Coastal North County well represented in CIF Boys Open Division hoops lineup
When round one, the quarterfinals, of the 2023 San Diego CIF Open Division Playoffs tip off Friday, Feb. 17, the event will have a definite local flavor as four of the eight teams in the field call coastal North County home.
Second-seeded Carlsbad will host No. 7 Torrey Pines, fifth-seeded La Costa Canyon will travel to No. 4 San Ysidro and the sixth-seed, Santa Fe Christian will be on the road against No. 3 Montgomery. Top-seeded St. Augustine hosts No. 8 Mater Dei Catholic in the remaining match-up.
It’s a fascinating group of schools that at first brush seems to comprise a fairly wide-open bracket, despite the fact that favorite St. Augustine has yet to lose to a San Diego opponent. There are five public and three private schools and a half dozen veteran coaches joined by third-year Carlsbad mentor Clark Allard and interim Head Coach Anthony Tucker at Mater Dei. Three of the programs—St. Augustine (2015, 2017, 2022), Torrey Pines (2019, 2021) and La Costa Canyon (2014)—are previous Open Division champions. Torrey Pines is the only team to be a participant in all 10 years of the Open Division’s existence while Montgomery will be making its Open debut.
Two coaches shared similar opinions when asked to comment on how this year’s tournament might play out. “It’s going to be interesting,” said LCC’s Dave Cassaw. “St. Augustine has held serve all year in San Diego so I think they’re a clear No. 1 but I think there is some parity. It could be really exciting and it does feel like a lot of teams could have a chance to win.”
Santa Fe Christian’s Chad Bickley said, “It’s a very strong, competitive field and it’s going to be fun. Saints have definitely proven they’re the team to beat but they’re on the same side of the bracket as both LCC, a team that’s been causing a lot of problems and San Ysidro which is obviously very talented. Anything could happen.
“Every game you go into it’s about match-ups and style of play. There are a lot of proven winners in this group but in a one game, one night situation, whoever’s the best that night will come out on top.”
Here’s a quick rundown on the North Coast schools who have earned Open Division positions in 2023:
LA COSTA CANYON
At 16-11, the Mavericks have the lowest winning percentage among the eight squads but there’s a lot to recommend about Cassaw’s outfit. They have experience in the form of four seniors and one junior in their starting lineup. They’ve played more games (8) against other Open qualifiers than anyone else and reached the semi-finals last year.
There’s also a very real potential upside for LCC in the fact that 6-10 standout Wes Smith has only been with the team for three weeks and figures to only keep making the Mavs better on both ends of the floor as well as depth-wise. He had 17 points in last Friday’s win over Torrey Pines and is averaging 10 boards per outing in addition to delivering a solid inside defense.
Smith is hardly the only weapon in Cassaw’s arsenal. Returning All-CIFer Christian Brown, is pouring in a team-high 21 pts. a game and knocked down 45 in one game earlier this season, versatile point guard Ty Hendler is accounting for 17 points, four rebounds and five assists a night and guard Parker Jelsing provides another double digit scorer. Those three are all seniors. The lone junior in the starting five is rugged Trevor Ladd, who doubles as a D-1 recruited tight end for the LCC football team. Although only averaging seven points per game, Ladd has the potential to explode at any time and typically fills out the stat sheet in a variety of ways.
Cassaw is cautiously optimistic about his team’s chances. “We’ve had some great wins and some head scratching losses this season, but we’ve played a challenging schedule and that should help us,” said Cassaw. “This is a really close knit group and has played together for a long time.
“The most important thing for us over the next two weeks is to continue to get our system to gel with Wes in there. It’s weird to be adding someone like that and adjusting at this time of year but his length and size improves us in so many areas, puts so much pressure on the other team and frees up our other guys on both ends of the floor.”
SANTA FE CHRISTIAN
At 24-4, Santa Fe Christian boasts the best overall win-loss numbers of the four North Coast units in the Open and the Eagles come into the post-season with nine consecutive wins. They were also co-champs of the Coastal League, earned a first-ever triumph over Torrey Pines in December and in their regular season finale, upended the same Montgomery side they’ll be facing in CIF game one, 70-69, in a non-conference tilt.
