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SGV Tribune

How El Monte is preparing to defend its state football title

Coaching stays in touch with players on a daily basis

It’s been a whirlwind couple of months for Jesse Ceniceros at the El Monte High School football team.

The Lions didn’t get started with their offseason preparation work in the weight room until January due to their historic Division 5-AA state championship playoff run that culminated with a 32-7 win over Del Norte on Dec. 14.

“It’s been a little weird getting started in the weight room in January,” Ceniceros said who noted that most teams get started in November or December. “No one was complaining. Once we got started going, it was business as usual.”

All of that came to a halt a month ago when governor Gavin Newsom placed a “Stay at Home” order due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Like most coaches, he has been working from home and making sure that his players are working out and getting their semester academic responsibilities completed.

“We have a daily Zoom meeting with our players,” Ceniceros said. “The players have been responding well. It’s an uncertain time for everyone.”

Another small issue that has cropped up are the state championships rings. Production of the rings was stopped and the time frame for which the rings will be finished is uncertain.

“The company that is doing our rings didn’t meet the guidelines as being an essential business,” Ceniceros said who mentioned that the rings are paid for with the assistance of a GoFundMe donor drive that took place after the state final. “I know that the players will get their rings sooner or later.”

It’s just another chapter in a journey for Ceniceros and his team that at times has felt surreal.

The Lions didn’t play in a CIF Southern Section championship game due to Adelanto forfeiting its semifinal victory over Orange Vista because a fight broke out in the third quarter of its Division 12 semifinal game. The Lions were awarded its championship plaque at the football finals luncheon the week of the game.

“I got some great words from (Mater Dei football coach) Bruce Rollinson,” Ceniceros said. “He told me that years from now, no one will remember how you won your championship. They’ll remember that you won it. It was great to get those words from a very well-respected coach.”

Thomas and Gardner earn top honors

Damien’s Malik Thomas, a junior standout basketball guard, has been named state junior boys basketball Player of the Year by Calhisports.com.

Thomas, a recent commit to the University of Southern California (USC), was named the San Gabriel Valley Tribune Player of the Year and was recently tabbed as a first-team All-CIF Southern Section and All-Baseline League selection.

The 6-foot 3 shooting guard averaged 25 points and seven rebounds, set a school record with 888 points and drained 93 3-pointers. He helped propel the Spartans to the semifinals of the CIF-SS Division 1 playoffs and Southern California State Division I regional playoffs.

It is the second time in his high school career that Thomas has been named player of the year by Calhisports.com. Two years ago, he was named state freshman Player of the Year.

Los Altos freshman Jazz Gardner was selected to the MaxPreps.com freshman All-America team. He is the second Conqueror to receive this honor in four years. Jarod Lucas was named onto the team in 2016. The 6-foot 10 center has received offers from Washington State and Pepperdine.

Quick hits

>> St. Paul senior shortstop Will Bermudez has given a verbal commitment to UC Davis. Bermudez had previously committed to the Air Force Academy after his sophomore season. Bermudez compiled a .269 battling average with six RBIs in nine games before the season came to an abrupt end due to the novel coronavirus epidemic.

>> La Mirada freshman infielder/pitcher Alejandro Diaz has given a verbal commitment to Long Beach State.

>> Paul Rodriguez has been named the new football coach at Mountain View High School. He served as the defensive coordinator with the program in previous seasons.

>> Walnut’s Nayeli Maston, a second team All-San Gabriel Valley Newspaper Group selection in girls wrestling, recently announced that she has signed with Eastern Oregon University.

>> Pasadena Poly girls soccer coach Pay Grey has stepped down. He has coached at the school for 16 years. He will remain as Poly’s middle school sports director.

>> Sione Finau has stepped down as the girls volleyball coach at Nogales HS.