It was a great year in sports for parents, athletes, teams, coaches, players and fans from Southwest Riverside County and whether it was championship teams making a lot of noise, Special Olympic players bringing home awesome hardware, Taekwondo champions kicking their way to glory, gold medal winning skydivers soaring to greatness or USA Olympians representing the area proudly…the Valley News Sports Department tried not to miss a beat… goal… score or cheer. Here are some of the highlights from 2017 featuring what those of us at the Valley News in the Sports Department believe were some of the top stories over the course of the past year in local sports.
- 2017 kicked off with a big Community Baseball Day event that took place at Murrieta Mesa High School where a youth camp was put on, plus hundreds of players showed up to showcase themselves, hoping to be seen by player development coaches and major league scouts in attendance. Seven-time MLB All-Star Reggie Smith, a who played on the Dodgers’ 1981 World Series team, spoke to those in attendance, as did Murrieta Mayor, Rick Gibbs and one of the nation’s top young prospects, Garrett Mitchell.
- The San Diego Chargers announced they would be bolting to Los Angeles according to the NFL team’s chairman Dean Spanos. The move followed a 56 year span that the team spent in San Diego; they joined the Los Angeles Rams in LA, who returned for the 2016 season after spending two decades in St. Louis.
- Temecula’s Kelsie Whitmore, who plays Division 1 softball at Cal State Fullerton, made national news in 2016 when she and two other females signed contracts with the Sonoma Stompers professional baseball club. All three had personal items in January 2017 placed in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
- National Signing Day took place the first Wednesday in February and nearly one-hundred senior student athletes were reported by athletic directors from schools all over Southwest Riverside County to have begun the next step in their sports careers by signing their national letter of intent.
- Vista Murrieta senior, Keilani Cooper recorded a school record 47 points against Temecula Valley High School. The previous record of 46 points was set by guard Nasrin Ulel in 2015, who had broken forward Jaelyn Brown’s record of 44 set in 2014.
- Murrieta Mesa’s softball team took the lead late in the final game of the Stu Penter Classic to claim victory over Riverside Poly, winning 4-1. The Lady Rams came through in the top of the seventh when sophomore Kelci Hill doubled to drive in three runs. Autumn Pease earned the win going seven innings, allowing one run, nine hits, striking out 12 and walking zero.
- Three Hemet Unified cheerleading teams advanced to the United Spirit Association’s (USA) National Spirit competition at the Anaheim Convention Center. The cheerleading teams from Hemet High School and West Valley High School competed in the coed Varsity Novice division and Tahquitz High School competed in the coed Varsity Non-Tumbling division/
- Kaylee Westmoreland, a Tahquitz High School soccer player, beat a 21-year CIF Southern Section record in Girls’ soccer. The Lady Titans goalkeeper, not only beat the record, but shattered it. Kari Bates, the previous record holder had 749 saves in 1992-1996; Westmoreland finished with 846 saves.
- The Lake Elsinore Storm opened their 2017 season to a large crowd in early April. The crowd of over 7,000 was treated to a clean game with plenty of excitement, but by the final pitch the Modesto Nuts bested the Storm 3-2 in a 14-inning affair.
- In just her sophomore year, Murrieta Mesa’s Deyjanae Williams set a new school record for points per game on the basketball courts. Williams set the new record for the school with 16.8 points per game. She was also selected as a First Team All-Southwestern League nominee.
- Temecula’s Greta Pontarelli, 66, who took up pole exercise at 59, won her fifth world title at the Pole Art Italy World Championships in Turin, Italy.
- Chaparral High School alumnus Sarah Hammer finished second in the points race at cycling’s 2017 UCI Track World Championships in Hong Kong. Hammer was third in two sprints and fifth in another, finishing with 51 points.
- Great Oak High School had 31 student athletes sign their National Letters of Intent during their spring signing ceremony.