SFC plays fast, high pressure basketball for the full 90-ft. and, like LCC, puts a relatively veteran starting cast on the floor each night. The offense revolves around senior Drew Bickley and junior Brycen MacKenzie, a pair of deep threat sharpshooters, averaging 15.3 and 22.5 ppg respectively. Seniors Jeremy Love and 6-5 Daniel Greathouse plus junior Greyson Mundis round out the first five and all provide a mix of solid defense, timely scoring and good game smarts. Jayden Luckett, a 6-6 transfer who became eligible mid-season has averaged just 4.5 points and 4.0 rebounds per contest but his size may dictate a bigger role in CIF action.
If the Eagles can get through Montgomery, they would play the winner of Torrey Pines-Carlsbad. (Chad) Bickley likes his team’s make-up and its chances.
“I think this team is seasoned, it’s been through a lot the last couple of years and has stepped up to the plate in big games and tough environments,” he said. “We’re not the biggest team in the world but play a very united brand of basketball. There’s no fear and I love how we’ve come closer as a group
“We’re a good fast-breaking team and I think for us, winning will come down to keeping people out of the lane. We have to make it difficult every possession. If we get beat, we want to make sure the other team earns it—if we compete, good things will happen.”
Even without the size and athleticism it has typically possessed in past years and despite having to work through a pair of significant injuries, Torrey Pines still had the grit to post an 18-10 record against a rugged schedule and wind up back in the thick of the Open Division fray. Count out John Olive and his 600-plus Torrey Pines victories at your own peril.
This year’s roster is not necessarily young but clearly more inexperienced than recent Falcon entries. Most prominent is 6-foot-5 senior JJ Bartelloni, an outstanding shooter and scorer (18.9 ppg), who, as the lone returning starter from last season, has done everything from guarding the opponent’s best player to bringing the ball up against the press. Junior Zach Jackson has emerged as a dependable sidekick, averaging 11.8 points and a team best 7.3 rebounds per contest. A pair of juniors, Matin Madadkar and Dylan Kail, along with sophomore Cody Shen fill out the starting quintet
The Falcons were 13-5 (9-1 vs. SD teams) when senior point guard Alex Cabulio suffered a torn ACL in January. Cabulio was chalking up 8.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and a team-leading 3.1 assists per night when he went down. Matters got worse when his freshman back-up Zander Ovies was knocked out by a season-ending high ankle sprain against San Marcos. Shen has stepped into the void and performed admirably but the personnel losses also hamper depth and options that come with it.
Olive’s well-documented game-planning expertise and perhaps the infrequent role of underdog are factors that could play in Torrey’s favor.
“The most important element in being successful for us would be maturity—but that’s tough to just have,” said Olive following the Falcons’ regular season-ending loss at LCC. “You gain maturity through lots of games like this. We’ve played a lot of tough games this season and hopefully that pays off in CIF.”
This may be only Allard’s third year in charge at Carlsbad but it will be his second trip to the Open Division tourney. The first one, when the Lancers slipped in as the No. 8 seed in 2021, resulted in a 70-48 first round defeat at the hands of eventual titlist Torrey Pines, the same club they will face in this year’s quarterfinal.
In the time between then and now, Allard and his charges have grown up. The Lancers are the defending CIF Division I champs, own an impressive 23-5 mark this season and rolled to the Palomar League championship, losing just one game in the process while topping Torrey Pines twice along the way. And lest one forgets, Allard carries all of the knowledge accrued while cutting his prep coaching teeth during seven years as an assistant to Olive.
One other thing Allard has at his disposal is 6-3 sophomore Jake Hall, a dynamic offensive force whose stat line of 25.7 points, 6.8 boards and 4.0 assists makes him one of the top players in the section. Carlsbad has plenty more firepower beyond Hall, though.
The Lancers sport an army of long range gunners. They average 80.4 points per game as a team, shoot 40% as a team from behind the arc and have four players—Hall, Josh Shields, Tony Duckett and Jett Kenady—with at least 24 treys. They come into their third meeting of the year vs. TP with eight wins in their last night contests.
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