Lady Lions basketball win state championship

Shown in the first row are the following: Haley Arakaki, Kelsey Wong, Alex Washington, Sara Shimizu, Kristi Wong and Jordan Cruz Shown in the second row are Jeff Ota, Jessica Kunisaki, Allison Feickert, Kamaree Donald, Destiney Lee, Gigi Garcia, Lauren Nubla, Jada Fonseca and Que Ngo. Shown in the third row are Rob Feickert, Jay Hansen, Rohit Sharma and Carlos Vicente. / Photo by Denise Tahara

Shown in the first row are the following: Haley Arakaki, Kelsey Wong, Alex Washington, Sara Shimizu, Kristi Wong and Jordan Cruz Shown in the second row are Jeff Ota, Jessica Kunisaki, Allison Feickert, Kamaree Donald, Destiney Lee, Gigi Garcia, Lauren Nubla, Jada Fonseca and Que Ngo. Shown in the third row are Rob Feickert, Jay Hansen, Rohit Sharma and Carlos Vicente. / Photo by Denise Tahara

C.K. McClatchy High School’s Lady Lions basketball team won the state championship on Friday, March 27 at U.C. Berkeley’s Haas Pavilion after a strong battle against Junipero Serra of Gardena. The Lions are the first SCUSD state champions on record with the California Interscholastic Federation.

That monumental feat was one that has garnered community support, extending through out the Land Park neighborhood and beyond. A rally was held in front of McClatchy High School on Friday morning before the team boarded buses and headed for the East Bay. Local businesses, like Land Park Ski & Sports and Raley’s on Freeport Boulevard, used their signs out front to cheer lead the team. The ski shop displayed the message: “PLAY B BALL/LIKE A GIRL/CKM LADY LIONS/THAT IS”; and, beneath the glowing neon Raley’s sign were the words: “Go Lady Lions.” That community support before the win has continued after it with extensive media coverage, and as this article was being written, plans of a neighborhood parade were being scheduled for Friday, April 10 at 1 p.m. at CKM. Also as this article was going to press, the team was scheduled to be guests of the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday, April 7. Go Lady Lions!

Without further ado, what follows is a recognition of the players and the coach, as well as coverage of the historic state championship.

Meet the Lady Lions basketball team

Seven members from the McClatchy state champion girls’ basketball team were recognized by the Sacramento Bee last week as All-City players. This must be some kind of record for the Sacramento area.

The McClatchy All-City players were led by junior Gigi Garcia, Player of the Year, senior Lauren Nubla who was chosen to the second team, and sophomore Jordan Cruz named as a third team honoree.

Senior Destiney Lee, injured most of the season, super-sub senior Alex Washington, who hit the final four points to cement the state title, and juniors Kelsey and Kristi Wong, members of the all-hustle team, were all chosen to the honorable mention team.

Nubla was chosen by all of her teammates as a “coach on the court” for her unselfish play and being the hardest worker on the team. She brought constant energy to the court and often guarded the other team’s best player. “She was a great communicator and always talked to her teammates with respect.”

Nubla: “I enjoyed playing the role as leader. I’ve never been the leading scorer on any of my teams, but I think I brought some intangibles as senior to help the younger players.” Lauren has two brothers and a sister and hopes to play basketball next year at Cal State Fullerton as a walk-on.

Sophomore Cruz was not afraid to shoot the ball from any place on the court at any time. On good nights, she was unstoppable. Jordan’s game consists of “shooting, scoring, boxing out, crashing the boards, and ball handling. She is a complete player and an incredible competitor.

She almost single handedly broke Oakridge’s back in the second half of the Northern California finals with her 3-point shots. She considered her best game to be against Davis in the playoffs. Jordan hopes to go on to play college basketball.

Lee had her best game of the year in the state finals scoring 12 key points after returning in March from a November foot injury. All of the team members said she is definitely the team clown and keeps everything light. Lee has a basketball scholarship to play at University of Nevada Las Vegas next year.

Washington, also a senior, was often the first person off the bench, a tenacious defender, and a person the team could count on for about six points a night. With many of the Lions being on the short side, she was counted on for rebounds and guarding taller opponents.

Now for the Wong twins, often the smallest players on the court against far taller opponents each night. They were tenacious, with their non-stop harassment of the other teams’ guards. Kelsey, the oldest, always guarded the point guard and wore each one down every night by the fourth quarter with help from sophomore backup Sara Shimizu.

Kelsey considers her best skills to be ball handling, passing, and pressure defense. She considers her best game was against Pleasant Grove, but against Oakridge, she put so much pressure on the guard, she would not dribble the ball up the court in the 4th quarter and passed off to other players who folded under McClatchy’s pressure.

Kelsey is proud of her 4.0 GPA and her favorite classes are AP biology and AP Calculus. Besides her twin, she has an older brother Kramer. She also plays volleyball.

According to coach Kunisaki, Kristi is an excellent outside shooter who does all of the little things for the team. She hustles after every loose ball and makes key steals because of the pressure from her sister. “Whenever we needed a key basket or defensive stop, she always stepped up.”

Kristi considers her best game was against Oakridge in the fourth quarter at Sleep train when she drove to the basket for a score and then later hit a 3-point shot. Kristi plays volleyball in the fall and is also an outstanding student. Both sisters say that McClatchy graduate John Warren is their favorite teacher. Both will be back next year to out-hustle everybody in the Metro League again.

Other members of the team included senior Haley Arakaki and sophomores Sara Shimizu and Ka’Maree Donald. Even though Arakaki was not a starter, she was an extremely hard worker, and she said, “These girls and the coaching staff have had such a positive impact on my life.”

Shimizu split time with the Wong sisters and defense was her specialty. “I understand that this is a team sport, and I try to look for open players when I am on the court. I don’t personally need to score to contribute.”

Coach Kunisaki commented that Shimizu’s speed and tenacity was a big spark off the bench. Jade Fenseca was brought up from the junior varsity team for the playoffs and was a big help on the scout team.

Donald, according to coach Kunisaki, was the best all-around athlete on the team. Her speed was her best asset and she could really drive to the basket. She has six brothers and sisters, and she should be a major contributor the next two years. She will run track in the spring.

