Los Angeles Preps: Xavier Johnson

1. Ethan Cochran continues to impress in the field events for Newport Harbor. Cochran, whose discus throw of 203 feet 10 inches is the longest in the nation, won the Beach Cities Invitational at Huntington Beach High in both the discus and the shot put. Cochran threw the discus 201 feet, the third time this month he exceeded 200 feet at an invitational. He won the shot with a put of 58-10, his season best. The top shot put in the nation this season is 64-11 by Coy Blair of Logan-Hocking (Ohio). Ramon Vargas of Huntington Beach and Brandon Radlinger of Servite were also double winners at the event. Blair took honors in the 110 (14.84 seconds) and 300 hurdles (39.38). Radlinger won the long jump (21-8) and the triple jump (44.5). In his first competition of the season, junior Sage Stone of Mission Viejo won the high jump at 6 feet 8 inches, his personal best.

2. Also at the Beach Cities Invitational, Jordan Agnew broke a 32-year Los Alamitos High record when she won the long jump with a distance of 18-10 1/2. The previous record, set in 1980 by Thelma Viagar, was 18-4 1/2. Persis Williams of Estancia and sophomore Michaela King of Dana Hills were double winners on the girls' side. Williams won the 100 (12.62 seconds) and 200 (26.32), while King took the top step of the podium in the 100 hurdles and 300 hurdles (47.40).

3. The state championship by Mater Dei boys, won Saturday against Sacramento Sheldon, was the record ninth state title for Coach Gary McKnight. The performance by Katin Reinhardt, who scored 30 points with a broken thumb and stepped up when Xavier Johnson fouled out, was simply epic. Reinhardt (30 points) and sophomore Stanley Johnson, who is only 15 years old, combined for 51 points in the 66-48 victory.

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Mater Dei wins ninth CIF state title

March, 24, 2012

SACRAMENTO -- Hometown favorite Sheldon put up a good fight, but there was no denying the Mater Dei boys' basketball team its record-setting ninth CIF State championship.

Mater Dei pulled away in the fourth quarter and beat Sheldon from Sacramento, 66-48, at Power Balance Pavilion on Saturday night.

Sheldon kept it close with clutch free throws and key 3-pointers, but eventually ran out of steam against the top team in the state and the ESPN Los Angeles rankings.

Mater Dei went on an 11-3 run to start the fourth quarter and built its first double-digit lead of the game.

Katin Reinhardt hit a 3-pointer, nailed a couple of free throws and dropped in a breakaway layup during the fourth-quarter run. He made six 3-pointers and set the CIF State Division I record for 3-point baskets in a game. He scored 30 points, was 6-for-12 from 3-point territory and 11-for-17 from the field.

“He can do that,” Mater Dei coach Gary McKnight said. “He can do that any time.”

The Mater Dei players pretty much took control of the game in the second half despite having Xavier Johnson foul out in the third quarter. He was upset after getting called for his fourth foul and started yelling obscenities on his way to the bench.

One of the referees gave him a technical foul for his foul language and Johnson had to sit out the rest of the game.

It didn’t matter though. Mater Dei built an eight-point lead in the third quarter before pouring it on in the fourth.

Mater Dei (34-2) outscored Sheldon, 33-21, in the second half. The Monarchs led by six points at halftime, 33-27.

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ONTARIO -- People talk about Mater Dei's big three, but coach Gary McKnight doesn't see it that way. He calls it the "Big Team," and his squad of front-runners -- they began the season as the No. 1 team in the state and have been there all season despite the target on their jerseys -- took another step Saturday toward repeating as state champion.

Playing the heavy to Fresno Bullard's Cinderella, Mater Dei scored an 85-66 victory at Citizens Bank Arena in the Division I finals of the Southern California Regional Championshps.

The Monarchs (33-2) will play Sacramento Sheldon (29-5), a 61-56 winner over Carmichael Jesuit, next Saturday in Sacramento at 8 p.m.

The big three, err, Mater Dei's top three players led the way against the Knights (31-4).

Xavier Johnson scored 26, Stanley Johnson 18 and Katin Reinhardt 14 for Mater Dei. But Elijah Brown added 14 and five assists, and Eli Stalzer scored eight with three assists and only two turnovers against Bullard's suffocating pressure.

