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St. Bonaventure Seeks an Answer

Seraphs hope to rebound after first-round loss in playoffs only one season removed from section championship.


For most of 1997, Jon Mack's answering machine featured a high-pitched greeting from his young daughters that welcomed callers to "the Mack house, home of the 1996 CIF champions."

These days, the greeting is a brief intonation from Kathy Mack, Jon's wife. Her somber tone is a tangible aftertaste of the Seraphs' embarrassing first-round exit from the Southern Section Division X playoffs last season.

St. Bonaventure is shooting for its third consecutive Tri-Valley League title and a deeper run into the postseason. With three starters returning on defense, the Seraphs are unlikely to capture their second section crown, but appear to be the class of the league.

"We only brought back four starters on defense last year," said Jon Mack, whose team was 9-2, 4-0 in league play. "We hope we have the program to the point where we're reloading, not rebuilding. That's what every coach dreams about."

Coaches also rhapsodize about having a quarterback like Chris Lombardo, a junior at St. Bonaventure who was the league's player of the year last season as a sophomore.

Lombardo passed for 1,687 yards and 12 touchdowns with nine interceptions last season. After an off-season in the weight room, he has bulked up to 6 feet 2 and 200 pounds.

"The year of experience is going to be invaluable to Chris," said Mack, who has seven starters back on offense. "He's gone from a young, chubby sophomore to veteran leader."

Lombardo's top target is likely to be senior receiver Matt Leeth, who caught 22 passes for 410 yards and four touchdowns last season.

Senior tailback Jesse Kirk (5-10, 190) returns after running for 1,268 yards and 14 touchdowns last season despite an injured ankle.

The Seraphs boast a pair of dominant linemen, tackles Adrian Ayala (6-5, 295), a junior, and Robert Winson (6-4, 275), a senior who earned All-Ventura County small schools honors last season and who has started 25 consecutive games.

St. Bonaventure's main competition will be Carpinteria, last year's runner-up and winner of four league titles between 1990-95.

The Warriors, who have 16 returning starters including quarterback Ryan Gocong (6-2, 215), who rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season as a fullback in the team's option attack. Receiver Ben Scott, Southern Section Division IV's 800 meter champion last season, caught 30 passes in the last final six games last season. Linebacker J.J. Keeler was an All-Santa Barbara County pick last season. All are seniors.

Bishop Diego has only three starters back but is bolstered by the arrival of senior transfers Ian Richardson and Gabe Marquez from Santa Barbara. Richardson (6-5, 210) will start at quarterback after playing defensive end last season and Marquez will start at safety and tailback.

"I'll be disappointed if we're not better than last season," said second-year Coach Joe DiPoalo. "And last year was like walking into a dark closet. We had no idea of what to expect from our kids or the league."

Matt Suttle, a 1982 Fillmore graduate, takes over as the Flashes' third coach in four years. He has installed the wing-T offense.

"We've only got 10 plays but this offense is perfect for our type of athlete," said Suttle, who has six returning starters and will have at least six two-way starters. "We're not big and we don't have a lot of speed."

Top players include senior quarterback-safety Isaac Oseguera, who passed for 88 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions last season, and junior tailback Johnny Uribe, who rushed for 152 yards. Both were part-time starters last season.

Oak Park won the 1994 league title and hasn't won a league game since, a streak of 12 games. The team's top returning rushers are Zak Schwartz (93 yards) and Adam Messinger (72 yards), and inexperience on the line doesn't bode well for the Eagles.



* THE PROVEN: Quarterback Chris Lombardo (6 feet 2, 200 pounds) of St. Bonaventure has flourished in the Seraphs' complex passing offense, in which he threw for 1,687 yards, 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions last season. He teams with tailback Jesse Kirk, who rushed for 1,268 and 14 touchdowns last season. The Seraphs boast linemen Adrian Ayala (6-5, 295) and Robert Winson (6-4, 275), and defensive back Josh Ford, who had six interceptions last season. Carpinteria quarterback Ryan Gocong (6-2, 215) rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season. Linebacker J.J. Keeling was an All-Santa Barbara County selection last season for Carpinteria. Bishop Diego welcomes back tailback Leo Rojas, who rushed for more than 700 yards last season and linebacker-tackle Philip Faulding (6-1, 220), an all-league pick last season. Ted Chewning, a returning starter at fullback for Fillmore, will be counted on at linebacker too this season. Teammate Jaime Ocegueda started at linebacker and will add guard to his duties. Oak Park's Jesse Nicassio was the league's best punter last season and is also handles the kicking.

* THE PROMISING: St. Bonaventure has young talent, receiver Adam Gray-Hayward and defensive linemen Tyler Wade and Tucker Bennett. Bishop Diego benefits from the transfers of quarterback Ian Richardson (6-5, 210) and tailback-safety Gabe Marquez from Santa Barbara. Fillmore hopes quarterback Isaac Oseguera can create some offense after passing for only 88 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions last season. Oak Park junior Nathan Elder (6-2, 197) enters his first full season at quarterback.

* 1997 STANDINGS: 1. St. Bonaventure 4-0 league, 9-2 overall; 2. Carpinteria 3-1, 9-4; 3. Bishop Diego 2-2, 5-7; 4. Fillmore 1-3, 2-9; 5. Oak Park 0-4, 1-9.

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