Assistant coaches were Jeff Ota, a McClatchy Sports Hall of Fame member and men’s varsity coach, and Que K. Ngo, a former head coach, who came on board to help at mid-year. “Jeff and Que help our team tremendously, especially in practices. Their attention to detail and our different coaching styles allowed us to work as a very effective team.”

Garcia honored

Gigi Garcia was named The Sacramento Bee’s 2014-15 Player of the Year after leading the McClatchy Lions to the state title last week. Gigi, a 6’3” forward, averaged 17.7 points per game, 11.3 rebounds, and 2.5 steals. She was also an excellent passer and considered by her peers a team leader “who always had their backs in a game.”

Gigi’s parents Aaron, a local football star in high school and college and record-setting passer in the Arena league and Shelby, a basketball star at El Camino and Sacramento State, played major roles in nurturing her drive and talents.

Her dad encouraged her to practice, run, and challenge herself. Before basketball she was an outstanding youth soccer player.

Practicing against her mother on the basketball court toughened her into becoming an immediate starter on the basketball court as a McClatchy freshman. Gigi joked that “Mom no longer challenges me to games in the park anymore.”

Gigi has a younger sister Isabella and brother Anthony. On the court she sees herself as the big sister to her smaller teammates. “I protect my teammates.” My strengths are rebounding and defense, but her shooting touch has improved each year.

Her best game of the year “was the state title game,” where she had 19 points, 20 rebounds, 6 blocks, and dribbled the ball up the court against the press. “Winning the title was emotional and amazing. I almost cried.”

Gigi returns to CKM next year and is being courted by many of the top college basketball teams to play for them after she graduates. Going to college and having a successful life are at the top of her list along with “possibly marrying Blake Griffin.”

GO LIONS. “I love my team.”

Meet the coach

Jessica Kunisaki, McClatchy state champion coach, was named the Sacramento Bee Coach of the Year. Jessica, a McClatchy star guard in the early 2000s, led the Lions to a 27-7 state title record in only her fourth year as head coach.

Jessica is truly an amazing coach. With tough love she pushes the girls in practice to challenge them to become their best. “We returned 10 players which made it easy to build on because we already had a foundation.”

As a game coach, she coaches with a quiet confidence and makes instant decisions, substituting freely, with a feel for game situations well beyond her 28 years.

One Sacramento basketball aficionado commented, “Watching Jessica coach is like watching an impresario conduct a concert. She is one the very best I have seen in the Sacramento area. She learned well from her mentor, Harvey Tahara.”

In watching the Lions the last two years, she just has “IT” when it comes to understanding the flow of the game. She is always in control of her emotions. She was assisted by veterans Jeff Ota and Que K Ngo.

The TV commentators for the state title game remarked numerous times about her ability to make key substitutions, and also how she rallied the team after the 3-point shot that tied the game at the buzzer.

“Having Gigi Garcia (Player of the Year) and Lauren Nubla (2nd team All-City) also didn’t hurt.” Sophomore Jordan Cruz was also named 3rd team All-City.

“Lauren is such a great leader for our team.” She was able to communicate with her teammates in a meaningful way. “She was a 4-year starter and always knew what I wanted from her and the team.”

Gigi is a leader by example. “Her competitiveness and determination allows the girls to feel at ease anytime they step on to the court.” Jordan had a huge game against Oakridge to win the Northern California championship.

Jessica’s parents Rodney and Julie, both McClatchy graduates, along with twin brother Joel and younger brother David, are a true Lion family.

“I loved growing up with brothers because we would always play together. Joel’s friends would never take it easy on me, so it forced me to toughen up.”

As a player Jessica always wanted to play at ARCO but in her junior and senior years, the Lions lost in the playoffs at UOP.

Rodney is known throughout the Asian community for helping to raise money to build the Asian Sports Foundation facility off Laguna Boulevard and helping Bob Sertich start Restore the Roar, the Lions booster club.

“I never imagined I would come back and coach at McClatchy after I left college.” A 3-year player at Chapman, where she broke the single game assist record her sophomore year, Jessica returned to Sacramento where she attended Sacramento State to get her counseling credential.

She was immediately asked to coach the Genevieve Didion middle school team and CKM athletic director Christine Latino asked her two months later to help varsity coach Harvey Tahara coach the junior varsity girls at McClatchy. She coached both at the same time.

I took over the varsity position when coach Tahara told me to, and I still did not feel I was ready.”

When asked about coach Kunisaki, ALL of the girls commented that she pours her heart and soul into making us better players. “She truly cares about us as individuals and as a team. She wants our team to succeed and she has total confidence in us that we will succeed.”

Revisiting the monumental game

The CK McClatchy Lions mighty girls basketball team fought off a slow start and two terrible calls by the officials in the last minute of regulation to beat Serra of Gardena in double overtime 65-61. McClatchy is the only school in the Sacramento City Unified School District to win a state title.

Two thousand and three hundred loyal noisy McClatchy fans showed up at UC Berkeley after a big send-off rally on the Freeport campus. Restore the Roar, the local booster club, gave each of the players state playoff tee shirts.

Jessica Kunisaki’s Lions, led by junior Gigi Garcia, seniors Destiney Lee and Lauren Nubla, fought back time and time again to defeat the top Southern California team.

Garcia, the six-foot-three-inch-junior, had 19 points, 20 rebounds, six blocks, many altered shots, excellent passes for easy shots, and often dribbled the ball up the court against the press.

Lee, who was injured much of the season, had her best game with 12 points while Nubla, the outstanding senior point guard, had another excellent floor game scoring 15 points.

The Wong twins, Kelsey and Kristi, again played tenacious defense against much taller opponents and hit key baskets to change the Serra defense. Jordan Cruz had an off night shooting, but again played outstanding defense and rebounded against bigger players. Senior Alex Washington made a key basket late in the second overtime and hit two free throws to clinch the game.

Kunisaki, a 2004 McClatchy graduate and all-league point guard under mentor Harvey Tahara, took over the job four years ago thanks to Tahara’s urging. She is presently a career center counselor at McClatchy.

Three years ago Garcia and the Wong twins showed up as freshmen and the building began. A year later Cruz, an outstanding shooter and all-around player, arrived on campus. All four will be back next year.

