Happy summer, sports fans.
We all have approximately seven weeks before football teams hit the sleds again in mid-August. So, for now, while you’re catching rays and relaxing by the pool, we offer you this deluxe SportStars retrospective on the 2015-16 season of NorCal high school sports. It was a good one, and we think you’ll enjoy this look back.
For those who have enjoyed our Yearbook Issues in the past, I think you’ll find this one to be the best yet. For one, we’ve added our popular Bay Area 75 athlete rankings — which has traditionally run in July — to this year’s edition. We’ve also sought out new voices to provide insight on the biggest moments and stories of the past year.
This issue features two reflective essays by athletes, and we’d like to thank Campolindo-Moraga football’s Sterling Strother and Vacaville track and field’s Jurnee Woodward for doing an awesome job. Also, they hit their deadlines. So we’re big fans.
We also surveyed nine journalists who covered high school sports for various publications throughout the school year to gain their perspective. You’ll find their answers to some of our questions throughout the Year-In-Pictures section which begins on Page 20. And to get things started, I’ll provide my own answers to some of the questions we asked.
>> What was the most memorable game/contest you were in attendance for this school year?
I don’t think anything topped the North Coast Section Div. I football semifinal of Foothill-Pleasanton at Antioch. The 55-54 Foothill victory was one for the ages as the teams’ two star running backs, Antioch’s Najee Harris (more on him later in this issue) and Foothill’s Isaiah Floyd, traded haymakers with big play after big play. And then the game-winning play was decided by an all 11-man defensive effort by Foothill to stop Harris inches shy of a game-tying 2-point conversion run with one minute remaining.
>> What team/athlete’s story was the most fun for you to tell this school year?
Former Berkeley boys basketball coach Mark DeLuca was one of the first boys basketball coaches in the East Bay to really bring me in when I started covering the boys hoops beat for the Contra Costa Times newspapers in 2003-04. He’s always told everything exactly how it is and his love and passion for his players is always evident. Covering Berkeley’s march to the CIF Div. I state final — the program’s first ever trip in the modern era — was a lot of fun. DeLuca stepped away from the program at the end of the season to search for an on-campus coaching position. Count me among the many that hope he lands somewhere.
>> Who is one graduating athlete you’ll miss covering?
De La Salle running back/defensive back/return specialist Antoine Custer. Custer was a first-year varsity player back in 2013 when I chronicled the first game day of new coach Justin Alumbaugh. Custer was only a sophomore and not excessively high on the depth chart, but he got in the game that night and did some good things. In the coaches office after the game, Custer’s name came up and one of the coaches paid him the ultimate compliment, “He’s a football player.” Over the next three seasons, Custer was an incredible weapon for the Spartans as they won two of three CIF Open Division titles (He got hurt on the opening kickoff of the one De La Salle lost). He was also humble and soft-spoken throughout.
>>Who is one athlete you’re already excited to cover in 2016-17?
Certainly Harris from Antioch. I’d also include Pioneer-San Jose softball pitcher, Holly Azevedo. Look her up in the Bay Area 75 and you’ll know why.
That’s just a little sampling. In addition to the answers to these questions from other journalists later in the magazine, we’ll have more answers online that we didn’t have room for. So keep a watchful eye on SportStarsOnline.com.
FInally, I want to credit all of the SportStars photographers whose work is featured in this edition: Phillip Walton, James K. Leash, Berry Evans III, Dennis Lee, Jim Johnson and Johanthan Hawthorne. Awesome work, fellas. We think all of you will agree, sports fans. And we hope you enjoy.
First Pitch by Chace Bryson
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