The Temecula Valley Auto Mall sponsored the ninth Annual Temecula Special Games, which was the ninth anniversary of the event that was held at Great Oak High School.
- With their 5-3 win over Temecula Valley, the Vista Murrieta Broncos baseball team secured their third ever Southwestern League title and n the South Valley League; the Rancho Christian Eagles also took the top of the standings and had their best season ever.
- Over 120 area high school athletic programs were announced as winners of the 31st Annual CIF-SS FORD Academic Awards program and were recognized by Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The awards also included Academic Awards for Individual Athletes of the Year.
- Forza1 Volleyball hosted the USA Women’s Volleyball team in a USA Red-Blue scrimmage again this year at Murrieta Mesa High School. USA Head Coach, Karch Kiraly, scheduled the Red-Blue intrasquad scrimmage to provide match-like competition and to bring USA volleyball to enthusiastic volleyball communities of Southern California.
- San Jacinto’s Sarah Robles, who won a bronze medal in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, won the women’s over-90-kilogram title at the USA Weightlifting National Championships in Lombard, Illinois.
- As many as 400 students from Murrieta Valley Unified schools competed in the district’s first ever Special Olympics. The games, which took place at Murrieta Mesa High School in the Ram’s stadium, were a great success.
Lake Elsinore opened Serenity Park, located on Palomar Street (just west of Corydon Street), which not only has a BMX track, but also has a dog park.
- Makenzie Collins from River Springs Charter School in Temecula won the school their first league championship ever with a time of 14.58 in the 3200 mm and became the first River Springs student athlete to win a CIF league championship in the same event.
- Murrieta Mesa’s Zoey Clark crushed a ball well over the center field fence to give Murrieta Mesa a 3-1 win and their first ever Division 3 Championship title. Ace pitcher Autumn Pease helped keep the game against Hart High School tight through the eighth inning before Clark belted the walk off.\
- The seventh annual Inland Empire Baseball Coaches Association All-Star Game pitted the best seniors from Riverside County against their San Bernardino County counterparts and the Riverside County All-Stars won 9-2 at the home of the Inland Empire 66ers.
- Hemet’s Tahquitz Titans beat Simi Valley’s Grace Brethren Lancers in the CIF-Southern Section Division 4 Championship game at The Sports Complex at UC Riverside Saturday, June 3. It was the first ever championship win for the program.
- Murrieta Mesa head coach, Antonio Romero was named the All CIF-SS Division 3 Coach of the Year while his player, Autumn Pease, was named the All CIF-SS Division 3 Player of the Year. Temescal Canyon’s Tyler Hardman, a commit to Oklahoma and draft pick by the Colorado Rockies, was named as an All CIF-SS selection in Division 2 and Sara Lillie of Vista Murrieta was named to the All CIF-SS Division 1 softball team.
The fourth annual Corey Pavin Invitational was held at the majestic Cross Creek Golf Club in Temecula and Harrison Kingsley from Murrieta finished tied for third, Eddy Yi from Murrieta tied for 15th, Serena Sepersky from Temecula finished second and Alyson Bean from Murrieta finished fourth.
- Master Jef Go and his staff from Sparks Taekwondo, located in Murrieta, sent a handful of athletes off to compete at the 2017 USA Taekwondo Nationals held in Detroit, Michigan in early July. The tournament is the world’s largest with over 3,600 participants from all over the country. Eight of their athletes qualified for Nationals earlier in the year at the State Qualifiers and performed well in their respective weight divisions.
- Ontario’s own Cynthia Landgrave represented not only her city, but the USA Marathon Team when she competed in the Gold Coast Airport Marathon, in Australia on the Fourth of July. Landgrave came in sixth in a group of 80 girls from around the world and brought home four medals for her individual racing.
- The July 15 races at Perris Auto Speedway included main event wins by the daughter and father combination of Alyssa and Tom Smith. Alyssa Smith finished first in that night’s Factory Stocks feature. Tom Smith won the Super Stocks main event.