Kunisaki’s coaching was again outstanding as she substituted often and kept the team up after each setback. At 28, she is truly an outstanding coach. Her team is tenacious on defense, going for every loose ball and beating down bigger teams with hustle and fitness.

Boys basketball coach and assistant girls coach Jeff Ota said, “They’re the sweetest kids and then they get on the court and it’s Jekyll and Hyde.”

Against Oakridge in the Northern California finals, the Lions found themselves down early against a much taller team who kept getting every early rebound. By the fourth quarter the Lions had worn them down, creating 30 turnovers, and outscored Oakridge 16 to 7 to win by nine.

Against Serra, down 9-1 and 14-3, the Lions clawed back late in the first quarter to cut the lead to 14-12. The Lions were behind at the end of each quarter but jumped out to a 10-point lead with 1:11 to go.

A horrible call by the officials that allowed Serra to score a unique 5-point play, and an extremely quick 5-second-count on an out of bounds play cut the lead to three points. A last second “Hail Mary” 3-point shot by Serra tied the score at the end of regulation.

Not folding with disappointment, both Kunisaki and Garcia rallied the team not to let down or give up. Garcia was very adamant in the huddle about not giving up even though momentum had shifted in the game.

In the second overtime Garcia drove to the basket for a layup and passed to Lee for an easy basket. Washington finished out the night in the last 30 seconds with her only 4 points and the Lions were state champions.

Afterward CIF Executive Director Roger Blake approached Kunisaki and applauded the Lions’ efforts, moved that her players were quick to help Serra players off the floor as champions with character. The CIF also gave Cruz “Outstanding Sportsperson of the Game.”

The Lions (27-7) who finished the season bruised and battered with their hustle-style of play were red-faced from fatigue and emotion and many players and fans cried from the emotion.

Kudos to Athletic Director Rob Feikert who handled all of the playoff paper work, and organized a brunch at McClatchy’s cafeteria before the Nor. Cals. He also got district vans to drive the team during the playoffs. Hats off to Feikert, coach Kunisaki, and the Lion girls for a great winter season on Freeport Boulevard.

Go Cougars! Kennedy Women’s Volleyball wins Metro League

Shown here is a photograph taken from senior night at John F. Kennedy High School Women's Volleyball Team, which included a festive atmosphere prior to the game against Burbank High School on Nov. 3. Photo by Stephen Crowley

Shown here is a photograph taken from senior night at John F. Kennedy High School Women's Volleyball Team, which included a festive atmosphere prior to the game against Burbank High School on Nov. 3. Photo by Stephen Crowley

Congratulations to the John F. Kennedy High School Women’s Volleyball team for winning the Metro League this year. Go Cougars!

What follows is Coach Aaron Pollock’s reflection of the season written for the Pocket News. Also below are the senior speeches that were given at senior night, which included a festive introduction to the winning game of the Metro League Championship.

From Coach Pollock:
After winning our first Metro League Championship in School history last year I watched seven of my seniors that all made significant contributions to our success that season walk across the stage at graduation, and I knew we were going to be a young team this year. Last year we were a team from the beginning of the season to the end. All of our personalities clicked from the beginning and we just had great natural chemistry that was glued together by the great leadership of those graduating seniors who were battle tested from the previous season. Winning our first Metro League Championship last year was definitely not easy, but this year as with every other year was going to bring a whole new set of challenges.
I knew I had great talent returning in senior setter Kassidy Rauh, senior outside hitter Hailey Bearor, and junior setter Jamie Seaton who all contributed significantly to that first championship. I knew that returning senior, defensive specialists Kat Yu and Celina Ortega were going to have more opportunities to contribute. I also had some other really talented junior players in middle hitters Kenna Wohlford and Hjordis Grogan, along with outside hitters Maya Kitt and Karel Cobian coming up from junior varsity. JV Coaches Becky Rauh and Jeff Guro had really prepared these girls for varsity level volleyball in the fall and most of them had continued to grow and develop their skill as they played together on our Cougar Pride Volleyball Club team last spring.
Ultimately our success this season came because everyone really committed themselves to working hard to learn how to communicate better, and to make the sacrifices necessary to be part of a team.
At the beginning of the season I had a bunch of really talented individual volleyball players but by the end of the season I was so proud of the team they became. They began the season loving to play the game of volleyball but they finished the season loving to play for each other.
We really saved the best for last as we peaked on our Senior Night versus Burbank on Nov. 3 and played our best match of the season as we clinched our second consecutive Metro League Championship Title. That intense level of volleyball carried over into the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Playoffs as we put up an amazing fight versus No. 3 seeded Oakridge. We eventually lost the match in three sets (25-20, 25-19, 25-11), but it was not for a lack of heart, effort or intensity.
On that night not a single ball touched our side of the court without first being touched by a Kennedy player, and every single player walked off that court, looked each of their teammates in the eye and honestly said that they gave their absolute best effort on every single ball.
What more could a coach ask for? I could not be more proud of how well this team executed our game plan and performed as a team on that night. With a bus load of our current freshmen and JV players in attendance at that match I’m sure they got a little taste of what it means to be a part of the Women’s Varsity Volleyball Team at Kennedy High School, and with some very talented freshmen and sophomores coming up through the ranks and many local middle school girls starting to play on school and club teams, I am very excited for the future Kennedy Volleyball players who are ready to play their hearts out.

Meet the seniors

#17 – Mary Koloamatangi
Mary is the fourth Koloamatangi to have gone through Kennedy’s Volleyball Program. This is her fifth year playing volleyball and her second year on varsity. She would love to thank her parents, family, and friends for their time and support these past four years. She also thanks Coach Pollock, Coach Becky, and Coach Jeff for their time and efforts in coaching our team. She enjoyed making new friends as well as playing with Kat, Celina, Hailey and Kassidy. However, she will miss her usual schedule of coming to practice and winning games. Lastly, Mary is very proud of her seniors and team for coming a long way in their winning Metro League Championship twice in a row. She has high hopes for next year’s team and wishes them good luck.

#11 – Hailey Bearor
Hailey has been playing volleyball throughout her entire high school career. When she first started playing she thought she wouldn’t like it but with the support of her coaches and family she found she loved it. Her favorite volleyball memory would be last year when varsity took the Metro League Championship Title for the first time in Kennedy’s history. Hailey said she was proud to be a part of the team who put the first Women’s Volleyball banner up in the Kennedy Gym. She thanks all of her coaches and family for all of the support on and off the court.

