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California high school softball: Three join this week’s MaxPreps Top 25 Sac-Joaquin Section rankings

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Like the weather, high school softball league play is heating up throughout the Sac-Joaquin Section. The Delta League has six teams that have already been ranked in the MaxPreps Top 25 this season. No. 3 Sheldon (Sacramento) will be on the road Thursday as they take on fourth-ranked Elk Grove.

Another Delta standout, St. Francis (Sacramento) checks in at No. 6 this week. After a nine-inning loss to then No. 4 Del Oro (Loomis) to start the season, the Troubadours have rolled off six straight wins. Coach Warren’s squad has scored at least 11 runs in each of those victories.

In the Tri-City Athlete League, Lincoln (Stockton) (8-0) looks to be the favorite, but teams like TracyLodi and St. Mary’s (Stockton) might have something to say about that.

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California high school softball: Rocklin takes over top spot in this week’s MaxPreps Top 25 Sac-Joaquin Section rankings

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Rocklin has not backed away from competition to start the season. The Thunder so far has knocked off fourth-ranked Elk Grove, No. 3 Sheldon (Sacramento), No. 15 Pleasant Grove (Elk Grove) and finished with a 10-0 win Friday over Lincoln (23).
Rocklin’s success against a very tough strength of schedule has pushed the Thunder to No. 1 in this week’s MaxPreps Top 25 Sac-Joaquin Section high school softball rankings. It doesn’t get easier for them this week, starting Tuesday at home against No. 10 Roseville, before Sierra Foothill League play begins Wednesday at No. 6 Folsom and 22nd-ranked Granite Bay (22) on Friday.

Some small schools are making noise in the southern part of the section. Both Escalon and Atwater have yet to give up a run this season in eight games combined. Both teams join this week’s rankings.

In a year that unfortunately will not conclude with postseason play, we can still get excited about so many big-time matchups.

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A look back: When sports returned in Solano County

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Kierra MacKenzie (right) scores a hit against Kelara Madani in a Suzuki Cup match in Addison, Texas, in December 2019. MacKenzie competed in the tournament again in December 2020 and won a gold medal. (contributed photo -- Sonny Lopez)

Vacaville Christian High graduate Kiera MacKenzie is the best karate fighter in the heavyweight women’s division in the state of California and third best in the United States.

But MacKenzie, who usually participates in about 20 karate tournaments a year, hadn’t had a fight since March 8, 2020. California COVID regulations precluded any contact sports.

But Texas was allowing karate competition. So when MacKenzie and Jim Ernest, her coach at Ramtown Karate in Dixon, got wind of a tournament in early December in Dallas, they jumped at the chance.

MacKenzie came back from the competition, the Suzuki Cup, with a gold medal in her fighting division and a bronze in kata (a non-contact detailed choreographed pattern of martial arts movements).

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The pandemic: How high school athletes in Solano County coped

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Will C. Wood junior soccer standout Taylor Ford (front) stayed in shape for both soccer and volleyball. She hopes to play both in the compressed high school sports season. (Joel Rosenbaum -- The Reporter)

When the coronavirus closed schools and discontinued high school sports last March, athletes had to find ways to stay motivated as they waited a year for sports to resume.

Some athletes, like runners, had to stay in shape or risk losing their previous level of attainment.

“I attended a level 2 USA Track and Field coaches certification,” said Shannon Bubar, head track and field coach at Vacaville Christian High School. “After just two weeks off there’s a reduction of 6 percent of VO2 max (the maximum amount of oxygen a person can utilize during intense exercise), a 19 percent reduction and a significant decrease in power after 30 to 63 days off, and a 25.7 percent reduction and a severe decrease in power after more than 63 days.”

Larry Hogue, head track and field coach at Vanden, echoed Bubar’s thoughts.

“With track you do have to condition,” he said. “Even if you go out and jog around the block once a day, at least it gets your heart rate and stamina up.”

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Bay Area ATH Croix Stewart Lands First Pac-12 Offer From UCLA

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Benicia (Calif.) cornerback Croix Stewart gets his season started next weekend against Moraga (Calif.) Campolindo.

And he’ll start his junior year with his first Pac-12 offer under his belt.

UCLA offered Stewart after his scrimmage against Walnut Creek (Calif.) Northgate.

The Bruins were the first from the Pac-12 to offer him but he also has offers from Colorado State, Fresno State, San Diego State, San Jose State and Utah State.

With his offseason testing, a new school and his junior year forthcoming, we expected Stewart to land a slew of Power 5 offers and the Bruins got him started with it.

His offseason started with a stellar showing at the Stack Sports Showcase (formerly The Opening Regional) in Northern California. Stewart ran an event-best 4.40 laser timed forty (the fastest 40 on the Stack Sports Showcase tour) and finished with the second highest rating there, a 111.24, and was named by 247Sports as the event’s Alpha Dog.

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Vacaville, Vanden, Wood football ready to kick off

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Will C. Wood defensive end, Xavier Copeland fights through a block during practice Wednesday at Wildcat Stadium. The Wildcats open up the season at home on March 19 against league rival, Vanden High School. Copeland is one of the top returners for the 'Cats. (Joel Rosenbaum -- The Reporter)

When the California Department of Public Health declared on February 19 that high school football could resume in counties with 14 or fewer COVID cases per 100,000 people, one could almost hear a collective whoop getting ready to emanate from the mouths of local high school football players.

