It wasn’t that Chino Hills lost a league game last year that ended its three-year reign over the Sierra League. It was the way it lost.
The Huskies have dropped a league game each of the last three years, but managed to win at least a share of the league championship each time. Each of the three losses came by a single point.
Last season’s 38-7 shellacking by undefeated league champion Charter Oak was of a different variety.
Coming off consecutive CIF championships in a lower division, the Chargers stole the headlines when they entered the Sierra League in 2010. They validated them in 2011.
Chino Hills enters this year in an unfamiliar position, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“I think we’re flying under the radar a little bit,” Chino Hills coach Derek Bub said. “And I like that. Charter Oak is returning as the league champion and I think that makes them the team to beat.”
Charter Oak graduated its all-world quarterback and lost its running back to transfer, among other departures.
Chino Hills graduated its two-year starter under center, but incoming transfer quarterback Matt Simko, the Mt. Baldy League offensive player of the year a season ago for league champion Colony, will step in to lead an offense that returns eight starters. As part of a platoon last season with current Arizona freshman Bryan Harper, Simko passed for 1,893 yards with 11 touchdowns and three interceptions.
The Huskies return seven starters on defense, including a linebacking corps Bub labeled the best the school has seen in five years. Alan Alvaro and Connor Wilson, down linemen last season, will join Zach Chadwick on a unit expected to be dominant.
Damien will test defenses this season with an offense featuring the most talent in Greg Gano’s four-year tenure. Receiver Josh Savage is the most touted of the playmakers that will give Damien “as much team speed as it has ever had.” Junior quarterback Gage Pucci, one of six returning starters on offense, has the tools around him to have a big year.
“We expect him to be one of the top quarterbacks in the area,” Gano said. “We have more weapons this year than we’ve had in a long time.”
After sustaining heavy losses to graduation, Claremont went 6-4 and surprisingly challenged for a playoff spot last year. The Wolfpack is expecting big things from junior running back Cecil Flemming, who missed most of last season due to injury, and hopes it can add balance to its spread offense after three consecutive seasons of over 200 pass attempts. Claremont returns just three starters on a defense that is chock full of underclassmen.
“When we graduated 19 starters and I think everybody in the world thought we’d go 2-8 last year,” Claremont coach Mike Collins said. “Last year’s team overachieved and we hope this year’s will too.”
Ayala’s results didn’t look pretty last season — three wins, one in league that came by one point — but Bulldogs coach Randy Reams doesn’t think his team was far off. Ayala averaged 30 points per game behind versatile athlete Jordan Robinson, who returns for his senior year with grand expectations as part of a class that won the league championship as freshmen and sophomores. Last season’s leading rusher and receiver, Robinson will play every skill position including quarterback.
“I can’t think of a single person I’d rather have than Jordan,” Reams said. “I think he wants to prove that Ayala can win games, contend for a playoff spot and contend for a league championship.”
Coach: Randy Reams
Year, record at school: Second year, 3-7
2011 record: 3-7 (1-4)
Last playoff berth: 2008, def. Colony 38-7; lost to Cajon 34-14 in the CIF-SS Central Division quarterfinals.
Key Returnees: Jordan Robinson, RB/DB, 5-10, 180, Sr.; Dane Cruikshank, RB/CB, 6-1, 168, Sr.; Blake Wallace, WR/DB, 6-1, 181, Sr.; Brian Meyette, QB, 6-1, 165, Jr.; Austin Moore, OL/LB, 6-10, 210, Sr.; Jared McNeely, RB/DB, 5-8, 168, Sr.
Keys to Success: Ayala is hoping its smaller, quicker front seven on a defense that returned seven starters, will be able to take advantage of the league’s larger, slower lineman a year after the Bulldogs allowed a crippling 45.4 points per game in league play.
Coach: Derek Bub
Year, record at school: Fifth year, 36-12
2011 record: 6-5 (4-1)
Last playoff berth: 2011, lost to Rancho Cucamonga 39-38 in CIF-SS Inland Division first round.
Key Returnees: Jack Austin, WR, 6-3, 205, Sr.; Alan Alvaro, LB, 6-2, 211, Sr.; Matt Simko, QB, 6-3, 210, Sr.; Louis Napoles, RB, 5-6, 168, Sr.; Zach Chadwick, LB, 6-0, 214, Sr.; Connor Wilson, LB, 6-3, 216, Jr.
Keys to Success: Chino Hills didn’t produce a 1,000-yard rusher last season for just the second time in six years. How well the Huskies offensive line can gel after replacing three members of last year’s offensive line could be the key to the running game led by tailback Louis Napoles.
Coach: Mike Collins
Year, record at school: 17th year, 101-72
2011 record: 6-4 (2-3)
Last playoff berth: 2010, lost to Eastvale Roosevelt 28-21 in CIF-SS Inland Division first round.
Key returnees: Stan Reeder, WR/DL, 6-3, 220, Sr.; Cody Deutshlander, OL/DL, 6-2, 245, Sr.; Andrew Hwang, OL/DL, 6-4, 255, Sr.; Oliver Brown, WR/DB, 5-9, 175, Sr.; Cecil Fleming, RB/DB, 6-2, 185, Jr.; Baron Franklin, WR/DB, 5-11, 175, Jr.
Keys to success: Claremont’s offense surprised some people last year, but a defense that allowed 35 points per game in league play will need some holes plugged this season. A Wolfpack defense returning just three starters will need to grow up fast.
Coach: Greg Gano
Year, record at school: Fourth year, 18-14
2011 record: 7-4 (3-2)
Last playoff berth: 2011, lost to Vista Murrieta 38-13 in CIF-SS Inland Division first round.
Key Returnees: Josh Savage, WR, 6-1, 200, Sr.; Travion Boykins, RB/DB, 5-6, 160, Sr.; Uriah Trailer, DB, 5-7, 165, Sr.; Gage Pucci, QB, 6-1, 185, Jr.; Joe Provenzano, LB, 6-0, 205, Jr.; Andy Sherwood, RB, 5-6, 165, Sr.; Raymond Oseguera, OL, 6-1, 230, Jr.
Keys to Success: Damien is loaded at the skill positions and possesses as much team speed as it ever has in Gano’s tenure, but there are some concerns about both the offensive and defensive fronts, which Gano hopes will gain ample experience early in the season.