#5 – Kassidy Rauh
Kassidy has enjoyed her four years playing for JFK volleyball. During both years on the varsity team, Kassidy was able to help her team accomplish getting a banner two years in a row. One of her fondest memories is of last year when she and her team filled the void. She will always remember the marvelous traditions her and her team took part of and in some cases, created. She is escorted by her beautiful mother Becky, her stunningly handsome father Keith Rauh, and her wonderfully supportive grandmother Rarie. She would like to thank coach Pollock and those who support the John F. Kennedy volleyball organization. She hopes to play volleyball in the college of choice of which has yet to be decided.

#20 – Kat Yu
Kat thanks them for being the most supportive. If it wasn’t for them, she would not be here today. Kat has played volleyball with Kennedy for four years and is very grateful for the amazing coaches she has had, and the life-long friends she has made along the way. She fought through a tough journey to get where she is now. She still remembers the days of her freshman year, when the passing of the ball brought her great pain and bruises. But after four years, she now takes pride in her bruises because they represent her hard work and dedication of fighting through the pain. After every practice and game, Kat would stand back up and leave the gym with a new bruise and burn, and be perfectly fine the next day. The scars that remains on her today allow her to look back and tell herself, ‘it was worth it.’
She is very thankful for this program because volleyball has taught her one very important lesson in life: The value of time. In volleyball, it’s that split second that determines the fate of the ball. It’s that second wasted, looking up at the ball that changes the whole game. She has seen, experienced, adjusted and learned that every second in life counts, and cannot be wasted.
Kat is very thankful for her amazing teammates. In her eyes, she can turn to her team and honestly see that they will sacrifice themselves to pick up a ball for the team, and she trusts that they know she will do the same.
Kat would like to thank Coach Pollock for his words of wisdom. Coach has taught her teamwork. Whether or not they win, they will always walk out as a team. Winning doesn’t make them perfect, what makes them perfect is that they are able to look into each other’s eyes and see that they gave it their all. Coach brought us to perfection.
Kat would like to thank her teammates for being the best teammates in the world, her coach for being the best coach in the world, her friends, for always being there for her and being the best in the world, and especially her family, for being the best family in the world.

#8 – Celina Ortega

Celina thanks her parents and grandparents for all the love and support they’ve given her and would like to recognize them for everything they’ve done.
Celina has played Kennedy volleyball for all four years and is going on her third year playing for Kennedy’s club team, Cougar Pride.
She says that since freshman year, playing volleyball has done nothing but help her grow and create lasting memories. She’d like to thank her best friend Madisen for trying out and playing on the team freshman year because if it weren’t for her, she wouldn’t have joined.
And if it weren’t for all her coaches teaching and guiding her along the way, she wouldn’t be the player she is today. So she’d like to thank, most importantly, Coach Becky and Pollock for always believing in and supporting her throughout the thick and thin. But Kennedy volleyball couldn’t have made it this far without our parents and fans cheering us on along the way. Yes, Thank you Jean! Thank you Wohlfords!
What makes volleyball so meaningful to Celina are the relationships and memories she’s made with her teams. The teammates she plays with now have not only made her last year the most gratifying and joyous but they have become people she recognizes as family. Celina says, “I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been on the floor dying of laughter. I’d approximate it to be… every day we’re together.” She can’t fathom the words to express how much she’ll miss playing with her teammates, but wants to wish them the best of luck for wherever life may take them.

Push-ups to Feed the Hungry: Sacramentan attempts to beat the world record for push-ups at the Run to Feed the Hungry

Sacramentan Maria Tobar is trying to break two world records – one for the most amount of push ups over 24 hours and one for the most in an hour, which she plans on starting 23 hours into the challenge. Currently, Eva Clarke from Australia holds the record, but Maria wants the record to be held here in the United States. The marathon of push-ups Maria is soon to undergo will take place just before the start of the annual Run to Feed the Hungry.

“We’re going to call it ‘Push Ups to Feed the Hungry,’” Maria said in a brief interview with the East Sacramento News. “Right now we are training. It’s going to be a very mindful challenge, but I want to give it a try,” she said.

And if that wasn’t enough, Maria plans on running the 10-K race after 24 hours of push-ups.
Working out with Savage Workouts, an independent trainer located at 1500 7th St., Maria said 16 people she trains with regularly are signed up for the race.

The current record for most push ups in an hour is 1206 and Maria’s best currently stands at 878 in an hour. Meanwhile, 9,241 is record for most amount of push ups over 24 hours.

She said a year and nine months ago, she couldn’t do 20 push ups, but now she is hitting 900. “I always liked to do exercises and all that, but the reason we are doing this is to break a record.”

As her trainer Chris Savage told Valley Community Newspapers, she just kept pushing and soon got over 550 without a break.

“We found out the world record was measured in one-hour increments and we attempted (to break) the world record (earlier this year). She performed 878. So we measured her 100 push-up time since she needed more speed. Now we have increased the workload a bit and she gets 614 in a half hour, just ahead of world record pace. We have her do total body training – so dead lifts, pull ups, burpies, sprints, etc. She is an Olympic level athlete and this takes awhile to build. In our personal trainer school, we focus on one month of stability, one month of muscle building, one month of max strength and then power workouts.

In addition, Maria had many corrective issues at the beginning (tight hip flexors, tight calves, asymmetrical weight shift). Maria spent her first year of training just realigning her body. She averaged eight hours of intense training per week since January 2013. After spending the first year realigning her body, 2014 has been all about performance enhancement. 
“Since she no longer had corrective issues, all of her workouts make her better. Sometimes people don’t spend the time to correct their posture and they end up injured or note being able to improve. Maria was a very receptive student and always did what she was told. Her diet is perfect and she had a positive mental attitude.”

Since the team is now in “power mode training,” a typical workout after 15 minutes of stretching, is as follows:

    Sprint one mile (at 7 minute pace)
    Do 100 pushups
    50 dead lifts (100 pounds)
    50 body weight pull ups
    Repeat three times in 45 minutes

Describing the dedication to complete the exercises, Chris said, “These workouts are extremely taxing, both mentally and physically. You always know when Maria is working hard because she starts giggling.”