- The National Wrestling Hall of Fame, USA Wrestling and FloWrestling released their first national rankings for high school girls and Alyssa Aceval, a senior at Corona High School, who hails from San Jacinto, was included in the top rankings for girls as a wrestler in the 122-pound weight class.
- The Temecula Warriors, which host tournament travel teams comprised of players from the Temecula Valley Inline Hockey Association (TVIHA), participated in the AAU inline hockey Junior Olympic Games in Corona and the 12U Warriors won gold in their bracket, the 8U Warriors won silver in the tournament and the 10U Warriors won bronze in the tournament.
- Inquoris “Inky” Johnson, a standout football player from the University of Tennessee spoke to students at Murrieta Mesa on the first day of school about what happened to him when a routine tackle turned into a life-threatening injury. Now, as a motivational speaker, Inky travels around the country inspiring others, like he did for the students at Murrieta Mesa High School.
- Thousands converged upon Lake Elsinore’s Diamond Stadium to catch the game between the Storm and the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes where they were also able to catch a glimpse into the upcoming 49th annual Lake Elsinore Grand Prix during “Storm Takeover Night.” The Lake Elsinore Grand Prix, a dirt bike race “rooted in tradition,” was first held in the late 1960s and takes place in and around the Lake Elsinore.
- The Los AngelesChargers held their first practice at their new regular-season training facility, the Hoag Performance Center in Costa The team had two 70-yard fields to practice on, along with what Coach Anthony Lynn described as side fields for individual player drills.
- The 57th California State Junior Golf Amateur Championship concluded early in September at Bear Creek Golf Club and Edwin Kuang of Murrieta was crowned champion of the elite 87 player field after shooting a two-day total of 137. Kuang joins Rickie Fowler (2005), Bryson Dechambeau (2010), and Rico Holy (2012) as champions of the prestigious California Junior Amateur Championship.
- The first Southwestern League cross country meet of the season saw the Vista Murrieta Lady Broncos snatch first place away from Great Oak with a score of 27 points. For the boys it came down to just seconds of separation between the Wolfpack and the Broncos as Great Oak pulled out the win with 40 points.
- Murrieta Valley’s standout wide receiver, Marquis Spiker, who is now committed to the University of Washington, tied an Inland record with 6 TD catches against Redlands in Week Two action. Spiker’s end zone catches tied a record set by Arlington’s Ronnie Thomas (1991) and Nuview Bridge’s Dane Futrell (2011).
- The inaugural Michelle’s Place Walk of Hope took place in late September and brought together people who believe in the power of cancer support. Many showed up to walk or run a 5K, which all began at Vail Headquarters, around the back side of the Wal-Mart shopping center, off 79 South. Those that participated in the Walk of Hope helped provide free services and resources to individuals impacted by cancer in our community.
A local skydiving team won two gold medals in 4-way canopy formation skydiving at the U.S. Parachute Association National Parachuting Championships at Skydive Paraclete XP in Raeford, North Carolina. The team, Elsinore Too Wrapped Up, won the national championship for the third consecutive year. Their win earned them slots on the prestigious U.S. Parachute Team that will compete at the 2018 World Parachuting Championships in Australia.
- In front of a packed gymnasium filled with teammates, friends, students and staff from Chaparral High School, senior Justin Dedich was selected to play in this year’s U.S. Army All-American Bowl game which will take place Saturday, Jan. 6, 2018, at 1 p.m. Eastern time/noon Central time
- Local high school girls’ volleyball teams participated for the 10th straight year in the annual ‘Play for the Cure’ event, which raises money for the Kim Horton Foundation as well as Michelle’s Place Breast Cancer Resource Center. Games throughout the valley will ensue in the following weeks leading up to the playoffs and the participating schools this year include Chaparral, Murrieta Mesa, Murrieta Valley, Great Oak, Temecula Valley, Temecula Prep, Vista Murrieta, Elsinore and Temescal Canyon.
