REACHING NEW HEIGHTS: A look back at the top-10 prep sports storylines in 2019
Championship runs, history-making victories, heartbreaking losses and inspiring individual efforts highlighted the local high school sports scene in 2019.
Here’s a recap of the top-10 storylines from the past year.
The boys volleyball programs from Nevada Union and Bear River both reached new heights this year.
After years of coming up just short, the Nevada Union boys volleyball program broke through and claimed its first ever Sac-Joaquin Section championship.
Behind the strong play of Jordan Mills, Preston Nowak, Carter Depue, Cameron Dallago and Colby Quiggle, the Miners rallied from a 0-2 hole and won the final three sets to beat El Camino in the Division II title game May 11.
“It feels so amazing,” said senior Jordan Mills, who battled through an injury and hammered down 19 kills to go with three aces. “Just the resilience of our team to be down 0-2 and come back like we did, get the crowd involved and just stay to it. This feels 10 times better than if we had gone out and paddled them 3-0. So happy we won this way. It’s incredible.”
The Bruins also won their first ever Section title, beating Ripon Christian in four sets in the D-III championship. Jace Rath, Brad Smith and Weston Prosser led the way for the Bruins.
“It feels amazing, first time ever,” said Rath, who had 24 kills and seven aces in the win. “I can’t even put it into words. I’m just kind of still thinking about it because it’s just unreal … Everybody put their heart into it and that’s why we won.”
It wasn’t just the boys volleyball teams that shined in 2019. The NU Lady Miners pieced together a 42-win season in which they were the Sac-Joaquin Section’s D-III runner up. Forest Lake Christian’s volleyball team won its league title and reached the Section’s D-VI title bout. And, the Bear River girls also made the playoffs and reached the D-IV quarterfinals.
A CUT ABOVE
The Bear River girls golf team was nothing short of dominant this fall. After going undefeated in league duals and tourneys en route to the Pioneer Valley League title, the Lady Bruins then won The Sac-Joaquin Section Division V championship and went on to place 10th at the Section’s Masters Tournament. Bear River was led by Theresa Shaw, Corina Shaw, Julia Pisenti, Dominique Peter and Sarah Aanenson.
“What made this team special was we had very strong people,” said Bear River head coach Gayne Nakano. “The freshman Theresa Shaw had a great year. She was the league MVP. Everybody improved and played better throughout the year. Even the players who didn’t get to play much last year improved quite a bit.”
FALCONS TAKE FLIGHT
Forest Lake Christian’s girls basketball team soared to a league title and earned the No. 1 seed in the Section’s D-VI bracket. The Falcons came up just short in the title game though, falling to Valley Christian, 56-50. Undeterred by the loss, the Falcons then battled their way through the CIF NorCal tourney, beating No. 4 seed California School for the Deaf, 52-50, and No. 1 seed Redding Christian, 48-47. FLC’s bid for a NorCal title came to an end March 5 with a loss to No. 2 Etna in the championship game.
“They are just a bunch of girls, who play other sports, coming together to have fun playing the game of basketball,” FLC head coach John McDaniel said. “Going all the way back to the start of the season, we had some rough games to start … But, the amount of improvement you saw from these sheer athletes was just phenomenal. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team improve as much as I saw this team improve.”
DIAMONDS IN THE FOOTHILLS
The Bruins baseball team made an inspiring run to Sac-Joaquin Section D-V championship round, but came up just short against the rival Colfax Falcons.
After finishing third in league play, the Bruins nabbed the No. 5 seed in the D-V playoffs. Bear River upset higher seeded teams in No. 4 Linden, No. 3 Hughson and No. 1 Argonuat to earn a spot in the title game against Colfax. Needing to win two, the Bruins beat Colfax, 14-9, to force a winner take all game. The Falcons would prevail in the end, but the Bruins proved they can compete with the best in D-V.
“Diamonds are made under pressure,” Bear River head coach Eric Van Patten said during the playoff run. “I think we’re those in the rough. So, I think the pressure’s been good.”