"What worried me is they looked like the team that had the fairytale run that we had last year," McKnight said.

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Mater Dei has its own 'big three'

March, 15, 2012
Mater DeiCourtesy of Nick KozaFrom left, Katin Reinhardt, Xavier Johnson and Stanley Johnson are key cogs in Mater Dei's success.

SANTA ANA -- Most prep basketball teams from this region are lucky to have at least one star player on their roster. A select few programs suited up a pair of standouts in the same uniform. One school, however, was fortunate enough to have a trio of high-profile prospects in their mix: Santa Ana Mater Dei.

When opponents focused their efforts on limiting the effectiveness of Katin Reinhardt, the Monarchs countered with the equally dangerous Xavier Johnson. When defenses shifted toward him, a more-than-capable Stanley Johnson stepped to the forefront.

Slowing down one player was entirely possible. Shutting down two proved to be quite daunting. Completely stopping the Southland's makeshift version of “The Big Three,” albeit on a much smaller scale in comparison to the moniker recently made so well-known in NBA circles, was not met with much success.

“Go ahead, pick your poison,'' said Reinhardt during practice this past week as top-seeded Mater Dei (32-2 overall) prepared for sixth-seeded Fresno Bullard (33-3) in Saturday night's Division I championship game of the Southern California Regional Playoffs at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario. The winner advances to next week's CIF State finals in Sacramento.

“We're not trying to be 'The Big Three' from the Boston Celtics, maybe the Miami Heat. Just kidding,'' Stanley Johnson said. “People give us nicknames, we hear the hype about the three of us, but we don't think about it. We're just Katin, Xavier and Stanley.''

Fair enough.

Whatever the case, it's difficult to argue with the success the Monarchs have enjoyed this season with Reinhardt, and the Johnsons -- who are not related -- leading the way of course.

They have gone wire-to-wire as the top-ranked team in the ESPNLosAngeles.com top 20. On the national level, it has been more of the same. Mater Dei is No. 8 in the country by ESPNHS in its latest Powerade Fab 50 rankings.

“We want to leave a legacy as, maybe, the three best players to come through Mater Dei. At same time, we know there is a lot of history at this school,'' Xavier Johnson said. “The big things for us, we're all so competitive and unselfish. Three heads are better than one.''

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SANTA ANA -- Katin Reinhardt returned to the Mater Dei lineup Tuesday despite playing with a broken thumb. Turns out, he broke Loyola's back.

Reinhardt didn't play like a man injured, but instead a man possessed, and coupled with the performance of Xavier Johnson led top-seeded Mater Dei to a 75-63 victory over Loyola in the semifinal round of the Southern California Regional Championships.

With the home victory over the fourth-seeded Cubs (26-6), Mater Dei (32-2) will play sixth-seeded Fresno Bullard on Saturday, 8 p.m., at Citizens Bank Arena in Ontario. Bullard defeated second-seeded Long Beach Poly, 54-52, on a three-point shot at the buzzer. Bullard is ranked No. 15 in the state, according to Cal-Hi Sports, and Poly is ranked No. 2.

The state's top-ranked team, Mater Dei, is ranked No. 8 in the nation, according to ESPNHS. Loyola was ranked No. 9 in the state.

Mater Dei beat Loyola 61-58 the last time they faced each other, in the Southern Section semifinals; in that game, Loyola's Jacob Hazzard scored 22, but on Tuesday the Monarchs held him to eight.

Last year, Mater Dei won, 72-70, despite trailing by nine in the fourth quarter. Mater Dei went on to win the state title, and nine of Mater Dei's top 10 players are back from last year's team.

Reinhardt scored scored 21, and didn't seem to hit a shot that wasn't big. Johnson spent the second half trying to play the game above the rim on both offense and defense. He scored seven in an 11-1 run to open the fourth quarter in which Mater Dei wiped out a 49-48 deficit. His last two buckets in that span came after getting offensive rebounds.

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SANTA ANA -- With two starters out of the lineup, you'd think Mater Dei might have a serious dropoff in talent.

You'd be wrong.

The skill sets might be a little different, but the state's top-ranked team kept rolling on Saturday with Katin Reinhardt on the bench and Eli Stalzer at home sick. The Monarchs scored a 78-66 victory Saturday over visiting Mission Viejo

Mario Soto and Elijah Brown. stepped in for Reinhardt and Stalzer.