- There’s a new face at the helm for the Great Oak High School varsity baseball program. With former Head Coach Eric Morton being named the new athletic director for the school, long time assistant coach, Chris Dress, has been named the successor as new head coach of the Wolfpack squad.
The Temecula Valley Auto Mall returned this year to sponsor the second annual Southwestern League Sportsmanship Conference. Nearly 300 high school athletes from the Temecula Valley and Murrieta Valley Unified School Districts gathered to attend the Southwestern Sportsmanship Conference at Murrieta Mesa High School. The event – which focused on sportsmanship, leadership and respect – included guest speakers, lunch and prizes for the student athletes.
- After a well fought three-set sweep of Vista Murrieta, Temecula Valley got their revenge and took control of the Southwestern League girls’ volleyball standings for the second straight year. The league leading squad had not lost a league game since 2015 when the Lady Broncos beat them earlier in the month.
- 18 local high school girls’ volleyball teams got to continue their season into the CIF-SS playoffs and again, for the second consecutive year, the Southwestern League had all six of its teams qualify for the playoffs, five of whom will represented the valley in the elite Division 1 bracket. In the Sunbelt League, Elsinore won their 20th league titles after going undefeated in league this season and moved on to the post season along with Paloma Valley, who finished right behind Elsinore. South Valley League co-champion Rancho Christian was the No. 2 seed in Division 9, but when all was said and done, no teams made it past the quarterfinal round.
Great Oak’s cross country teams swept the Southwestern League Finals at Diamond Valley Lake in Hemet. The Wolfpack boys’ were ranked No. 1 nationally and won their fifth consecutive league title while the girls, who are ranked No. 2 nationally and No. 1 in the Southern Section’s Division 1of the CIF, won their 10th straight league title. Vista Murrieta’s Edgard Villa and the Wolfpack’s Fatima Cortes were the top individual winners.
- A West Valley High School student was one out of 96 students across the nation to be named a Semper-Fidelis All-American athlete. Krystina Lorch, a senior at West Valley, was anonymously nominated last year for the honor and received an all-expense paid trip to Washington with the other nominees over the summer.
- Fifteen local high school football teams went into the first round of the 11-man CIF-SS playoffs but only 7 teams came out on top after week one. Murrieta Valley, Heritage, Citrus Hill, Murrieta Mesa, Paloma Valley, San Jacinto, Chaparral and the Rancho Christian Eagles all advanced.
- The Temescal Canyon boys’ water polo team defeated Don Lugo 10-7 to win the CIF Southern Section Division 5 championship at the William Woollett Jr. Aquatics Center giving them the first for the program that is no stranger to being in the spotlight. On the Girls’ tennis courts Temescal Canyon was also firing on all cylinders when they beat Orange High School in the CIF Southern Section Division 5 finals.
- Another year, another dominating performance by the Great Oak Wolfpack Cross Country program at the CIF-SS Finals, held at Riverside City Cross Country Course. The Great Oak’s boys and girls teams swept the field to claim the Division 1 titles for the fourth consecutive year. They also both swept the CIF State Cross Country Championships that took place at Woodward Park in Fresno.
- Great Oak linebacker Jack Lamb received his Under Armour All-American game jersey during a presentation at his high school, which was put on by the American Family Insurance Selection Tour. The 6-foot-4, 220 pound Lamb is a Notre Dame commit and is the 13th-ranked linebacker in the country according to ESPN.
- The storybook season for three local high school football teams was put to rest in early December as Murrieta Mesa, the Heritage Patriots and Paloma Valleyall lost in the semifinals. Rancho Verde High School is the only local team moved on to the CIF-SS Finals this year, where they lost to Cajon, 70-23.
