost Yu Darvish, a late season addition in 2017, to the Chicago Cubs, and Clayton Kershaw is now 30 years old. These two elements have the potential to lead to some pitching woes. However, that is not the case in the slightest.

As a team, Los Angeles is sixth in the MLB in ERA, with 2.72, with Kershaw’s efforts being a main contribution to that overall number. The ace has the lowest ERA of all starters at 1.89, and is the team leader in strikeouts, with 19. These solid stats are made more confusing by the fact that Kershaw is 0-2 in his first three starts.

Alex Wood, who falls second in LA’s starting rotation, has a similar stat line. He has the second lowest ERA of all starters at 1.93, and is tied for the lowest amount of hits allowed on the team, with seven. These efficient numbers should be good enough for at least one win, but Wood sits with an 0-1 record after two starts.

Pitching doesn’t appear to be the problem, so maybe the Dodgers struggle defensively. Again, this is not their issue. Although their fielding numbers aren’t spectacular, L.A. has committed just five errors, registered 268 putouts, and has a fielding percentage of .987, all of which are right at the league average. The Dodgers are also one of the best teams in the MLB in runs allowed, their 25 being fifth least allowed overall.

By process of elimination, it can be concluded that Los Angeles’ offense is their biggest weakness, and the numbers appear to back that theory up. In 328 at bats, the team has recorded just 70 hits, good for 20th in the league. They have a collective batting average of just .213, and have the fourth least number of runs scored, with 29. These numbers help explain why Kershaw and Woods have yet to earn a win.

In their first two games of the season, the Dodgers lost to San Francisco 1-0 both times. On opening day, Kershaw did allow a home run in the fifth inning; however, L.A. had only five total hits, two coming from Kershaw himself. Woods’ start the following day saw him allow just one hit in eight innings before closer Kenley Jensen allowed a run in the ninth. The Dodgers were only able to muster one hit the whole game.

One factor that can be attributed to the team’s low batting average is the loss of third baseman Justin Turner, who led the Dodgers last season with a .322 batting average. Turner was lost for an indefinite amount of time after breaking his wrist in a preseason game on March 19. Logan Forsythe, who is starting at third base in Turner’s place, has a batting average of just .158, and has brought in just two runners.

Turner’s output is clearly missed, but not the only reason for L.A.’s offensive struggles. Cody Bellinger led the team last year in RBIs and home runs with 70 and 39, respectively, but only has three RBIs and one home run in nine games. In fact, no Los Angeles hitter has more than one home run, and the team has only four collectively. This comes as no surprise, as the batters have been unable to put any power behind their hits. The Dodgers have a .293 slugging percentage, which is third worst in the MLB.

To be fair, Los Angeles has gone against two of the better defensive squads to start the season. In terms of fielding percentage, Arizona and San Francisco are both top 10 in the league. The Diamondbacks come in fourth, with a .995 percentage, while the Giants are ninth with a .989 percentage.

Both teams are also top 10 in overall pitching performances. Arizona has a collective ERA of 2.56, while San Francisco has a 2.86 ERA. Both are tied in runs allowed, having given up just 28 runs at the conclusion of their first three series.

The season is still very young, meaning the Dodgers aren’t fated to have a weak offense for the remainder of the year, but it is troubling how consistently they have struggled at the plate. The city of Los Angeles is waiting with bated breath for its team to have a breakout game at bat. When that happens, it would be wise to wait until a big offense becomes a part of this team’s culture before celebrating.

The Dodgers were able to push the Houston Astros to the brink last season with a very similar roster, so there’s no reason to believe they can’t make it to the World Series again. If they can get their offense to finally click, they’ll greatly resemble the team that made it to baseball’s ultimate stage just a year ago. There’s still so much baseball left to be played, and one can only hope the Dodgers figure it out in time.