And the results cannot be underestimated. Maria is now in the best shape of her life at 40 years old. She lost 40 pounds. She is the world record holder for consecutive pushups without leaving plank position. She can complete 14 dead hang pull ups.

Whoever wants to join Maria over the 24-hour marathon can, she said. “People will be taking naps but I will be push ups. We have been training a lot, getting upper body strength, working our shoulders and core. It’s a challenge but I think I can get it accomplished. Also we are doing it for a charity.”

People can donate to Push Ups to Feed the Hungry at

Didion’s inaugural middle school volleyball team starts the season 4-0

What started out as a campus club has blossomed into an official sports team, as the Didion Dragons Volleyball Club is officially representing the school for the first time ever in Sacramento City Unified School District’s Middle School Volleyball League. Unlike the district’s soccer league, the volleyball league isn’t divided by enrollment, so the Dragons compete against schools that have up to ten times Didion’s enrollment. The other 11 schools comprising the league are Sutter (two teams), Will C. Wood, Cal, Einstein, Rosa Parks, Fern Bacon, John Still, Kit Carson, Leonardo DaVinci, and the School of Engineering and Sciences.

Fortunately for Didion, several of the girls on the roster have substantial experience playing for the school’s club team the past two seasons. Head Coach Jeff Dominguez attributes the team’s success (7-2, and in second place with just a couple of regular season games left before the league’s championship tournament) to a core of experienced players and a roster of players who have embraced the sport and given their all to prepare themselves for competition. “I have a great mix of experienced and new players,” he says. “And, rather than concentrating on their own game, the more experienced girls are helping the new players learn the sport. It’s actually like having eight or nine assistant coaches.”

According to Dominguez, Team Captain Erika Alarcon has been a model leader for her team. “Erika has really put herself out there to help our newer players. She’s been patient and supportive helping her teammates learn our complex system. She leads by example, and the team couldn’t have a better leader to emulate.”

The team’s official Assistant Coach is Jayme Chew, an alum who graduated from Didion in 2006 and went on to play volleyball at West Campus High School. “It’s been great to have Jayme,” says Dominguez. “She can look the players in the eye and say, ‘I was right where you are not too long ago, and this is what you should do.’ She can even give advice on how to interact with certain teachers on campus…!”

The Dragons’ only losses this season were tightly-contested heartbreakers to two of the larger schools in the league with plenty of club players of their own. In spite of the losses, Dominguez is extremely hopeful heading into the playoff tournament. “We’re peaking at just the right time,” he explains, “And we really haven’t seen a team that we don’t feel we can beat. It’s just a matter of everyone playing at the top of their game. David beat Goliath with one lucky stone. We have to slay three or four Goliaths in one day to win this tournament. But we’re very confident we can do just that.”

Cougar Stadium unveiled to the community with ribbon cutting ceremony

Cougar Stadium at John F. Kennedy High School was unveiled on Friday, Sept. 5 with a ribbon cutting ceremony just before the football games of the night began. Photo by Stephen Crowley

Cougar Stadium at John F. Kennedy High School was unveiled on Friday, Sept. 5 with a ribbon cutting ceremony just before the football games of the night began. Photo by Stephen Crowley

John F. Kennedy High School tested out the famous sports movie quote, “If you build it, they will come,” with the unveiling of their new $5.9 million track and field on Sept. 5 before the JV and varsity football games.

The old track and field was in such bad shape, Kennedy’s head football coach Matt Costa found it difficult to put the poor quality to words.

“It was so bad, there’s no way to describe it,” Costa said. “Imagine the worst football field you’ve ever seen – this field was worse than that.”

Kennedy opened up the field with a ribbon cutting ceremony, followed by a 28-6 loss to Galt High School for the JV team and a 46-14 loss for varsity in front of a packed house.

The field was funded by the Measure R bond passed back in November, 2012 along with Measure Q to help renovate several schools in the Sacramento City Unified School District.

The new field is made from more than 7,000 recycled tires and is free from any harmful metals. Unlike a grass field, the AstroTurf GameDay Grass requires no watering and little maintenance. It has also been proven by the NFL Charities Foundation that it will help reduce ankle and knee joint injuries.

“We practiced on it once before the game and the players loved it,” Costa said. “It’s a much faster playing field, so we are getting used to that, but it’s a big improvement.”

Costa also said he believes the new field has attracted more high-quality players to his team than in previous years. Not only is it attracting players, but other students as fans.

Kennedy junior Nathanial Jeffrey spent the first two years of high school running around the old beat up track in PE and had never been to a Kennedy football game – until now.

“The old field was dirt, a lot of potholes with some grass,” Jeffrey said. “The track was dirt and when it rained, it had huge puddles we had to run around.”

When asked if he will be attending more games now that the track is state-of-the-art, Jeffrey said he believes so.

Carmen Amezcua, mother of Kennedy JV player and sophomore Daniel Hernandez, said she is also a fan of the new renovations.

“When they played out here before, it was raggedy-looking with big old mud piles when it rained,” Amezcua said. “They did a good job – I like it.”

On top of a new field and track, Kennedy also built new bleachers, a new concession stand and new bathrooms.

With new athletic facilities, the football program is getting a fresh start to a new era of Kennedy football. Coach Costa said he believes things are looking up.

“We have a better team this year, already with a win under our belt,” Costa said. “I believe we do well this year.”

CKM Sports Hall of Fame enters third year

The C.K. McClatchy Sports Hall of Fame enters its third year featuring athletes and teams mainly from the 1980s. Forty-three athletes, three coaches, and three teams will be inducted on Saturday, Oct. 11, at the Asian Sports Foundation Hall off Laguna Boulevard. As of press time, 437 people have signed up to attend, so remaining seats are limited.

The 1980s proved to be a strong decade for McClatchy sports teams. Under Bob Sandoval, the football team began to win again, and the 1984 team is the only team to ever win 10 games in a season.

Led by Donald Hair (’85), who broke the state high school record by scoring 42 touchdowns in a single season, the Lions knocked off No. 1 Christian Brothers and beat Grant in the playoffs before losing to Elk Grove. Against Grant, Hair would score twice in the first half, and Kevin Elam (’86) to Chuck Smith touchdown pass would seal the game.

