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Torrey Pines boys looking for three-peat as Avocado West basketball race tips off

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Torrey Pines junior Brandon Angel.

With the prep basketball pre-season and holiday tournament stages now over, it’s time to focus on league schedules and the march to post-season play. In the Avocado West League, some things have already started to sort themselves out.

On the boys’ side, defending champion Torrey Pines won its first nine games and emerged from a brutally grueling December tournament campaign as the clear-cut favorite. Now deservedly-ranked third in the section (U-T), the Falcons lost by just one point to both No. 1-ranked Mission Bay and No. 2-ranked Foothills Christian and won their final contest of 2018 over No. 4 St. Augustine, avenging an earlier loss to the Saints. Coach John Olive has four players—Bryce and Michael Pope, Brandon Angel and Noah Viera—averaging in double figures.

San Marcos, 10-6, still looks capable of playing with Torrey. The tandem of junior Elijah Randall and sophomore Chris Howell have been solid as expected and the steady improvement of a few key younger players makes the seventh-ranked Knights the team likely to provide the Falcons’ most serious challenge. With victories in seven of their last nine (and the only losses coming to non-San Diego tournament opposition), the Knights seem to be coming on.

Coach Sam Eshelman’s Carlsbad squad may be the league’s most-improved outfit. Now 13-3, the No. 14 Lancers recently won the White Mountain Holiday Classic in Arizona and the “Nelsons,” the newly-eligible transfer from Sage Creek, Jailen, and 6-5 sophomore Caleb, have been impressive of late. The former averaging over 13 points per game and the latter making strides across his versatile skill set.

La Costa Canyon is once again an enigmatic group that looks to have more potential than it’s shown. The Mavs’ up-and-down nature was on full display in last week’s New Year’s Classic at Orange Glen. After falling to a sub-.500 Oceanside club it had previously defeated, LCC showed some fourth quarter grit a night later in outlasting a Montgomery squad ranked in the section’s top 10, only to get thumped by Poway in its tournament finale. Injuries and sickness have plagued LCC but those aren’t the only issues that will have to be solved if the Mavericks want to jump above mid-pack status.

CCA senior
Canyon Crest senior Brendan Bordok. Ken Grosse

Over at Canyon Crest, after last season’s second place finish, Coach Brian Baum had the most daunting rebuild in the AW. His young Ravens are 6-10 with junior guard Justin Lam averaging right around a dozen points an outing. There’s just one returning starter (junior Frank Gelfman), but even in defeats, watching CCA play one can envision a bright future—they just won’t reach it in 2018-19.

Senior guard Robert Ligayon is scoring at a nearly 20-pt. per game clip for conference newcomer Mission Hills and the young Grizzlies have demonstrated some resolve against a pretty tough non-league lineup. Whether that will be enough in the Avocado West is another question.

Here’s what the coaches are saying about their pre-season as they head into league action (current record included in parentheses):

John Olive (Torrey Pines/13-5) – “We’re getting better, taking practice seriously and progressing. Our perimeter defense is improved, we’re moving the ball better and getting more high-quality shots. We’re going to be facing a lot of talented teams in the Avocado West and are going to have to play at a high level on as many possessions as possible.

“Two of our transfers, Victor Novy and Travis Snider, are finally feeling comfortable with what we do and fitting into our system.”

Dave Cassaw (La Costa Canyon/9-8) – “I think the biggest thing for our group is consistency—getting everyone healthy, practicing and playing games on a consistent bass is what I’ve found to be our biggest challenge. When we have that is when we’ve been at our best.

“We’ve had a lot of guys step. One is Brandon Perry. He’s a sophomore who’s had a great opening part of the season for someone that is in his first varsity season after playing JV last year.”

Brian Baum (Canyon Crest/7-10) – “I have been proud of the effort and energy our group has produced on a nightly basis but our inexperience has shown in our inconsistency on both ends of the floor.”

Dante Carey (San Marcos/10-6) – “I’ve been surprised with our young post players, they’re playing stronger and developing faster than I thought they would. And the last couple of tournaments during the holiday season, our freshman guard Devon Arlington has stepped up and is becoming a good scorer for us.

“To be honest, I think the Avocado West is going to be more wide open than people expect. I still consider Torrey Pines the favorite but it’s going to be really tough with ourselves, an improved Carlsbad team and La Costa Canyon, if they get all their pieces back, in the mix.”

Curtis Hofmeister (Mission Hills/7-11) – “Our kids are playing as well as our age and experience would dictate. Those things don’t determine your competitive spirit and I can say that our team definitely competes. They fight and strive no matter the score and have stayed together when things got tough.

“From the start of the season, two things we’ve focused on are ball security and being playing physical in areas like blocking out. I feel like we’ve got the physical part shored up but ball security is still a work in progress.

“We are moving the ball well and our unselfishness has been a good thing. Being able to make enough shots will be a key for us in league play.”

Sam Eshelman (Carlsbad/13-3) – “We’re still ironing some things out, but we’ve got a talented group. We have more depth than we initially thought we would and that will be important when dealing with the inevitable injuries and illnesses you encounter during the season.

“I think we’ve proved we can play different styles and I’ve been encouraged with the way we’ve responded when matched up with good teams. The league is going to be tough and, hopefully, we’ll be poised to handle it.”

FIRST WEEK AVOCADO WEST BOYS’ BASKETBALL SCHEDULE (all games start at 7:00 PM)

Wednesday, Jan. 9

San Marcos @ Canyon Crest

La Costa Canyon @ Mission Hills

Carlsbad @ Torrey Pines

Friday, Jan. 11

Carlsbad @ San Marcos

Canyon Crest @ La Costa Canyon

Torrey Pines @ Mission Hills

LCC senior
Senior Graham Cook of La Costa Canyon. Ken Grosse
San Marcos
Junior Elijah Randall of San Marcos. Ken Grosse