Nevada Union’s baseball program also made headlines this season as the Miners earned a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 2006. The Miners lost in the first round to Rio Americano.
THE DROUGHT IS OVER
Nevada Union’s football team had suffered at the hands of league opponents for the past seven seasons. The Miners broke free from their league futility in October, when they topped Ponderosa, 20-7, at Hooper Stadium to snap a 38-game league losing streak.
“I’ll be honest with you, besides marrying my beautiful wife and having all my children, this is up there. This really is,” Nevada Union head coach Brad Sparks said after his team’s win at Hooper Stadium. “I’m just so proud of our kids and our coaches.”
The Miners went on to earn their first playoff berth since 2012 as well.
Led by star player Tre Maronic, the Bruins football team roared out to a 5-0 start to the season. But, Maronic went down with an injury in Bear River’s first league game. The Bruins showed impressive grit as a team and won two of their final four games to earn a playoff spot. Maronic returned to full duty in the playoffs and helped the Bruins knock off Highlands in the first round.
PLAY WITH HEART
Justin Gardner would have been a senior on the NU basketball team this year, but his life was cut short when an intoxicated driver collided with the car he and his friends were traveling in. Gardner and his friend Tyler Nielson both died in March of 2018 as a result of the collision. Nielson was 17 years old. Gardner was 16 years old.
As a way to honor and memorialize Gardner, scholarships have been created in his name and the Miners basketball program developed the Justin Gardner Memorial Tournament, which tipped off for the first time Dec. 5.
Nevada Union opened the tourney by playing the way Gardner did — with heart.
In a gym packed with their peers, the Miners fell behind by 20 points in the third quarter but rallied in the second half to beat River Valley in thrilling fashion, 48-47.
“It feels amazing,” NU senior point guard Aidan Keros said after the win. “I’m honored to be a part of the Justin Gardner Memorial Tournament. He was one of my best friends and it’s just tragic. That one is for him.”
LEAPING PAST THE COMPETITION
Facing off against the best female leapers the Sac-Joaquin Section has to offer, Bear River’s Sarah Aanenson outdid them all.
Competing in the Section’s Masters Championships in May, the talented leaper matched a personal best by soaring 18-feet, 0.25 inches to claim the title in girls long jump. Aanenson went on to finish seventh in the event at the CIF State Track & Field Championships.
Aanenson also competed in the 200-meter race and the triple jump at the Masters, finishing in 19th and seventh place respectively.
Aanenson has since committed to attend the University of Colorado, and compete for their track and field team.
Nevada Union’s Garrett Gough also impressed at the 2019 Masters Championships, placing second in the 3,200-meter race with a time of 9 minutes, 14.55 seconds. Gough was less than 3 seconds behind the first place finisher.
The Miners cross country team saved its best for last.
Competing at the CIF State Cross Country Championships, the Nevada Union girls team scored their best combined time of the season and claimed 10th place in the Division III race.
“It came together perfect. It was a good day,” said NU head coach Kevin Selby. “The team as a whole put together their best race of the season, and that was led by the first three.”
Leading the way for NU was senior Hannah Tiffany, who completed the 5K course at Woodward Park in 19 minutes, 13.3 seconds and placed 33rd. Tiffany’s time is fourth fastest in NU school history at the State Championships.
The Lady Miners’ combined time of 1:40:25 is their best showing at the state championships since 2003.
BRUINS BREAK THROUGH
Bear River boys basketball team snapped a seven-season playoff drought in February. The Bruins went 16-12 overall and 6-4 in league play to grab the No. 8 seed in the D-IV bracket. Bear River went on to knock off No. 9 seed Calaveras before falling to No. 1 Liberty Ranch in the second round. It was the Bruins first trip to the postseason since 2012.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4232.
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EL DORADO — Nevada Union’s up and down season continued Friday night as the Miners struggled mightily in a 41-7 loss to the Union Mine Diamondbacks.