Junior quarterback Elam (UC Davis), Hair (Sac State), and senior flanker Craig Bowens (Fresno State) would be named All-City and All-Superior California. Junior defensive tackle Peter Gould (’86) would make first team All-City and wide receiver/linebacker Zebadee Brye would make the 2nd team All-City.

Hair would be honored as “Prep of the Week” by the Sacramento Bee, the Sacramento Union, FM102, Quad 106, and channels 3, 10, 13, and 40. He would be named Sacramento’s Football Player of the Year for 1984 and was featured in Sports Illustrated.

Dennis Gastinell was a bruising fullback, and Shane Turner (San Francisco State) a blocking tight end. The line consisted of Todd Barmby, center; Bob Taylor and Mike Werblum, guards; and John Morehead, and Clenzo Johnson, tackles.

Doug Farmer, end; Gould, tackle; Richard Dalrymple, tackle; Brye, linebacker; and Chuck Smith, safety were top defensive stars, with Mike O’Malley the kicker. Mike DeNecochea backed up Hair and returned kicks.

One of the top games of the year was against Davis in the pre-season. Davis had star running back Mark Hicks who would play at UC Berkeley. With Davis marching late in the game to take the lead, Hair stripped Hicks of the ball at the one-yard line and ran 99 yards for a 27-18 win.

Athletes with names in bold print will be inducted into the 2014 CKM Sports Hall of Fame, and players from selected teams attending the banquet will receive medals.

McClatchy wrestling under coach Greg Fong was a Sacramento powerhouse in the mid-1980s. He had a winning combination in the 84-85 season with seniors Andy Lopez (captain), Jahlani Bent, Eric Guillen, Matt Poole, Richard Dalrymple, and juniors Mark Sprenger and Leo Woodfork.

Coach Fong’s game plan was to present the most strategic lineup to each opponent. The key to this was the versatility of the wrestling squad that included Juan Bonillas, Jimmy Culleton, Stanford Hirata, Rafael Perez, James Sprenger, Andy Blanco, Phillip Herndon, and Jeff Friend.

They took home the Metro League dual meet championship and won the Metro League tournament that year, building a foundation of excellence that carried on for several years. Team members included:

98 lbs Juan Bonilla/Jimmy Culleton; 105 lbs Stanford Hirata; 112 lbs Andy Lopez; 119 lbs Jahlani (Jay) Bent/ Christian Clinger; 126 lbs Mark Sprenger; 132 lbs Rafael Perez; 138 lbs Mike Bruce/ James Haldeman; 145 lbs Matt Poole/James Sprenger; 154 lbs Eric Guillen; 165 lbs Andy Blanco/Tony Blanco; 175 lbs Phillip Herndon, Mike Tabor/Danny Victorio; 191 lbs Leo Woodfork; Heavyweight Richard Dalrymple/ Jeff Friend.

Lopez, M. Sprenger, and Guillen won gold medals in the Metro League meet, while Bent, Woodfork, and Dalrymple took second place. Hirata, Poole, and Herndon finished 3rd. Guillen, Sprenger, and Woodfork finished second in the sub-sections.

Cross-country and track would rebound dramatically under coach Dub Carter, who is being inducted posthumously. Almost every school day in the 80’s, you could see Carter and his Lion runners racing through Land Park in the late afternoon.

Inductee Liz Baccigaluppi (81) would become McClatchy’s first great female distance runner, leading the Lions to victory in both cross-country and track. As the decade rolled on, the Lions dominated the Metro-league in both boys’ and girls’ cross-country and track.

Baseball would continue its winning tradition throughout the 1980’s, the first eight years under the leadership of Hall of Fame inductee coach Bernie Church. In the late 70’s and early 80’s, the Lions would come within a game and a half of winning five titles in six years.

Baseball hall of fame inductees include Dion James (80), Jon Leake (81), John Mikacich (84), Greg Chenu (86), Pat Zalasky (88), Aaron Fuller (89), and Pat Wallace (89). Wallace would earn All-City honors in soccer, basketball, and baseball as a senior.

Boys’ basketball would also rebound strongly through the 80’s with the 1988 team winning 20 games and two tournaments. The 1989 team went to Hawaii to win a tournament and finished high in the Metro League under coach Harvey Tahara. They were building for the 90’s, a decade of superiority.

The 80s would produce outstanding female athletes who were nurtured by 1970s/1980s softball and soccer leagues, and local swimming and tennis clubs. Maureen O’Conner Nowak (’83), Shannon Padovan (’86), Karen Henderson (’88), Krista Margetich (’88), Charmian Coombs Tallman (’89), and Tammy Olson Rocco (’89) are Hall of Fame inductees this year

Asian youth basketball would begin to produce a long series of male and female athletes throughout the decade. Last year’s inductee Jeff Ota (’79) would be the first, and the 80s would produce Bonnie Lee (’82), Cary Kushida (’83), Gayle Ichio (’87), Pat Wallace (’89), and many star players of the 87-88 Metro League champion girls’ basketball team. The 90s would have many more.

Girls’ basketball would continue to develop, when in 1987-88, the girls’ team, under Hall of Fame inductee Charlie Becker, would win their first Metro League championship. Hall of Fame inductees Margetich (’88) and Sundae Brooks (’89) would lead the team in scoring and rebounding.

Guard Allison Okubo led the team with 119 assists. Krissy Sakamoto, Ingrid Collins, Tracy Uda, Heather Johnson, Corine Onga, and Tammi Smith all contributed nightly. Melanie Conti, Rochelle Nada, and Kristina Moy rounded out the team.

Overall the team was 18-8 and they won the Metro League with an 11-3 record. All-Metro League Brooks would lead the Lions in scoring and rebounding. “Brooks was everything a coach was looking for in a player. She could rebound, shoot, and play multiple positions. She was also a team leader.”

Brooks would lose most of her senior year with an injured ankle. Margetich would be All-Metro in both basketball and softball, and be the first player in McClatchy history to play in two Optimist All-Star games: basketball and softball.

