The best of 2011: A walk down memory lane

Christopher's Mariza Rodriquez hugs Mariah Martinez after she

One of the best attributes of this job is watching – game after game, season after season. No two games are alike. With each season comes a fair share of surprises. And every year is filled with memorable moments.

Defining the past 365 days worth of prep sports can’t be summarized in a flippant sentence.

The town continued to adjust to the reality of two high schools. Rivalries blossomed, as players from Gilroy and Christopher had the chance to play their neighbors – meetings that yielded some of the best action.

And as is the case every year, 2011 was split into two school years. CHS ended the previous anxious to usher in its first senior class. As we hit the midway point of the current school year, those seniors have contributed to the evolution of Cougars athletics, including the meteoric rise of the football team. At GHS some things stayed exactly the same. The wrestling team is still phenomenal and the field hockey team continues to excel.

So before 2011 fades away, what better time is there to reflect on the year that was?

Each team aims to put forth the best it has to offer. All deserve recognition. But some of those teams stood out above the rest. Thus, enjoy this list of the top-10 teams of 2011 and a few other best-of (and one not-top five) lists that were siphoned from 12 months of local sports action.

1. GHS wrestling

In 30 seconds, list as many superlatives describing the Gilroy High wrestling team and its remarkable – there’s one – run to nine consecutive Central Coast Section championships. Go! Even in a half-minute, that list will be extensive. One, though, stands out. And that’s unprecedented. Think about it. Year in and year out, for nine years, the Mustangs’ program has churned out champion after champion.

In 2011, what was supposed to be a rebuilding phase after eight wrestlers graduated in 2010, the Mustangs had that ninth section title locked up even before the Feb. 26 finals.

In a dominating performance – 73.5 points separated GHS from second-place St. Francis – four Mustangs, including three freshmen, won individual championships, and three others took runner-up. GHS went on to finish seventh in state.

2. CHS football

Aside from the 50 or so players, coaches and staff directly associated with the Christopher High football team, no one else expected what transpired over the course of the three-month 2011 season – its second year at the varsity level.

Even after the Cougars stormed through the Monterey Bay League with a 5-1 record – outscoring league opponents 209-53 in the process (only one MBL team scored more than seven points against the Cougars’ vaunted defense) – head coach Tim Pierleoni brought his team’s resume to the Central Coast Section seeding meeting and encountered a few who still hadn’t heard of the Cougars.

After their 10-2 league championship season, and their appearance in the CCS Division III semifinals, there is no secret anymore. No way, no how.

The icing on the 2011 cake, perhaps, was a 63-34 defeat of crosstown rival Gilroy High in the second annual Severance Bowl.

3. GHS boys track and field

Some saw them as arrogant, cocky, smug. Problem is, no one could catch up with them to say that to their faces. Bottom line – they were fast.

Led by its lightning quick 4×100-meter relay squad of Julius Travis, Romeo Travis, David Guenther and Jourdan Soares, the Gilroy High boys track and field team captured the program’s first Central Coast Section team title on May 27, edging St. Francis by one point 53-52 for the top of the podium.

The above foursome, who had earlier posted a school best 41.77 to win its second consecutive 4×100 crown, needed to beat the Lancers in the night’s climactic event – the 4×400 relay. The Mustangs took second to the Lancers third in the race to give them the narrowest of wins.

Soares, who will be the only returning member of the six who competed in the section meet (the four sprinters, Chima Ikeme and Eric Martinez), also won the 100-meter dash in a pulse-checking 10.66 and placed second in the long jump. Martinez placed fifth in the pole vault and Ikeme third in the discus to add valuable points to the team’s final total.

Number 1 in the section didn’t seem plausible after their coach was arrested for drunken driving midway through the season. But talent won out over selfishness.

4. GHS boys volleyball

These guys were fun to watch in 2011. Their energy and charisma made for exciting volleyball. To top it off, they were really good, too. Pitted against rival and defending Tri-County Athletic League champion Monterey in the finals of the inaugural league postseason tournament on May 6, the Mustangs defeated the Toreadors in rousing fashion 3-1 to lock up the program’s first league championship.

5. GHS field hockey

After all the success the Gilroy High field hockey team has enjoyed in the last decade, it was strange to consider the 2011 Mustangs as underdogs.

But graduating a dozen seniors from the year before, with just three seniors on this season’s roster, and playing in the Mount Hamilton Division of the Blossom Valley Athletic League – the pinnacle conference in the section – GHS wore that underdog tag as a chip on its collective shoulder.

The Mustangs twice defeated its longtime rival Los Gatos in the regular season and, again, toppled the three-time section champions in a thrilling semifinals showdown that included the two standard 30-minute halves, two sudden death overtime periods and two penalty stroke sessions. The victory propelled GHS into the CCS finals for the second straight season, where a 2-1 defeat to St. Francis ended the inspiring year.

6. GHS boys soccer

The Mustangs needed every one of their 11 Tri-County Athletic League victories to dethrone the three-time defending title holders Alisal. They waited until the last league game of the season, Feb. 17, but it was sweet nonetheless.