- The 2017 girls’ volleyball All-Southwestern Team was selected and Lexi Hadrych of Vista Murrieta was named the league’s Most Valuable Player. Hadrych (390 kills, 39 aces, 31 blocks and 191 digs) helped lead the Lady Broncos to a second place finish behind Temecula Valley this season.
- The high school basketball season started and Great Oak and Rancho Christian took top honors at the prestigious Battle Zone Tournament, which took place at Centennial High School. Other local tournament winners include the Temecula Valley girls’ basketball team who won the SoCal Classic Tournament and the Vista Murrieta Lady Broncos who took home the championship trophy from their Bronco Tip-Off Classic in early December.
- The 2017 All-Southwestern League Football Team was selected and Murrieta Valley’s Marquis Spiker was named Player of the Year. Spiker not only broke a long standing record, but established a new State Record for Career Touchdown Receptions this season. Murrieta Valley QB Hank Bachmeier was named the Offensive Most Valuable Player, Great Oak’s Jack Lamb was the Defensive MVP and Justin Dedich of Chaparral was named the Lineman of the Year.
- For the second straight year Murrieta Valley’s Faith Pearson, now a junior, was named as the All-Southwestern League girls’ tennis MVP.
- Temecula Valley’s Jordyn Parr took control of the Southwestern League when the girls’ golf finals took place earlier this year. Parr won the 36-hole tournament by a single stroke over Vista Murrieta senior Aly Bean and was rewarded with being selected as MVP for the 2017 season.
The 2017 All-Southwestern League Boys’ Water Polo Team was also recently selected, and Murrieta Valley’s Collin Winters was named Most Valuable Player.
- The California Interscholastic Federation offices that represent the Southern Section put together their lists for the All-CIF teams as 2017 came to an end and 15 local student athletes were named for their specific sport from the Fall sports.
- The 2017 All-Southwestern League Cross Country teams were also selected for both the boys’ and girls’ teams from the six competing schools and Great Oak has once again received top honors. Nine of the 20 selections were chosen from the Great Oak program while Vista Murrieta came in with representation from six student athletes. Chaparral had four runners selected and Murrieta Valley wrapped up the season with one runner being named to the All-Southwestern League teams.
- The Murrieta Mesa boys’ basketball team took third place in the Inland Empire Classic where Lamar Wright scored a record high 38 points as the Rams overwhelmed Summit 110-71 in the consolation game.
- Bert Esposito, a longtime Temecula resident and one of the valleys most long standing successful football coaches has now officially returned to head coaching after announcing that he’s the new head football coach at Temecula Valley High School.
The Third Annual Jared Mandville Hoop Festival took place in mid-December at Temecula Valley High School and involved local area high school basketball teams from the Sunbelt and Southwestern Leagues. The tournament is put on to honor former Perris boys basketball coach Jared Mandville, who died of cancer in 2015.
- The Murrieta Mesa Girls Basketball team took second place in the 2017 Ramona High School Winter Classic, which took place just after the holidays. Deyjanae Williams and freshman Keslyn Henson were selected to the All-Tournament Team.
- Paloma Valley took second place in the Paloma Valley Winter Shootout Tournament toward the end of 2017. The Wildcats were defeated 66-59 by Valley View in the finals.
- Megan Ormiston, a four-year varsity basketball player at Murrieta Valley High School, recorded her 1,000-career point against Colony High School. After the basket, the game stopped momentarily as Murrieta Valley’s Head Coach Nicolas Pardue presented the senior with a special basketball signifying the occasion.
- The Temecula Valley Pop Warner program sent their Bears cheer squad out to Florida where they competed in the Junior Varsity Division of the Cheer & Dance Championships. The Pop Warner program from Temecula Valley is no stranger to success, they won the National Championships in 2012 and this season the program not only won at their local competition, they won at Regionals and can now call themselves National Champions again as they took the top spot in three different categories while in Florida.
The Valley News Sports Department is excited to bring our readers even more action in 2018! Email your sports tips, highlights and scores to [email protected] anytime throughout the sports week.