Female Athlete of the Week – Heidi Ludy

| Sports | April 12, 2018

College of the Canyons sophomore Heidi Ludy put together an impressive five-game stretch for the Cougars, finishing the week a combined 8-for-17 with four runs and seven RBIs. Ludy did the bulk of her damage during Saturday’s non-conference doubleheader vs. Santa Barbara City College, combining to go 4-for-7 with two walks, three runs, six RBIs and five stolen bases to help lead the Cougars to a pair of important wins. Ludy currently leads the club with a .431 batting average and ranks third, with 23 RBIs. Canyons is 19-11 on the year with a perfect 10-0 mark vs. conference opponents.

 

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Athlete of the Week: Griffin Peters

| Sports | April 6, 2018

A senior at West Ranch High School, Griffin Peters registered 17 kills in the Wildcats’ 3-0 win over Valencia. West Ranch won in three straight sets, 25-22, 25-15, and 25-16, with Peters scoring the final point to win the second set. The Wildcats sit atop the Foothill League standings with a 3-0 record, while Valencia is in second at 2-1.

“Griffin moved from outside hitter to opposite this season,” said Brandon Johnson, coach of the West Ranch High School boys’ volleyball team. “He currently leads the team in kills, with 127 on the year. Against Valencia he had a .429 hitting percentage. Griffin, a co-captain, is one of the emotional leaders of the team. He is a selfless player who has taken the position move in stride and has thrived.”

Shohei Ohtani Makes MLB Debut as Angels Win Series against A’s 3-1

| Sports | April 6, 2018

From the moment Shohei Ohtani signed with the Los Angeles Angels back in December, speculation ran wild in regards to how the team would use Ohtani’s abilities as both a hitter and pitcher. This is the hype that comes when one is deemed the “Japanese Babe Ruth.”

The regular season got into full swing on March 29, meaning the time had come for one of the most highly touted international prospects of all time to make his MLB debut. In his first series against the Oakland Athletics, Ohtani showed glimpses of why he was so heavily recruited, as well as some expected struggles as he gets acquainted with a new league.

In the first game of the season, Ohtani was inserted into the starting lineup as the designated hitter, a spot usually reserved for Albert Pujols. Ohtani’s performance at the plate was underwhelming, as he went 1-5 for a .200 batting average. These numbers don’t exactly jump off the stat sheet, but Ohtani’s batting has never been as strong as his pitching.

In his Japanese Pacific League career, Ohtani obtained his career highs in home runs and RBIs in 2016, with 22 and 67, respectively. During that same year, he earned an ERA of just 1.86, culminating in him being named the league’s MVP. While his 2016 ERA would be amongst the MLB’s best, his hitting numbers pale in comparison to the league’s top-tier hitters.

Speaking of pitching, Angels’ fans had their first glimpse of Ohtani on the mound in the team’s 7-4 win against the A’s on March 31. Aside from allowing three earned runs in the second inning, leading to a 4.50 ERA, Ohtani pitched well enough to notch six strikeouts, and collect his first MLB win.

The most impressive element to the strikeouts Ohtani recorded was that a majority of them came on hitters swinging and missing. This is due to the fact that Ohtani has a dangerous splitter ball in his arsenal, a pitch he used to retire four batters.

Ohtani was helpful to the Angels as they won their first series with Oakland three games to one, but Los Angeles started the season strong due to their ability to mesh as a team, and from key contributions from another newcomer in second-baseman Zack Cozart.

If Cozart continues to play the way he did against the A’s, he can easily be seen as the steal of the offseason. In 2017, he made his first All-Star appearance as a member of the Cincinnati Reds, before signing a three-year, $38 million deal with the Angels in December. For just over $12 million a year, Los Angeles received a player that is already making waves for them on offense and defense.

After the A’s series, Cozart is second on the team in batting average, with .368, RBIs with three, and slugging percentage with .737. Cozart also hit a home run in his first game with Los Angeles, although the team went on to lose 6-5 in 11 innings. Defensively, Cozart has been nothing short of perfection. He has a perfect fielding percentage, with seven putouts and 13 assists on 20 total chances. He is also tied for first on the team in double plays turned with three.

Short stop Andrelton Simmons quietly played a pivotal role in the Oakland series, leading the team with a .438 batting average, and tying Mike Trout for team-high in RBIs, with four. He, too, had a perfect fielding percentage in the series, with three putouts and 11 assists, and is who Cozart is tied with for most double plays turned.