Soto hit some big shots, including a buzzer-beater to end the third quarter, and scored 11. Brown was 6-for-6 from the free-throw line and scored 10 to complement the Monarchs' big guns.

Namely, Xavier Johnson.

Johnson scored 28 points and had a game-high 11 rebounds to lead the Monarchs' charge into the Southern California Regional semifinals next week against Loyola, a 48-35 winner over Etiwanda.

The game, though, was competitive and not nearly the one-sided affair it was in the first game of the season, 89-53. For one thing, Mission Viejo (28-5) had its football players this time and that impacted Mater Dei's Stanley Johnson, which no doubt helped keep it close.

Fullback Jahleel Pinner told coach Troy Roelen he wanted to guard Johnson, the sophomore sensation, and held him to six points, none in the first half as Mission hung tough, 34-29.

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SANTA ANA -- Katin Reinhardt may have been under the weather, but Xavier Johnson was on top of the clouds. Mater Dei, the defending champion in State Division I, opened up the Southern California Regional Championships with one of its big guns fighting flu.

But Coach Gary McKnight has more than Reinhardt in his holster.

Johnson scored 25 points and Mater Dei withstood a 3-point assault by Crescenta Valley to score a 66-47 home victory on Wednesday to advance to the second round of the tournament on Saturday.

The game was actually closer than it might appear by virtue of the Falcons' 3-point shooting. They made 8-of-19.

"I knew we were going to be in trouble because you tell guys they can shoot the three -- but they really have three or four guys who can shoot the ball -- you have a five-, six-point lead and it's looking good, boom-boom, it's tied," McKnight said.

But the star power of Mater Dei (30-2), and a 36-20 rebounding edge, helped the Monarchs avoid becoming victims of an upset.

"When you have three guys like Xavier, Stanley (Johnson) and Katin, two out of three guys will usually get you a win," McKnight said.

Stanley Johnson scored 11 points with four rebounds, four assists and four steals.

Mater Dei, which had a 15-5 lead at the end of the first quarter, trailed early in the third, 29-27. The Falcons made six of their eight 3-point baskets in that span, and took the lead when Davis Dragovich's driving layup fell through the net with 6 minutes 19 seconds remaining in the third.

For Crescenta Valley (26-6) , that was just about the last hurrah. Mater Dei scored the next eight points, and after CV's Dylan Kilgour sunk a three to cut his team's deficit to 35-32, Xavier Johnson took over.

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ANAHEIM -- The California state basketball championships may be three weeks away, but the fans who filled much of the Anaheim Convention Center Arena on Saturday got a good look at a de facto state championship.

The teams ranked 1-2 in California met with a Southern Section Championship banner at stake, and they brought with them sizable winning streaks and histories.

Mater Dei won its 21st section title -- now two more than defending champion Poly -- but it was hardly in the kind of convincing fashion that makes it a can't miss on its way to another state title.

The top-seeded Monarchs, with four starters back from last year's state champion, held off Poly, 63-59, in a decision that very nearly got away from them.

Stanley Johnson was very active in the closing moments for Mater Dei (29-2), and not always in a good way. The Mater Dei sophomore made one of two free throws with 1:11 remaining to give Mater Dei a 60-58 advantage, and after Xavier Johnson made it 61-59 with 28 seconds left, the spotlight seemed solely directed on Stanley Johnson -- who is not relatied to Xavier.

With a chance to put the screws to Poly, Johnson missed a pair of free throws with 16.2 seconds left. Five seconds later, after missing an anguish-inducing first shot from the charity stripe that teased fans of both schools, he converted the second for a 62-59 lead. Then he stole the ball with three seconds remaining and made the second of two free throws for the four-point final margin.

Although Johnson wasn't perfect, he certainly made an impression on coach Gary McKnight, who talked to Johnson while the rest of the team was being introduced afterward.

"You showed you are an All-American tonight," McKnight recalled telling his prized 6-foot-7 sophomore.

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Mater Dei survives against Loyola

February, 28, 2012

ANAHEIM -- The two losses Mater Dei has this season came in overtime, so the last thing longtime Mater Dei basketball coach Gary McKnight wanted was to head there.

