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Fryer: A look back and a look ahead at Orange County high school sports

Every high school sports year is filled with greatness and surprises.

There was too much of that in the 2022-23 high school sports year to recite here.

Let’s take a look back at some of it, with a look ahead to the 2023-24 sports year …

Greatness and surprises started in the fall with Bruce Rollinson’s decision to make last season his final one as Mater Dei’s football coach. Only weeks after Rollinson said he would be back in 2023, he announced that ‘22 would be the end – that’s the surprise. The greatness is all of the championships and big-game success that populated his 34 seasons, plus being a kind and patient guy to work with. …

Patient and kind applies also to Rob Wigod, who concluded his tenure as the CIF Southern Section commissioner. He moved the section forward in every category – competitive equity, financial stability, quality of playoffs and much more, and he even calmed the animosity public schools often have for private schools. …

Wigod’s replacement, Mike West, who has been principal at ML King in Riverside and has been in various CIF-SS and CIF State positions, is a fine choice. …

Something that West and CIF State leadership, and California legislators, too, are going to have to deal with is transgender athletes. A few participated in high school sports this past school year, mostly in cross country and track. People like simple solutions to complicated problems, but that approach likely won’t work on this issue….

Frank McManus replaced Rollinson as Mater Dei’s football coach. A longtime assistant coach with the program, McManus was a great choice. The players love him, and he already got a major win by keeping ace defensive coordinator Eric Johnson on the staff. …

Another interesting football hire is Kyle Murphy at Pacifica. Murphy, who was an excellent assistant coach at Edison, long has been head coach material but was waiting for the right time and the right situation. He will make Pacifica a CIF championship contender soon. …

Other football coaching moves of interest: Dan O’Shea leaving Corona del Mar’s coaching position to become head coach at St. Margaret’s; the hiring of former Azusa Pacific University coach Victor Santa Cruz at JSerra; Servite hiring Friars alum Chris Reinert to replace Troy Thomas who was inexplicably released; and Charlie TeGantvoort leaving Santa Ana to take the Marina position. …

We’re not going to see the results of that Mater Dei sports department review that was supposed to be available last June, are we? …

A look at Major League Baseball rosters shows how good Orange County high schools are in that sport. Aquatics are similarly strong in Orange County. The sport that county high schools might be best at, though, is boys and girls volleyball where the quality of play is stunning and massively entertaining. …

The Newport Harbor volleyball team celebrate with the CIF-SS Division 1 boys volleyball championship plaque in Cerritos on Saturday, May 13, 2023. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Contributing Photographer)

Another exciting sport, and a relatively new one, is lacrosse. It is fast and physical and requires stamina and terrific hand–eye coordination. Boys and girls lacrosse is growing fast, too. …

Choosing the best game of the year is too difficult. An outstanding candidate came just a few weeks ago: JSerra 1, Santa Margarita 0 in eight innings in the CIF-SS Division 1 baseball championship game. The play was pristine, the atmosphere electric. …

Another candidate was Canyon’s 58-56 win over JSerra in a CIF-SS Division 1 quarterfinal. Canyon sophomore Brandon Benjamin’s will power led to a putback at the buzzer for the winning basket. …

It’s rare that a sport’s athlete of the year transfers, but that happened this past school year. Benjamin, the Orange County boys basketball player of the year, left Canyon to enroll at Mater Dei. He will be a junior this coming school year.. …

Never give up. Aliso Niguel’s baseball team started the season 1-7. The Wolverines won the CIF-SS Division 3 championship. …

Matt Morrell of Cypress is the Orange County Boys Athlete of the Year and Jake Stafford of JSerra is the O.C. Boys Competitor of the Year. A candidate for both awards was Northwood’s Adam Harper, a classic, old-school, quick-and-tough running back who also was All-CIF in baseball. …

The two most dominant individual athletes of 2022-23 were Fountain Valley wrestler TJ McDonnell and Santa Margarita swimmer Teagan O’Dell. McDonnell was the CIF-SS and CIF State champion at 182 pounds. O’Dell, the Orange County Girls Athlete of the Year, set the national record in the 200 individual medley and broke four Orange County records and three state records. …

Reigning state champion TJ McDonnell, of Fountain Valley High School, top, competes in the 182 lbs. championship match at the CIF-SS Inland Division Individual Championships against Laguna Beach's Jeremy Kanter, pinning him at the 1:14 mark, on Saturday, February 11, 2023. (Photo by Jeff Antenore, Contributing Photographer)Reigning state champion TJ McDonnell, of Fountain Valley High School, top, competes in the 182 lbs. championship match at the CIF-SS Inland Division Individual Championships against Laguna Beach’s Jeremy Kanter, pinning him at the 1:14 mark, on Saturday, February 11, 2023. (Photo by Jeff Antenore, Contributing Photographer)

The 2023-24 high school sports year is the final one with current league structures in Orange County. For the 2024-25 school year county football teams — except those in the Trinity League — will be grouped into leagues according to their performance the previous two seasons, so we could see something like Mission Viejo and Los Alamitos in the same league. For other sports, conferences will be in place that will create leagues like we have never seen before. …

Girls volleyball is the first sport that can play matches this coming school year, with Aug. 12 as opening day. Football teams can play their first games Aug. 18. …

That gets us to an early Orange County 2023 football preseason Top 10 to finish this thing: 1. Mater Dei; 2. Orange Lutheran; 3. Los Alamitos; 4. Mission Viejo; 5. JSerra; 6. Edison; 7. Yorba Linda; 8. Santa Margarita; 9. Cypress; 10. San Clemente. Others considered were … well, for that you’re going to have to wait for our 2023 football preseason Top 25 in early August.

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