In regards to fielding percentages, it’d be easier to list all of the Angels players who didn’t have a perfect percentage – none. After four games with the A’s, Los Angeles is one of just six teams to still maintain a perfect fielding percentage. The team had 112 putouts and 37 assists on 149 total chances. This stout defense is one reason why the Angels cultivated a +8 differential in runs scored to runs allowed against Oakland, but another factor is at play as well.

Los Angeles had one of the best overall pitching performances in their opening series in all of the MLB. They are top-10 in the league in both strikeouts and ERA, coming in sixth in the former, with 36, and ninth in the latter, with 3.38. An area in which they can improve is the batting average they allow opponents. In this category the Angels come in 15th place, allowing the opposition a .229 batting average.

Their strongest individual pitching outing came from Tyler Skaggs, who manned the mound in Los Angeles’ 2-1 win over Oakland on March 30. Skaggs squared off with 23 batters, allowing just three hits, recording five strikeouts, and allowing no earned runs in the 6.1 innings he pitched. After the dust from the A’s series settled, Skaggs was the only starter to still have a 0.00 ERA.

Many caveats come with trying to make inferences based on the first series of an MLB season, the biggest one being that there are 162 games and teams are just beginning to find themselves. So, if you’re thinking about fretting over Ohtani’s somewhat shaky start, don’t. Los Angeles will figure out how to weave him into the batting lineup as the season progresses, and Ohtani has already picked up his first win as a pitcher, alleviating any pressure that might come in trying to obtain a victory.

As a whole, the Angels were one of the better defensive teams last year, even though they ended 2017 at 80-82. It appears as though they have brought the same approach to fielding as they did a year ago, but again, it’s way too early to tell. One can only wait and watch to see if all of the positive traits that allowed the Angels success in their first series, become a part of the team’s identity in 2018.

Male Athlete of the Week – Jordan Starr

| Sports | March 29, 2018

Completing his final season on the Santa Clarita Christian boys’ basketball team with a championship win, Jordan Starr scored 21 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and dished out seven assists in the Cardinals’ 78-66 over Argonaut High School. SCCS won the CIF
Division 5 State Championship, which was a first for the school.

“Jordan has been our leader all year long and he did a great job of getting us off to a good start and settling our team down,” said SCCS boys’ basketball coach James Mosley. “He tied a record for most assists in a Division 5 CIF State Finals game. Jordan did a remarkable job of scoring the ball in the post and setting up teammates once the defense adjusted.”

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Female Athlete of the Week – Viviana Raker

| Sports | March 29, 2018

A sophomore at Saugus High School and member of the swim team, Viviana Raker had a successful meet last week against the Canyon Cowboys. She won first place in the 100-meter butterfly, 200-meter relay, and 400-meter relay, as the Centurions defeated Canyon 124-40.

“Viviana is a fantastic young lady who is dedicated to the highest levels of success. She consistently works hard to improve and is a great model of accomplishment for other swimmers,” said Krista Botton, who coaches the Saugus swim team with Jim Klipfel. “Although she is primarily a distance freestyler, Vivi is always willing to do whatever she can to help the team and this willingness to swim a wide array of events was exemplified in this meet against Canyon. Coach Klipfel and I are looking forward to being able to continue to watch her swim this season, chase great times, and potentially make the CIF meet for her second year in a row.”

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Paseo Aquatics in Top 15 at Junior Olympic Championships

| Sports | March 29, 2018

Despite being one of the smallest swim clubs in size, the Paseo Aquatics managed to finish in the top 15 out of 90 other clubs at the recent Southern California Swim 14 and Under Short Course Junior Olympic Championships. Last weekend’s event, which is one of the premier swim meets on the competitive Southern California calendar, was held at the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center, and 22 Paseo Aquatics swimmers represented the Valencia club.

Paseo was led by Teia Salvino, who had a fantastic weekend as she finished Top 5 in total points for the 11-12 girls. Salvino also broke Paseo records in the 50-yard butterfly with a 26.64, 100-yard butterfly with a 59.85 and the 100-yard individual medley with a scorching time of 1:02.21. She also finished second in the finals of the 50-yard freestyle with a 24.50.