Senior forward Xavier Johnson sank two clutch free throws and the Monarchs played suffocating defense on the final possession, escaping with a 61-58 win against Loyola in a CIF-Southern Section Division 1A semifinal Tuesday night at the Anaheim Convention Center Arena.

Sharpshooter Jacob Hazzard's potential tying 3-pointer barely left his hand before it was sent back his way. Khaliq Bedart-Ghani grabbed the loose ball and fired a 3-pointer of his own but missed badly, and top-seeded Mater Dei advanced to face second-seeded Long Beach Poly in Saturday night's title game at the same venue.

"I just didn't want it to get to overtime," McKnight said.

Johnson made sure it didn't, recording game-highs of 23 points and 10 rebounds. His electrifying dunk at the end of the third quarter was exactly what a lackadaisical Mater Dei needed to wake up.

"They made one more play than we did," said Loyola coach Jamal Adams, whose team led by as many as nine late in the third quarter. "We played our tails off. No moral victories."

Recent history between the two added intrigue. Last season, defending Division 1A champ Loyola lost to Mater Dei in the Southern California regionals, 72-70, after leading by nine heading into the fourth quarter. The Monarchs went on capture the state crown in Sacramento.

Tuesday night's affair mirrored that closely: Defending state champion Mater Dei (28-2) went on a 9-0 run midway through the fourth to regain control.

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O.C.: Boys' basketball top 10

February, 20, 2012
Three Century League teams in Division 3AAA are history, but three others in higher divisions are still alive. Esperanza, seeded sixth in 3AAA, was upset by Lawndale in the second round and gets dropped from the top 10. For the moment, JSerra remains ahead of Tustin -- a team it beat previously -- but the Tillers can move up if they continue to win, and JSerra is going nowhere but down. Anaheim Canyon moves in. Ocean View has a big hurdle on Tuesday.

1. Mater Dei (25-2): Top-seeded Monarchs beat Temecula Chaparral in the first round as Xavier Johnson scoreD 17 against his former school. Next: vs. Palmdale, Tuesday.

2. Mission Viejo (24-3): Top-seeded Diablos cruised past La Sierra as Evan Zeller scored 17 and Max Redfield 13. Next: vs. Glendale, Tuesday.

3. Capistrano Valley (23-4): Second-seeded Cougars advance, and their chances of winning title are increased with the return of point guard Nick Thomas (knee), who scored 15 -- along with Aleks Lipovic -- in win over Marina. Next: vs. Walnut, Tuesday.

4. Orange Lutheran (17-11): Third-seeded Lancers get 24 points and a massive dunk from Arizona-bound Gabe York in 70-46 win over Dana Hills. Next: at Temecula Great Oak, Tuesday.

5. Ocean View (24-3): Sea Hawks won their 18th in a row as 7-footer Conor Clifford led the way with 19 points in 69-51 win over Redondo. Next: at Thousand Oaks, Tuesday.

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The upper divisions of the Southern Section boys' basketball playoffs began on Friday with mostly predictable results (OC teams emerged victorious from all seven games in which they were involved in Division 1A). In the lower divisions, they played the second round, and a darkhorse in 3AA -- seventh-seeded Servite -- pulled up lame before hitting the backstretch.

Biggest upset: In only its second varsity season, Yorba Linda (11-17) went into Servite (11-18), long known for its distracting fans and a veteran of the Trinity League gantlet, and scored a 62-55 second-round victory in Division 3AA behind the play of Sharthak Mukhopadhyay, who scored 21 points. Mukhopadhyay scored 14 in the fourth as the Mustangs stretched a 37-33 lead after three quarters to nine points with 3 1/2 minutes remaining -- only to watch Servite close to within two points with 33 seconds remaining as Tre Hunter hit a pair of threes and a free throw. Hunter scored 12 of his 27 in the fourth, but Yorba Linda made five of six free throws in the final half-minute to hold on. The Mustangs next play at Charter Oak, which KO'd second-seeded Santa Barbara San Marcos, 48-45.

