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ERIC SONDHEIMER on high schools

Orange County teams need to roam

The Southern Section has grown so large and diverse that it's yesterday's news when the focus revolves around "all-county."

March 30, 2009|ERIC SONDHEIMER

Here's a little advice to Orange County coaches and athletes who aspire to be the best in the Southland: Start venturing outside your neighborhood for competition and stop worrying about who ranks best in the county.

High school sports has changed. The Southern Section has grown so large and diverse that it's yesterday's news when the focus revolves around "all-county."

The true measuring stick of excellence now comes in section and state playoff competition, where schools from the Inland Empire, San Fernando Valley, Ventura County and Long Beach have added many good coaches and built enough top facilities that the advantage once enjoyed by Orange County powerhouses has dissipated.

Just playing schools in Orange County no longer serves as adequate preparation for what players and coaches will face with the variety of playing styles and athletic challenges offered from Riverside to Ventura.

Gary McKnight, the boys' basketball coach at Santa Ana Mater Dei, needs to think about playing a road game at Westchester or Woodland Hills Taft after the Monarchs have lost in section finals the last three seasons to Lakewood Artesia, Compton Dominguez and Riverside King.

Yes, the Monarchs were unbeatable in the county, but they were just another team elsewhere.

There are schools and programs in the Southland that have begun to recognize the importance of escaping their comfort zone to test themselves in tough situations.

Ventura St. Bonaventure became a Southland football power when it no longer cared whether it was No. 1 in Ventura County. It scheduled games against Newhall Hart, Encino Crespi and Long Beach Poly.

Corona Centennial's recognition as one of the top football programs in the Southland was ratified when the Huskies started playing and beating teams from outside the Inland Empire.

In last year's Division I baseball playoffs, everyone seemed shocked that Mater Dei lost to Simi Valley in the semifinals. News flash: The Marmonte League is loaded with top teams and players.

There's nothing wrong with players wanting to be selected "all-county" or fans reminiscing about the past, but it's the 21st century and time for Orange County schools to tear down the curtain and discover that there's life outside their comfortable surroundings.

Who's the No. 1 QB?

A year ago, everyone knew who was considered the No. 1 quarterback in the Southland. It was Matt Barkley of Mater Dei, a USC commit and the reigning Gatorade national player of the year.

Before the summer begins, it looks wide open as to who might succeed Barkley. There are lots of candidates.

Ryan Kasdorf of Sherman Oaks Notre Dame was the Gatorade state player of the year.

Jesse Scroggins of Lakewood has been receiving lots of positive attention.

Nick Montana of Westlake Village Oaks Christian is picking up scholarship offers in bunches, with more than 15.

But the list hardly compares to last season's group, which makes this spring and summer full of opportunity for new players to rise up and challenge for No. 1 in the quarterback category.

Lucky umpire

Ralph Peck, a high school umpire who works in the San Fernando Valley, is the person to invite if you want a state record to fall. He was working the baseball game two years ago in which Mike Moustakas of Chatsworth set a state record for career home runs. And he was on the field this month when Baillie Kirker of Crescenta Valley set a state record for career home runs in softball.

A center to monitor

Here's a recommendation to college basketball coaches: You better monitor the spring and summer progress of 6-foot-9 junior Richard Solomon of Torrance Bishop Montgomery. He has grown so fast that no one knows how good he will be in another year. He's developing skills as a shot blocker and rebounder that could make him a top prospect.

And the winner is . . .

Kelly Hilinski, a 6-5 eighth-grade quarterback-pitcher, has selected Sherman Oaks Notre Dame as his high school choice. He also looked at La Puente Bishop Amat, Mater Dei and Oaks Christian. Yes, high school is starting to resemble college in the competition to pick a school. His size makes him a quarterback to follow.

--

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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