When the Solano County COVID-19 rate, which had been at 18.4 cases per 100,000 that day, dipped to 12.4 by the following Tuesday, the football players in the Monticello Empire League let that whoop out full throttle in celebration and put on their cleats to get ready for official practice and for their first games on Friday, March 19.

This week they got another boost when Solano County, previously in the purple color-coded COVID tier, entered the red color-coded tier. That means that, pending decisions by the local school districts (which have generally followed county guidelines), football players will no longer have to undergo weekly COVID testing.

The coaches and players at Vacaville, Will C. Wood and Vanden High Schools may be competitors. But they are unanimously thrilled to be playing football again.

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Ex-Jesse Bethel quarterback Mal Turner transfers to Napa High after Vallejo City Unified School District inaction

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Bethel's quarterback, Mal Turner, flies through the air as he runs for a first down during a 24-8 win over Vallejo in the battle for the Mayor's Cup in 2019. (Chris Riley—Times-Herald)

Mal Turner said he has been going to Jesse Bethel High School football practices so long that he can’t recall when it started.

“People sometimes come up to me and say ‘I remember when you were here in a stroller,’” Turner told the Times-Herald on Wednesday.

Mal Turner, 17, is the son of Bethel football coach and athletic director Jeff Turner, who has been at the school since its inception in 1998-99.

However, the senior’s time at the Vallejo public school has come to an end. Turner transferred to Napa High School recently after growing frustration with the Vallejo City Unified School District over the return of sports. He is expected to play quarterback for the Grizzlies, who open the football season April 19 at American Canyon.

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Vacaville couple are the nation’s top race walkers

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Robyn Stevens and Nick Christie celebrate their victories in the 35K and 50K race walks, respectively, at the U.S. National Championships in Santee, CA, on February 28, 2021. (contributed photo -- Paul Nestor).

Robyn Stevens was a sophomore at Vacaville High when she saw race walking by elite, Olympic-level walkers for the first time at the Stanford Invitational in October 1998.

Claudia Wilde, her club coach for the West Wind Flyers from Fairfield, had taught everybody on the team all the track and field events, including race walking.

“I had been a dancer, but my parents said I had to choose between track and field, soccer and dance,” recalled Stevens. “Claudia said, ‘If you stick with me I can get you a scholarship anywhere and probably into the Olympics.’ So of the three sports, I was like, ‘I’m going to stick with track and field.’ But I really loved dance so when I saw race walk for the first time done by the elites, it reminded me of ‘A Chorus Line,’ which was a dance that Baryshnikov was in, and I was like, ‘All right, I get to kill two birds with one stone. I don’t have to give up dance after all if I race walk.’”

Stevens and her partner, Nick Christie, are now the two fastest race walkers in the womens’ and men’s divisions in the United States, and both have a very good shot at competing in the Olympics in Tokyo that is scheduled for August. They have won every major head-to-head competition from one mile to 50K (about 31 miles) the last few years.

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Alumni update: Vacaville grad Troy Claunch shines on field, in classroom

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February has been good to Troy Claunch, athletically and academically.

The Vacaville High graduate joined softball player Charity Sevaaetasi in being Oregon State Scholar-Athletes of the Month.

That followed Claunch batting .538 (7-for-13) with four runs and four RBIs as the Beavers opened their season by going 3-1 in the Sanderson Ford Baseball Classic in Surprise, Arizona.

Claunch was especially effective the first three games – a loss to Kansas State and wins over New Mexico and Gonzaga – going 7-for-10. He added three walks to give him a .625 on-base percentage.

Brayden Altofer (Vacaville) also got his season off to a solid start, batting .385 (5-for-13) with an RBI as Air Force split with LSU and lost to Louisiana Tech.

California kicked off its season by dropping three of four to Pacific with Cole Elvis (Vacaville) going 1-for-9 with a walk.

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Alumni update: Vacaville grad Nevaeh DeSouza named Pac-12 Gymnast of the Week

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Talk about consistency. With scores of 9.900 on all four events, Nevaeh DeSouza of the University of California women’s gymnastics team amassed an all-around score of 39.600, tied for seventh-highest in the nation this season and fifth-best in Golden Bears history, in Cal’s 197.100-196.650 victory over Arizona State.

For her efforts, the Vacaville High graduate was named the Pac-12 Conference Gymnast of the Week.

DeSouza tied career-best scores while taking second on both bars and beam, had a career-best score while tying for second on floor and tied for fourth on the vault.

“Nevaeh has ice in her veins when it comes to handling the pressure,” co-head coach Elisabeth Crandall-Howell said in a release. “The things that Nev is doing in competition are the things she does every day in practice. The true value of Nev is she’s a 10.0 human; she shows up for her teammates, she’s always positive and they know that they can lean on her. It’s fantastic that the gymnastics is showing the person she is, but the true value is how she is that anchor for our team all the time.”

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