Best performance: When you're 7 feet 5 inches, you're supposed to be dominating, and that was the case for Mamadou Ndiaye, who helped No. 7 Brethren Christian (24-5) win on the road at Temecula Linfield Christian, 66-54. The victory sets up BC with a home game in the quarterfinals against second-seeded Sun Valley Village Christian (26-2), which is a big hurdle toward winning the 5AA championship. Ndiaye scored 27 points, had 16 rebounds and blocked seven shots. He was 12 of 17 from the field, a performance that included nine dunks. He is averaging 23.4 points, 13.9 rebounds and five blocks. It wasn't completely Ndiaye's show: freshman Brandon Bryson scored 18, well above his 4.9 on the season.

Best comeback: There's no margin for error in a single-elimination playoff, so credit El Toro (21-8) for taking care of business in the second half of its 56-50 victory over Long Beach Cabrillo (10-15). The Chargers were down, 29-23, at halftime before a 16-8 run in the the third quarter to seize the lead. Jordan Faison scored 21, and Ryan Roberts 12 as fifth-seeded El Toro set up a second-round game at Huntington Beach (16-12) , a 52-28 winner over Katella.

Best start: Tesoro opened a 12-0 lead in the first quarter, which helped the Titans hold off Westminster, 48-38, as Jalen Bruce and Andrew Lee scored 11 apiece. Westminster (16-11) finished with a flourish -- the Lions outscored Tesoro (15-12) in the fourth quarter, 20-13, accounting for more than half their points in the final eight minutes. The Titans will host second-seeded Canyon Country Canyon on Tuesday in the second round of the 2AA playoffs.

Best backstory: The game finished the way many anticipated, but it's worth noting anyway. Two years ago, Xavier Johnson was playing at Temecula Chaparral. Then he transferred to Mater Dei, the Monarchs won a state title with a large group of underclassmen, and this year they are among the top teams in the nation. In the first round, Johnson's former team ventured into the Meruelo Events Center and faced their former player. Johnson and Katin Reinhardt scored 17 apiece to lead the top-seeded Monarchs to a 79-34 victory over Chaparral (17-11). Mater Dei (25-2) led after one quarter, 23-17, but Chaparral scored only four, seven and six points the remaining three quarters. It would have been a more interesting match-up if Johnson had stayed. He didn't. And the rest is history. And backstory.

Best highlight: A lot of dunks are overrated. This one isn't. Gabe York's one-handed slam off a lob pass was the defining moment of third-seeded Orange Lutheran's 70-46 victory over Dana Hills (11-15) in the first round of the 1A playoffs. The Lancers (17-10) got 24 points from the 6-foot-2 Arizona-bound guard -- and maybe got the highlight of the year.

Loyola capable of Division 1AA glory

February, 14, 2012
If the CIF-Southern Section Division 1AA bracket unravels as many expect it to, fourth-seeded Loyola will get a shot at top-seeded Mater Dei in a dream semifinal matchup at Anaheim Arena on Feb. 28.

Yes, the boys basketball playoffs have yet to tip off and each team still has to win three games, but we're looking ahead for the sake of projection. Some recent history also adds intrigue here: Last season, defending Division 1A champ Loyola lost to Mater Dei in the Southern California regionals, 72-70, after leading by nine heading into the fourth quarter. The Monarchs went on to Sacramento and returned home with another state crown.

Think that hasn't crossed the minds of Loyola players this season?

The Cubs (21-4), at least on paper, stack up well against Mater Dei (24-2). The Monarchs have a dynamic 3-point shooter in Katin Reinhardt, and Loyola has one too in senior guard Jacob Hazzard. Mater Dei's Xavier Johnson, a Colorado signee, is one of the most versatile forwards in the Southland, but Loyola's Julian Harrell, a Pennsylvania signee, could keep up. Each team has solid role players: Mater Dei with Eli Stalzer and Elijah Brown; Loyola with Justin Childress and sharpshooter Trey Mason.

And don't forget about forward Stanley Johnson of Mater Dei and point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright, maybe the best sophomores in the area.

Loyola, which hosts Trabuco Hills in the first round on Friday, and Mater Dei, which plays Chaparral, appear to be on a collision course. And it's impossible not to consider what may lie ahead.

Blair Angulo covers preps for ESPN Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter.

I.E.: Same obstacles for Etiwanda In Division 1AA

February, 12, 2012
The Etiwanda boys’ basketball team is staring up at some familiar foes heading into the Southern Section Division 1AA playoffs.