“Paseo Aquatics is a team made up of under 175 swimmers and we proved that coaching supersedes numbers when it comes to building success,” said Paseo Aquatics Head Coach Chris Dahowski. “Some of the other 90 clubs had teams as big as 600 to 1,100 swimmers in their program.

“The meet this year dropped their qualifying time standards five percent faster than last years’ cuts, but Paseo Aquatics was still able to qualify 22 swimmers, while these larger clubs are bringing 60-100 swimmers. So, coming in 15th was a huge accomplishment, and nothing short of a miracle unfolded in front of our eyes.”

Another highlight, according to Paseo assistant coach Daiki Sato, was the 11-12 boys relay team, who put on quite a show. Headlined by Adam Meldrum, Luke Bezanilla, Nolan Hill and fearless anchor Daniel Jo, the quartet won the 200 and 400 free relay with a time of 1:40.43 and 3:42.47, respectively, shattering the previous Paseo Aquatics record.

“When athletes go to practice because they are invested into their teammates and their teammates are invested into them, something magical is bound to rise up,” Dahowski said. ”However, this doesn’t just happen. It starts with the coaches providing the athletes with the tools to be successful.”

Swimmers representing Paseo Aquatics included: Daniel Jo, Luke Bezanilla, Alyssa Hamilton, Riley Botton, Andy Park, Bryant Lee, Viktoria Paragas, Dean Bezanilla, Teia Salvino, Nolan Hill, Adam Meldrum, Sydney Zancanaro, Colin Gebhardt, Matthew Chan, Heather Ostic, Audrey Chen, Ariel Kellum, Amelia Tisdale, Anika Sta. Maria, Helena Salvino, Cameron Snowden and Sadhbh O’Dwyer.

Los Angeles Rams Take Next Step in 2018 Offseason

| Sports | March 29, 2018

Last season, it was discussed ad nauseam how improved the Los Angeles Rams were from the 2016 season. This was not a hard feat to accomplish, as the team’s first year in LA bared a 4-12 season, resulting in the firing of then head coach Jeff Fisher.

Under new head coach Sean McVay, the Rams surprised all by winning the NFC Western Division with an 11-5 record. They were rewarded with a trip to the National Football Conference playoffs, where their Cinderella story came to a close with a 26-13 loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the wildcard round.

The true victory from all of the improvements the Rams made a year ago, is that it gave them an identity, one of a young and talented team ready to take the league by storm. Naturally, other talented players would want to be a part of such a team.

The result is what LA fans have seen all offseason, the revamping of a defense that, last year, was 12th in the NFL in points allowed with 20.6 per game. Key additions to the secondary, and on the defensive line have given defensive coordinator Wade Phillips plenty to work with, and have put the Rams in Super Bowl contention conversations.

Before any new additions are discussed, it is important to note key players Los Angeles has lost from a season ago. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who led the team with eight receiving touchdowns in 2017, will now be catching passes from Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City. Meanwhile, one of the Rams’ top cornerbacks, Trumaine Johnson, is now the focal point of the Jets’ secondary. Johnson had two interceptions last season, returning one for a touchdown.

It would be hard to believe that, after losing Johnson, Los Angeles’ secondary would actually become stronger, but this is in fact the case. The team has been busy in the trade market, obtaining star cornerbacks Marcus Peters from Kansas City, and Aqib Talib from Denver. Both come with their fair share of baggage, Peters occasionally losing his temper while playing with the Chiefs, while Talib is known throughout the league as one of the game’s dirtiest players.

It’s because of these factors that the Rams were able to get both on a bargain. Kansas City received Los Angeles’ fourth-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, as well as, their second-round pick in 2019. Los Angeles had to part ways with just their fifth-round pick in this draft, to obtain Talib.

Character issues aside, Peters and Talib are incredibly talented. Peters came in fifth in the NFL in interceptions with five last season, while also forcing four fumbles, and returning one for a touchdown. Talib had a down year in 2017, recording just one interception. However, in his four seasons with the Broncos, he registered 11 interceptions, and returned six of those for touchdowns.

