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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Second to One

Valencia High's athletic teams have found success but Hart has become a frustrating roadblock.

October 29, 1998|PETER YOON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A quick stroll through the hallways at Valencia High bears no indication of the prevailing attitude, but everyone feels it.

Football players and coaches are vocally subdued during practice, but there are whispers.

Valencia plays Hart tonight at 7 in a Foothill League football game at College of the Canyons. It is the biggest sporting event at Valencia since the school opened in 1994, but any pomp and circumstance is conspicuously absent.

Gearing up to defeat Hart in a big game has already become a tired subject at the young campus.

Valencia players, coaches, administrators and students seem to have grown weary of getting their hopes up, only to be let down. So for the game tonight, the football team is taking a hush-hush approach.

"I think the school in general focuses way too much on beating Hart in whatever," football Coach Brian Stiman said. "I think it's more important to worry about ourselves and eliminating our mistakes, and then if [beating Hart] happens, it happens."

Normally, a pep rally would have been planned, signs would decorate the hallways and students would have some tricks up their sleeves. The spirit has been toned down at the team's request, but Adrian Dyrness, the student-body treasurer and a linebacker for the football team, warns things might change come game time.

"The [student body] always does things at the last minute," he said. "Everybody still wants to beat Hart just as bad. It's a schoolwide thing."

Earlier this season, the Vikings defeated Highland, giving the football team at least one victory over every school it has ever played--except Hart.

Few Valencia varsity teams have beaten Hart. The girls' volleyball team defeated the Indians earlier this season for the first time, and the news spread like a San Francisco fog.

The boys' soccer team defeated Hart last year, as did the softball team.

And that's it.

Hart won Foothill League titles in 10 varsity sports last year. Valencia finished second nine times, including runner-up to Hart five times. It has become a mountain-sized hurdle for the Viking athletic teams.

"That's the team to beat right now," Athletic Director Enrique Lopez of Valencia said. "Hart's got several good teams and a lot of league championships. If we want to get one, we have to go through them."

Stiman's insistence his team treat this as just another game has proved daunting, considering some of the top players in the state are involved.

Quarterback Kyle Boller of Hart and his bionic arm will be there. Running back Manuel White of Valencia and his powerful legs will be there, although he is questionable because of a knee injury. Receiver Jerry Owens of Hart and his magic hands will be there.

Even television has taken note, with Fox Sports West 2 showing the game live across Southern California.

"It's a big game," White said. "You try to look at it as a regular game, but that's hard. It's just a real big game. So far, this is the biggest game for our school."

White, who has rushed for 951 yards and nine touchdowns, said the reason is simple.

"Everyone is just tired of losing to Hart," he said.

Valencia has come a long way in a short period. The football team has improved each season, from 2-8 in 1995 to 5-5 in 1997 and 8-3 last season. The Vikings were 5-1 when they met Hart in each of the last two seasons. In 1996, they lost, 37-7.

Last year, the Vikings seemed to have an edge in what was being called a "down year" for Hart. But the breakthrough was spoiled when Hart beat them again, 42-25.

In basketball, Valencia was a heavy favorite to win the school's first Foothill League title last year. Matching up against Hart, the Vikings had an edge at just about every position.

But at season's end, the Vikings were a game behind Hart, the result of two losses to the Indians.

Baseball teams from Hart and Valencia cruised through the first round of league play undefeated last spring, until Hart pounded the Vikings, 7-0.

"The biggest thing that Hart has going for it is tradition," said Gary Spindt, Valencia's basketball coach and a former Hart assistant. "I can't define what that is or how much it's worth, but it's assumed."

Valencia desperately wants to become Hart's natural rival. The once-famed Hart-Canyon football series barely draws interest because of Hart's dominance.

But those associated with Valencia realize rivalries are not based on geography alone.

"I wouldn't say that it's a rivalry just yet," said Nick Carey, a Valencia defensive back. "We haven't established ourselves yet. We haven't had that one close game with them. But that is the team we'd love to beat."

Stiman, who spent 13 years as an assistant to former Canyon Coach Harry Welch, knows all about being the team to beat. While Stiman was at Canyon, the Cowboys put together a 46-game winning streak. He said Hart has established a similar stranglehold.

"They have that confidence," Stiman said. "Even if they are not up to the talent level of the other team, they feel they can get the task accomplished because they are Hart. It's almost as if teams come into the game hoping they can win, not thinking they are going to win."

When Valencia opened, the cornerstone of the athletic program was its state-of-the-art gymnasium. The facility was hailed as one of the best at a high school in Southern California.

"It's all we had," Lopez said. "We had a football field, but no stadium."

In December of 1996, another high school gym opened in the Santa Clarita Valley, one said to be just as nice, if not nicer, than the Vikings' gym.

Hart had beaten Valencia again.

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