A 4-0 shutout of Salinas gave GHS the TCAL crown – the team’s first since the 2006-07 season. The Mustangs wracked up 15 wins in all  (15-4-1 overall, 11-1 league) and had three players post double-digit scoring totals. The offense outscored opponents 55-23 over the course of the 20-game season.

Speaking of Gilroy High soccer, the girls team won its fifth straight league title, posting a

14-2-5 record including an 11-0-1 mark in league.

7. GHS girls Hoops

The Gilroy High girls basketball team found ways to win ball games, – actually, 22 of them – including 19 in a row, in 2011. Three months stood between the two losses the Mustangs endured. The second of the two came in the Division I semifinals, 43-40 to Gunn High School in one of the more memorable games of the year. The season didn’t end on the best note, but before that, GHS went 12-0 in the Tri-County Athletic League for the first league championship since the 2005-06 campaign.

8. Gavilan men’s soccer

A definite feel-good story stemming from the local junior college. The Gavilan men’s soccer team became relevant once more after four years averaging three wins per season. First-year head coach Justin Johnson turned the program upside right, busting the Rams out of obscurity and transforming the program into a viable and successful entity.

The Rams won 11 games in 2011 – a program best. And until the last week of the season, Gav had a chance to qualify for the postseason.

9. CHS softball

In spring 2011, CHS athletics, without a senior class, was wrapping up its first full year of varsity participation. Throughout that first full year, other teams knocked on the postseason door, but none went through. (The CHS wrestling team had individuals qualify, but not the entire squad.)

The Cougars softball team, however, finished second (17-11-1) in the Monterey Bay League and became the first CHS team to make the CCS playoffs. And on May 18, the Cougars notched the first postseason win in school history with a 6-5 extra-inning victory over Pacific Grove in the first round.

10. CHS wrestling

The Cougars happen to be the only team at CHS that has competed at the varsity level every year in the school’s brief history. In 2011, the Cougars quickly asserted themselves as a league title contender. CHS went 5-1 in the MBL, sending five wrestlers to the CCS meet.

Five memorable games of 2011

1. Nov. 10: Severance Bowl II.

The Christopher football team beat Gilroy in this one. But that isn’t why it is No. 1. Scores of fans filled both sides of the bleachers, no incidents were reported and everyone acted reasonably respectable. It’s an excellent rivalry game with years of promise that lay ahead.

2. Feb. 26: The snow game.

GHS girls soccer vs. Woodside in the CCS quarterfinals. The game went to penalty kicks and ended in Woodside’s favor. However, a fluke winter storm rolled through town during the contest and snow speckled the turf at Garcia-Elder Sports Complex.

3. May 28: Third time, no charm.

Gilroy softball vs. San Benito in the CCS finals for the third time in four years. The Balers scored the winning run of a 3-2 game with two outs in the bottom of the seventh. It was another classic battle between the section’s two best teams.

4. Jan. 19: 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Now graduated Chris Catanzaro drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer to stun host Palma 72-71. The team went bonkers, dog-piling in the middle of the court.

5. March 2: Semifinals saga.

An incredible atmosphere inside the CHS gym as the GHS girls basketball team took on Gunn in the CCS Division I semifinals. Two great defenses went at it. The game went down to the wire with Gunn pulling out a 43-40 win.

Headlines: Top-10 most read stories online

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2. Column: We are all on Andrel’s side

3. Guerrero says he wants to fight Mayweather, but are people listening?

4. Two-time Olympic gold medalist hired as new GHS track and field coach

5. Cougars heard loud and clear in 63-34 victory over Mustangs in Severance Bowl

6. Gavilan football players suspended, game forfeited for partying

7. GHS boys track and field wins CCS title

8. Christopher football rolls in CCS opener, 55-0

9. Christopher’s postseason run cut short in semifinals, 42-23

10. GHS wrestling claims ninth straight CCS title

The not-top five

1. Crash course

Former GHS track and field coach Alvin Harrison tried his best to make a mess of the 2011 season. In the middle of his first season, Harrison was arrested April 7 after crashing a school-rented vehicle in Southern California. He later pleaded guilty to two felony DUI charges and a misdemeanor of driving with a suspended license. He was sentenced to 180 days in jail, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s office.

2. Party foul

A turbulent season hit another level as the Gavilan College football team was forced to forfeit its Oct. 8 game after suspending nine players for their actions at a house party on Sept. 25. One player was dismissed from the school.

3. Hot dog

More ridiculous than anything, a man was arrested for charging at Tiger Woods during the final round of the Open. The dude lost his hot dog in the process.

4. Private schools

Of the five section titles up for grabs in football this season, four were won by private schools – Palma, Bellarmine, Serra and St, Ignatius.  The latter three are part of the West Catholic Athletic League, which has a long history of  teams dominating the playoff circuit. Rumblings of change kicked up a notch in 2011 with some feeling that a restructuring of the postseason is in order. It will be interesting to see what develops in the coming year.

5. Ghost shelved

Perhaps the biggest bummer this year was the shoulder injury suffered by Gilroy’s own five-time world champion boxer Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero that resulted in the cancellation of his scheduled bout with Marcos Maidana at HP Pavilion in San Jose.

The Ghost had successful surgery and will pick up full training at the start of 2012, which should be a big year for the champ.

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