Other outstanding members from the ’80s include Eric Ross (’80), Leake (’81), and Russ Ortega (’85) for basketball; Kevin (KC) Clark (’82), Mikacich (’84), and Jeff Chenu (’88) for football, and Randy Gregson (’88) for golf. Fifteen athletes from the 40s thru the 70s will also be inducted.

Last chance to get tickets!!! The CKM Sports Hall of Fame expects to sell out by the last week in September. Go to for information or call Bob Sertich at 441-0657 for ticket availability.

Cook Realty Charity Golf Tournament returns for 22nd year

The 22nd Annual Cook Realty Charity Golf Tournament will take place on Friday, Sept. 19 at William Land Park Golf Course with an all-charity dinner and prize raffle to follow. Hundreds of attendees take part each year.
The Cook Realty Charity Golf Tournament began in 1992. It has raised more than $330,000 for local charities. An important characteristic of this unique event is that more than 90 percent of the earnings are turned over to several local non profits, schools and churches.  
Cook Realty Broker Trey Bonetti says the event is successful in raising needed funds for many local nonprofits and valuable community assets. “Keeping it close to home is an element of our philosophy as a company that transfers well to the groups that benefit from the little help we are able to give them. The money we help raise, many groups rely on.” said Bonetti. “We are very proud of the accomplishments of our agents and the part they play raising money for charity in a challenging economy.”
Still, Bonetti and Golf Director Ed Daniels know it doesn’t happen without the help and hard work of literally hundreds of vendors, merchants and service companies from both within and outside the local real estate industry. “Each year we ask folks to donate time, money or goods and services and they respond overwhelmingly,” says Daniels.
The late Cook Realty agent Charles Covey began the fundraiser. Like many events, it started very small and grew over time each year. Unlike many events, it has not just continued, it has thrived. Each year an award is given in his honor to a community member who has exhibited selfless work and sacrifice on behalf of those less fortunate.
Each of Cook Realty’s agents have a hand in securing ample gifts and prizes for the event dinner that evening. It is estimated the raffle alone helps to bring in as much as half of the money raised. “We have been so fortunate to be surrounded by so many fine business people in our community,” says Realtor Meena Chan Lee. “Each year they are thrilled with the result of their own participation. Their return on investment exceeds expectations,” said Chan Lee.
Cook Realty wants to thank past major sponsors that include Steve Larson of Farmer’s Insurance, Bouey Termite and Construction, Lori Wilson of Property I.D. and Ken Perry of State Farm Insurance.
Play, donate or just come eat and enjoy the fun. Secure your spot at this year’s Cook Realty Charity Golf Tournament, dinner and raffle. Contact Ed Daniels at 451-6702 for tickets and details.

Sacramento Stingrays: Local Team with Community Spirit

Photo by Oai Pham

Photo by Oai Pham

Waking up at the crack of dawn on a Saturday morning for a swim meet may not sound appealing at first. But if you love swimming, your swim team, the families and your coaches, it’s actually not so difficult. That’s just what Sacramento Stingrays participants will say.
One of the founding teams of the Sacramento Swim League (SSL), the Stingrays swim team has been around since 1960. The team—which invites kids ages 5 to 18 to swim to participate—has been swimming at Greenhaven Cabana Club North since the early 1990s. Over the years, the Stingrays have been a top contender in the SSL and have won several league titles from the mid to late 1990s.
But it’s not just the wins that have made the team what it is today, but rather all that it offers its members and families.

Safety and Health
According to, drowning is the second leading cause of death for individuals between the ages of 5 and 24. So if your child knows how to swim, and better yet, becomes a strong swimmer, this will help she or he if faced with an emergency situation, for example, in an unsupervised pool or while swimming in an ocean or other unpredictable body of water.
In addition, swimming provides tremendous health benefits. Swimming is a rigorous cardiovascular sport, and compared to many other youth sports, swimming has a very low risk of injury.
Stingrays parent Wendi Imagire commented on how her daughters’ swimming skills were honed and strengthened after doing swim team.
“I think that the aerobic and physical training the kids receive is one of the greatest benefits,” Wendi said. “Both my girls have taken group and private swim lessons, but it is on swim team that they have really become ‘swimmers.’ There is just nothing that beats swimming for an hour every day from March until the end of July!”
Another Stingrays parent explained that they joined the team initially because their son was not yet safe in the water.
“Before joining the team, he couldn’t swim the width of the pool—not even doggie paddle,” she said. “After one week of practice, not only could he swim the length of the pool on his own, but he couldn’t wait until the first meet … Swim team is a great mix of individual and team participation. It is great exercise and demands a certain focus from the kids.”
Another great aspect to swimming is that it is a low-impact sport, making it an activity, like cycling, that can be practiced well into adulthood.

Mental Boost, Confidence, Family, and More
Another huge plus to swimming is the emotional benefit. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this water sport improves mental health by boosting one’s mood. In particular, being on a swim team provides the added benefit of giving kids a strong sense of accomplishment, confidence and belonging.

Photo by Oai Pham

Photo by Oai Pham

Kyle O’Connor can attest to that. A Stingrays swimmer from 1996 to 2009, Kyle became an assistant coach, and then later head coach for the team.
“Swimming is one of the most social sports around, and all swimmers can experience great personal success, no matter their athletic ability. The experience of beating a personal best time is immensely satisfying no matter what place you may get in a race,” Kyle said. “The Stingrays swim team is also an incredible community where I met some of the best friends in my life, and I have continuously heard the same thing as long as I have been associated with the team. It’s more than a swim team, it’s a family.”
Swim team participants wholly agreed. Matthew Lee, 13, who has been on the Stingrays since he was 7 years old, said, “I like being on the Stingrays because I’ve made a lot of good friends and I consider the Stingrays ‘home.’”
Matthew’s brother, Mitchell Lee, 17, who started at age 8, concurred: “Over the years, I have bonded with my fellow group mates and to me they have become family. There exists a strange yet familiar feeling of home whenever I am swimming or competing with these guys. I think I speak for all of us when I say words do no justice to describe the camaraderie felt throughout the Stingrays.”
So despite very early Saturday mornings at the pool, you won’t see kids and their parents complaining.
“We love the social aspect of being together every Saturday, sitting under those tents, playing games, snacking, and talking,” Wendi said. “And I think that is actually the thing that we value the most about swim team—the friendships.”
Find out more about the Sacramento Stingrays at

Impressive diver brings the sport back to the forefront at C.K. McClatchy

In the hours before a meet, Nevada Schultz visualizes himself performing each dive better than he’s ever done before, but as he steps onto the diving board, his mindset changes. Thinking only about the dive he’s about to perform and forgetting about the competition, the Sac-Joaquin Section Finals champion gets into a highly focused state of mind.