According to the brackets released Sunday by the section office, the Eagles are seeded third in the division behind No. 1 Mater Dei and No. 2 Long Beach Poly.

Etiwanda (26-1) had its section playoff runs ended by either Mater Dei or Poly the last three seasons, and was eliminated by the Jackrabbits in the Southern California Division 1 regional playoffs the last two years.

To earn another shot at Poly, the Eagles will need to win their first three playoff games, beginning Friday night against visiting San Clemente.

A pair of Inland Empire teams also received the lone at-large berths in the Division 1AA playoffs.

Chaparral will face off against Mater Dei in the first round. Mater Dei 6-7 senior forward Xavier Johnson, the second-leading scorer for the Monarchs at 17.6 points and leading rebounder at 8.8 a game, played for Chaparral as a freshman and sophomore before transferring to Mater Dei.

Riverside King was awarded the other at-large berth and will open at Long Beach Poly. The Wolves shocked Mater Dei to win the Division 1AA title in 2009. King forward Kawhi Leonard, who currently plays for the San Antonio Spurs, had 20 rebounds in the victory, eight more than Mater Dei twins David and Travis Wear, who currently play for UCLA.

Other highly seeded teams from the I.E. include J.W. North (No. 3 in Division 2AA), Murrieta Valley (No. 3 in Division 2A), Palm Springs (No. 3 in Division 3AAA), Palm Desert (No. 4 in Division 3AAA), and Ontario Christian (No. 2 in Division 4A).
LOS ALAMITOS -- The top three divisions of the Southern Section boys' basketball playoffs are ruled by Orange County teams.

The playoff pairings, released Sunday at the CIF-SS office, established the foundation that will crown section champions Feb. 29-March 3 at Anaheim Arena, and the state finals March 23-24 in Sacramento.

The most diverse grouping atop the brackets is in Division 1AA, where Mater Dei (24-2) and Long Beach Poly (23-1) are seeded 1-2, followed by Etiwanda (26-1) from the Inland Empire and Los Angeles Loyola (21-4).

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Citrus Hill's Rounds climbing up charts

February, 10, 2012
Anthony RoundsCitrus Hill HSAnthony Rounds was born in the I.E., but moved to the Midwest and elsewhere before returning to SoCal.

PERRIS -- Chances are not many Southland prep basketball followers have heard of Anthony Rounds. The senior from Citrus Hill, after all, has not been considered a household name in prep circles.

His days of being a relative unknown on the local landscape, however, appear to be coming to an end. Rounds has developed into a legitimate prospect and the Hawks figure to be a dangerous opponent in CIF-Southern Section postseason play next week as a result.

“Anyone familiar with our program knows that everything runs through Anthony; he's proven capable of shouldering the heavy burden,'' Citrus Hill coach Tim Hatch said. “It's one of those good news and bad news deals. He's not on many people's radar, but once they see him play, the perception about him changes. It's happened more times than I count, actually.''

His numbers this season are comparable to those of his much more well-known counterparts from the greater Los Angeles area. At 6 feet 7, 210-plus pounds, Rounds averaged 18 points, 12 rebounds and nearly three blocks per game in the regular season. Capable of playing in the post or on the wing, he's also contributed close to a pair of assists and steals per night.

Nevertheless, higher-profile peers such as Santa Ana Mater Dei's Katin Reinhardt and Xavier Johnson typically receive most of the recognition. The same thing can be said about Woodland Hills Taft's Anthony January and Los Angeles Windward's Nick Stover. Rightfully so considering each individual is worthy of such praise given their respective bodies of work.

“Lack of attention always makes me work harder, I don't mind, that stuff doesn't bother me, it keeps me motivated,'' Rounds said. “When people don't talk about me, it just makes me hungry to succeed, to go out and prove everyone wrong. I can play with the best. I think that I have been sneaking up on some people for while. I feel like I'm ready to finally breakout.''

Behind Rounds, the Hawks (15-10 overall) won a share of the Mountain Pass League title and signs point to them being prepared for the Division 3-AAA playoffs. If Citrus Hill manages a way to find some success in the first couple of rounds and makes a run toward quarterfinals or semifinals, several interesting showdowns could end up materializing for Rounds.

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