Los Angeles was able to resign Nickell Robey-Coleman, who matched Johnson with two interceptions last year. They also took a chance on Sam Shields, the former Packers cornerback who was sidelined for the entire 2017 season due to concussions. The combination of these two, along with Peters and Talib, give the Rams one of, if not, the best secondaries in all of the NFL.

When defensive end Robert Quinn was traded to the Miami Dolphins, Los Angeles lost one their better edge rushers. Quinn came in second on the team in sacks with 8.5. The defensive line more than made up for the loss of Quinn, when they added Ndamukong Suh on a one-year $14 mil deal. Suh lines up as the nose tackle in the center of the line, so he won’t provide the same kind of edge pressure that Quinn did. What makes Suh special is the pressure he creates in the backfield from the interior of the defensive line. He doesn’t merely look to plug holes, but actively tries to bring down the quarterback.

Because of this mentality, he recorded 4.5 sacks last season, while forcing a career high two fumbles. His mindset is also the reason why he has been labeled as one of the dirtier players in the NFL, his most notable offense coming in 2011, when he was ejected for stomping a Green Bay Packers’ offensive lineman.

The addition of Suh gives the Rams the most feared defensive line duo in the league, as he will line up next to Aaron Donald. Like Suh, Donald plays on the inside of the defensive line, generating more pressure in the backfield than anyone at his position. He led Los Angeles in sacks in 2017 with 11, while forcing five fumbles. The beauty of having both, is that offenses can’t double team them, and if they try, it will be a cakewalk for any other defensive lineman to make a play in the backfield.

There is an area of weakness in Los Angeles’ defense, and it comes at the linebacker position. The hole is self-induced, as the team traded Alec Ogletree, who lead all Rams with 95 tackles last season, to the New York Giants. In return, Los Angeles received New York’s fourth-round and sixth-round picks in this year’s draft. As the free agency pool dries up, it appears the only fix to this problem will come from the draft. The Rams pick 23rd in the first-round, which is the one downside from having a strong season. Fortunately, one impact linebacker is projected to be there, but first, let’s discuss the best case scenario for Los Angeles.

Roquan Smtih, the one-time UCLA recruit, who famously flipped his allegiance to Georgia in 2015, has been viewed as a top-10 pick after recording 135 total tackles and 6.5 sacks in a 2017 season that ended with a loss in the College Football National Championship. Smith, however, has recently been medically red-flagged by multiple teams, potential causing his draft stock to fall.

For reference, the same thing happened to Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster last year. This caused Foster to fall to San Francisco, who drafted him with the 31st pick. Foster did miss six games with a shoulder injury, but in the 10 games he played, he recorded 72 tackles.

One thing to note, is that Foster also had off-field concerns, culminating in his arrest in February for domestic violence and potentially possessing an assault rifle. Smith has never had questions about his character brought up, and would only fall in the draft if his injury concerns were dire enough.

Now that that day dream is over, it’s time to talk about the more realistic linebacker possibility for the Rams. Rashaan Evans of Alabama is slotted to be drafted late in the first-round, right around where Los Angeles is to pick. He totaled 74 tackles last year, 13 of which went for a loss. To pile on to these solid stats, Evans added six sacks.

Clearly, the Rams are in a good position. Yes, they have a few holes to fill at linebacker and wide receiver, but other than that, there are few areas of weakness for this team. They just went 11-5 and received some postseason experience, albeit a short one, and have one of the best young head coaches in McVay. It may be a stretch to say they will make it to the Super Bowl when they will have to eventually take on the Eagles and Vikings to get there, but this Rams team is built for the long-haul. Pretty soon, there will be a parade in the streets of LA, celebrating the World Champion Rams.

UMBC Pulls Off Biggest NCAA Upset with Win Over Virginia

| Sports | March 22, 2018

Few things in sports are more exciting than a big upset. An underdog taking down a team that is perceived to be better in every way is the embodiment of the spirit of competition. This is why viewers will always tune in to March Madness, the monicker given to the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Tournament. No other organized sport creates an environment as conducive to upsets, like college basketball.