And then in a couple seconds, the dive is over.

But, it’s the adrenaline rush from the excitement of completing a difficult dive that pushed Nevada to perform his best against great competitors.

At the section finals held at C.K. McClatchy High School on May 10, Nevada performed a backwards dive in a pike position so well it gave him momentum throughout the meet. His win was the first time a McClatchy student won Sections since 1979.

At the competition each diver performs 11 dives for Sections, each with a degree of difficulty rating which is then multiplied by the judges score. Nevada’s dives ranged from a forward dive to a 1-½ somersault with two twists. Another dive included the challenging backwards (flip-toward-the-board) plunge.

Speaking about the day’s excitement, Nevada said, “The pressure to perform was heavy; so completing all my dives at a high level felt great.”

Competing against the divers on his Junior Olympic team who compete for other high schools, undoubtedly was Nevada’s toughest competition. “They are all very good divers and any of us are capable of winning any meet,” he said.

For a sport that normally doesn’t get a lot of attention, Nevada said coming home a champion to long-time C.K. McClatchy’s coach Dee Robbins was the best part this year. “The highlight of my season was making my coach, Dee Robbins, proud by winning Sections. It made all the hard work and training worth it to reach my goal for the season. It feels glorious to represent McClatchy successfully and bring home the championship after such a long drought (since 1979). Diving doesn’t normally get a lot of attention, so this really helped bring attention to the sport at my high school,” he said.

Diving for only three years this summer, Nevada said he found his passion for the sport a little later than most divers his age. Asked about his training regimen, Nevada said he jumps on a trampoline at home, dives year-round five days a week for at least two hours, and conditions on dry land with ab, leg, and stretching exercises.

Asked to describe what he likes most about diving, Robbins spoke on this very work ethic, exemplified by Nevada’s hard work. “I enjoy watching kids improve and enjoy what they are doing. Diving takes commitment and hard work, but at the same time it is very satisfying and rewarding. The skills learned in the sport of diving carry over to help kids be successful in all aspects of their lives.”

The highlights of Robbins’ career continue to be the many deep and lasting friendships he’s had with many of his divers.

Coaching for about 38 years, Robbins described how the sport has changed since then. “In 1976, there used to be many recreational diving teams. My team (The Sunrise Sharks) would compete against Park Terrace, Davis, Auburn, Placerville, Rosemont, and Arden Manor. Each team was limited to 40 participants per meet. I had about 80 kids on my team. Now, we have basically no recreational teams and very few beginning classes that teach diving. It also seems that the sport is evolving into a rich person’s sport because of how expensive it is to participate,” Robbins said.

McClatchy baseball ‘Coach D’

2012 Varsity Coaches Gordy Lahann, Coach Mike de Necocea and Kenny Munguia. Photo courtesy of C.K. McClatchy baseball

2012 Varsity Coaches Gordy Lahann, Coach Mike de Necocea and Kenny Munguia. Photo courtesy of C.K. McClatchy baseball

The baseball field of McClatchy High School has been the backyard of Mike de Necochea since he was a kid. Now as a father of seven watching his youngest child and only son preparing to embark as a freshman at his alma mater, he plans on staying around at least for a few more years.

“The joke was that I’d coach until my son got to high school, but I can’t believe that’s next year already,” de Necochea said. “With my son and his friends entering high school, I hope I can keep coaching here for another four years.”

De Necochea, graduate of 1985, has been the head varsity baseball coach for McClatchy for the past 10 years and was even a three-sport athlete during his high school days on the very same campus.

This year, he lead his team alongside assistant coaches Kenny Munguia and Steve Correa (father of previous assistant coach and player Dom Correa) to the playoffs, only to fall short of the second round with a 4-0 loss to Oakmont High School.

De Necochea said though this year was the year his team could go far in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs, the overall team effort wasn’t there.

“We expect to go far in the playoffs but we haven’t the last two years,” de Necochea said. “It doesn’t annoy me, it motivates me. To me, my goal is to always win the last game of the year. The only way to do that is to win the section championship.”

In his time as coach, de Necochea and his assistant coaches can be considered a success, winning the Metro League title five times and making the playoffs nine out of 10 years (the only time missing the playoffs was 2006).

Since the 1990s, McClatchy has produced a few major league players such Steve Holm, Nick Johnson and Vance Worley – the latter being a star player under Coach de Necochea in 2005.

De Nocochea said his coaching style is relaxed and organized with a special ingredient mixed in: chemistry.

“I think the head coach sets the tone for [chemistry] early on when you pick your team and decide who the key guys on the team are going to be and who the leaders are,” de Necochea said.

He said the way he organizes groups in practice is important, even competing at practice against each other can build some solid team chemistry.

“We’ve won some amazing comeback games over the years that really stand out to me,” DeNecochea said. “There have been games where most teams would have mailed it in, but because of that chemistry, one pitch at a time, one at-bat at a time got us the win.”

He began coaching baseball when his younger brother’s Pony team needed a coach. De Necochea was only 19 at the time and got the job – better yet, they won the championship and he coached the league’s All-Star team.

“That was my first taste of coaching and I really enjoyed it,” de Necochea said.

His time coaching would take a brief pause as de Necochea started a family, attended school and worked full-time. Coaching was an afterthought.

“When I started coaching again, my daughters would be coming through McClatchy, so it was a good opportunity to get to view around the campus, get to know the boys a little better with all these daughters coming through – it was a good strategy,” de Necochea said with a grin.

Now with his youngest daughter graduating from McClatchy and heading to Sacramento State, de Necochea said he could shift his focus to his son who plans on playing baseball at the JV level as a freshman.

“I’m really excited to the future of the program with the new group of kids coming in, they already have a great chemistry, but it’ll take a little more time to build it,” de Necochea said.