East County Winter Playoff Preview

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For high schoolers, February usually means two things. A make-or-break Valentine’s Day and the start of winter sports playoffs. Players throughout East County are hoping to use a deep playoff run to impress their sweethearts, or at least work off all of their heart-shaped chocolate.

Boys’ Basketball

For high schoolers, February usually means two things. A make-or-break Valentine’s Day and the start of winter sports playoffs. Players throughout East County are hoping to use a deep playoff run to impress their sweethearts, or at least work off all of their heart-shaped chocolate.

Boys’ Basketball

Foothills Christian (20-7 overall, 11-1 conf.) finished the regular season as MaxPreps’ top team in the San Diego Section and took second place in U-T San Diego’s poll, but missed out on the Open Division playoffs. Instead, they earned the top seed in the D-II. Led by six-foot-nine-inch Arizona commit T.J. Leaf, the Knights won the Coastal League crown and chalked up non-conference wins against Open Division challengers La Costa Canyon and San Marcos as well as Lone Peak High (ranked 4th in Utah) and Philadelphia’s Constitution High (4th in Pennsylvania). Leaf averaged 27.1 points and 14.1 rebounds per game during the season and is ESPN’s 16th best 2016 recruit.

As the two-seed, Steele Canyon (18-8, 4-4 conf.) figures to be the Knights’ top competition in Division II. The Cougars finished third in the Grossmont Hills League behind DI challengers Grossmont and Helix. Although Steele Canyon does not have a top-20 national recruit like Foothills Christian, its frontcourt can hold its own. Junior Dominick Wood-Anderson stands six-feet-five-inches tall and averaged 18.5 points and 12.5 rebounds per game while six-foot-seven inch senior Dylan Hamlett scored 9.7 and brought down 10.3 rebounds per game.

In D-III, El Cajon Valley ran roughshod over the Grossmont Valley League en route to a perfect 10-0 record (21-6 overall) and the top spot in the division. The Braves got off to a slow 7-5 start but caught fire to end the season on a 14-1 hot streak. Senior guard Ibrahim Ali (14.3 points/game), senior guard Syon Hicks (14.7 points/game) and junior forward Ronne Readus (10.3 points and 11.8 rebounds/game) form a triple-threat that makes the Braves difficult to shut down.

Valhalla (6-4 conf.) knows just how arduous it can be to shut down El Cajon Valley – the Norsemen lost both regular season matchups. Still, the second-seeded DIII team knows that just one playoff victory can change its destiny. Junior Cole Henderson leads Valhalla with 17.9 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, but the offense runs through senior point guard Jacob Hammett, who averages 13 points and 5 assists per game. If they match up with the Braves again, Valhalla will likely need to slow the game down and capitalize on its advantage in the passing game – the Norsemen average 13.4 assists per game to El Cajon Valley’s 3.9.

Potential spoilers — DI 5-seed Grossmont, 11-seed Helix, DII 7-seed West Hills, DIII 10-seed Christian 14-seed Granite Hills, DIV 9-seed El Capitan, DIV 15-seed Santana.

Girls’ Basketball

Helix High (15-10, 6-1 conf.) did not win the Grossmont Hills League title outright, but it earned the top spot in DII behind its shared title with Mount Miguel. Earlier this year, the Highlanders delivered the Matadors its first conference loss since 2006. Their performance in a conference featuring three playoff-bound DI squads boosted their strength of schedule.

El Capitan finished Grossmont Valley play with an unblemished 10-0 record (15-8 overall) to take the title and was seeded second in DIV.

Potential spoilers — DI 4-seed Mt. Miguel, 5-seed West Hills, 9-seed Granite Hills, DIII 13-seed Santana, 14-seed Steele Canyon, DIV 12-seed Grossmont, 14-seed Christian.

Boys’ Soccer

After its 7-0-3 Grossmont Valley campaign earned Helix (10-4-8) a share of the league title, the Highlanders were seeded second in Division V. Senior Valentin Nishimue led the team with 10 goals while sophomore goalkeeper Matthias Layton recorded six shutouts and averaged 8.5 saves per game.

Potential spoilers – DI 5-seed Valhalla, DII 6-seed Granite Hills, 12-seed Grossmont, DIII 5-seed West Hills, 7-seed Monte Vista, 9-seed Steele Canyon.

Girls’ Soccer

Steele Canyon (13-6-8, 6-2-2 conf.) earned the Division I second-seed and a first-round bye after winning the Grossmont Hills League title. Senior Alyssa Campa led the Lady Cougars with 17 goals and junior Savanna Nager led the team with 12 assists and also scored seven goals of her own. Goalkeeper Shelbi Horner, a junior, recorded nine shutouts this year.

Valhalla’s 5-3-2 record (13-5-7) was good enough for third in the conference, though they managed to be named the team to beat in Division II. Goalkeeper Katelyn De Went will look to stay hot — the freshman allowed just 12 goals all season, recorded 14 shutouts and racked up 126 saves. Freshman Raemi De Went senior Emily Haugen led the Valkyries with 7 goals each.

Grossmont (10-6-4, 6-4-0) finished ahead of Valhalla in conference play but was given the third seed in DII. The Foothillers, however, still earned a first-round bye.

Over in the Grossmont Valley League, Helix surged into first place with an 8-0-1 record (14-3-3 overall). The Highlanders were seeded third in DIII and also earned a first-round bye.

Potential spoilers – DI 12-seed West Hills, DII 10-seed Christian, 12-seed Santana, DIV 7-seed Monte Vista, 8-seed Foothills Christian.

As February spills over into March, emotions will be flying high. Seniors will be facing the end of their high school careers while the younger kids look for the upset.

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