This is why it is so surprising that in the history of the tournament, a 16 seed team had never toppled a one seeded team. Coming in to this year, the favored team went 135-0 in this matchup. However, all of this changed when (16) UMBC defeated (1) Virginia 75-55. This feat was made all the more significant as Virginia finished the regular season atop the AP Top 25 polls, and was named the tournament’s number one overall team.

So, how did UMBC, or the University of Maryland Baltimore County, for those who haven’t had the chance to look up the abbreviation yet, pull off this David versus Goliath style victory? The quick summation is, they appeared to want the win more than Virginia, but what went down on the court is far more interesting than this explanation.

The first half was tightly contested, featuring three lead changes that led to a 21-21 halftime tie. The second half is where thing began to unravel for Virginia, and it is how quickly this occurred, that is so surprising.

By the time the first four minutes had ticked off the final frame, the Retrievers had jumped out to a 35-24 lead, riding a 14-3 run. What made the run even more magical was that it was engineered by a single player.

Joe Sherburne, a junior that played a hair under 30 minutes for the whole game, scored nine of his 14 points during this pivotal stretch for UMBC, and assisted on a 3-pointer by the team’s strongest scorer, Jairus Lyles.

After Sherburne’s work was done, Lyles took back the mantle of leading the team, scoring 20 points in the second half to finish the game leading all scorers with 28. Every time Virginia’s star player, Kyle Guy, would bring the score within 12, Lyles was always quick to answer. Despite Guy scoring 13 second half points, and 15 overall, the Cavaliers were never able to overcome the quick run that the Retrievers embarked on coming out of the locker room.

Delving deeper into the stats of this game, it comes as no surprise that Sherburne appears to be the catalyst that allowed for UMBC’s historic upset. He boasted the team’s second highest offensive and defensive ratings, scoring 128 points per 100 possessions, and allowed Virginia’s offense just 88 points per 100 possessions.

Lyles’ advanced stats speak to just how prolific a scorer he was during this match. His offensive rating of 145 points per 100 possessions, as well as his true shooting percentage of 94 percent, were both far and away the best numbers for the Retrievers.

These two had pivotal individual performances, but UMBC won with a complete team effort. They went 12-24 from 3-point range, easily topping Virginia’s 4-22 outing. The Retrievers also had a true shooting percentage of 68 percent to the Cavaliers’ 45 percent. In short, UMBC couldn’t miss. This is how they were able to put up 75 points on a Virginia team that was first in the country in points allowed, with an average of 54 points per game allotted to opponents.

Virginia’s stout defense covered for one of the nation’s weakest offenses. The team averaged just 67 points per game, good for 314th overall. The Retrievers’ defensive rating as a team was 87 points per 100 possessions, meaning the Cavaliers’ already less than stellar offense had even more obstacles to overcome. Pair that with UMBC’s hot shooting night, and it’s easy to understand how the game ended the way it did.

The final bits of information that explains how a 16 seed was able to beat a one seed in such a fantastic fashion, are rebounds and assists, in both of which, UMBC dominated Virginia. The Retrievers retrieved 31 rebounds to Cavaliers’ 21. UMBC also shared the ball with ease, notching 26 assists to Virginia’s five.

Aside from UMBC pulling the biggest upset in NCAA history, this rendition of March Madness has been fraught with surprising victories. There’s (11) Loyola-Chicago in the West Region that took down (6) Miami and (3) Tennessee, and has a date with (7) Nevada that has already taken out (2) Cincinnati. (11) Syracuse of the Midwest Region. And one of the last teams selected to the tournament stunned (3) Michigan State and will now play (2) Duke in the Sweet 16.

Although UMBC lost to Kansas State 50-43 in the second round, they ensured every bracket was busted before making their exit. They are now a team in the national spotlight, and with that comes new pressure the school has never felt before. If they respond well, there’s a good chance viewers will see them, come tourney time next year. For now, UMBC has made NCAA Men’s Basketball history in a game that will be talked about for years to come.

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