For local prep sports fans, it was a busy five and a half hours last Friday, Jan., 19, afternoon/evening on the 2.8-mile corridor of Del Mar Heights Rd. between Torrey Pines High School and Canyon Crest Academy. The two local athletic titans battled it out in four different sports (boys’ & girls’ basketball and boys’ & girls’ soccer) that in three cases included a team or teams highly-ranked in county polls.
The series of contests, which culminated the first week of Avocado West League play featured the best of what high school sports has to offer—great action on the fields and courts, imaginative, high energy cheering in the stands, free or low-cost tickets, cheerleaders, mascots and the simplicity that makes this level of competition so appealing.
But is this head-to-head encounter a rivalry? That’s a question that brings different, but similarly inconclusive responses from both sides. Undeniably, Torrey Pines is, and has been for some time, one of the powers on the San Diego high school scene. Since the school opened in 1974, the Falcon athletic program has won league and CIF titles with stunning regularity. In 2015-16, it was named the top prep program in California. Typically high on the radar for many foes, they have a long-running rivalry with, among others, nearby La Costa Canyon.
On the other hand, Canyon Crest is in just its 14th year of existence and was founded with a heavy emphasis on not only academics but performing arts. The Ravens have no football program, band or cheerleaders, but have top-flight facilities and in recent years have shown an increasing appetite for adding athletic success to their academic resume. Just this past fall, CCA won the CIF Division I girls’ cross country title and had runner-up finishes in boys’ water polo (D-1), girls’ tennis (open) and girls’ volleyball (open), losing to Torrey Pines in the latter pair.
Torrey Pines Athletic Director Charlenne Falcis-Stevens has a healthy respect for the accomplishments and potential at Canyon Crest. “They’re a growing school and their programs are getting stronger and stronger every year,” said Falcis-Stevens. “It’s a good match-up for our teams on top of the fact that it’s a community game. It brings out the best in both schools.”
Falcis-Stevens counterpart at Canyon Crest, Sean Keenan knows he has a good model right down the street. “We’re two very, very different schools,” says Keenan. “Torrey Pines is a traditional athletic powerhouse with all the trappings and that manifests itself in how they’re viewed by our kids and our community and how we view ourselves comparatively.
“We have pride in our uniqueness but also want to be the school that has it all, including a dominant athletic program. We’re very competitive across the board but certainly not at the level Torrey Pines has built up to be. I think we’re getting there though.”
Here’s a look at what happened when the two schools clashed last Friday.
Girls’ Soccer – Canyon Crest 1 Torrey Pines 1
The day started off with a bang as several hundred CCA students braved the cold and drizzle to watch their Ravens rebound from a one-sided Wednesday night loss at Carlsbad to earn a stunning, 1-1, draw against the No. 1-ranked team in the county. Third-year Canyon Crest Head Coach Sarah Aguilar was happy with her side’s performance.
“I’m absolutely pleased with the way we bounced back,” said Aguilar. “Wednesday was a letdown and we know we’re better than that. This was a great step forward for our program.”
The 13-0-3, reigning CIF Open Division champion Falcons struck first when freshman Karly Reeves buried a brilliant bicycle kick in the far corner midway through the opening half. “Karly’s a smart player, knew where the goal was and where the keeper would be,” said Torrey Pines Head Coach Martyn Hansford. “It was a good little bit of creativity on her part.” The score seemed to quell the crowd and stabilize the two-time defending league champion Falcons who appeared ready to depart victorious when circumstances got re-adjusted with just under 10 minutes to go.
A stretch of physical, aggressive play was rewarded when Raven senior Molly Gillcrist got pulled down in the box, earning a penalty kick. The Navy-bound Gillcrist converted, driving her shot off the out-stretched arms of TP freshman keeper Shayna Ross into the side netting, deadlocking the game. It simultaneously energized Canyon Crest which kept the pressure on but was unable to find the game winner.
“I was pleased with the way we came out in the second half and never gave up,” said Aguilar, whose team is now 6-3-5. “We had a huge defensive effort as the conditions got worse. This team has shown strength when faced with adversity and as we build as a program we have to understand what we’re capable of. We need to have high expectations every time we take the field.” Hansford took the outcome in stride.
“It was a good learning experience,” said Hansford. “We’re still undefeated and going 1-0-1 in our first two league games, both on the road, is not the worst result.
“We weren’t at our best and there are definitely some things we want to improve on. You’ve got to give credit to CCA. They had a good game atmosphere (which included free pizza and a robotics club inspired cheerleader) and were more physical. They were quick to close down and make us uncomfortable.”
Girls’ Basketball – Torrey Pines 61 Canyon Crest 50
The setting shifted west to Torrey Pines for girls’ basketball where senior Rachel Shen (19 pts.) and sophomore Maddie McClurg (18) combined for six three-pointers and 37 points as the host Falcons prevailed, 61-50. In a game that unfolded at a breakneck pace, Torrey jumped out to a 31-20 halftime edge and built the lead up to 19 early in the second half. Canyon Crest, which got double digit output from juniors Andrea Behar (17 pts.) and Tehila Cherry (16), narrowed the deficit to nine with 3:16 on the clock but was unable to take advantage of several opportunities to make it closer.
Torrey Pines Head Coach David McClurg, who saw his club win its fourth straight, lift its overall record to 10-7 and start Avocado West action with a pair of wins, likes the direction his team is trending. “We played much better than we did two nights earlier against San Dieguito,” offered McClurg. “I think it’s a sign that our team is getting comfortable playing with one another and with what we’re trying to get them to do.
“We knew coming in that CCA would be a tough team. They beat us twice last year, handily as I recall. They have a tough half court press but I thought our girls did a good job breaking it tonight.” Canyon Crest drops to 7-12 on the year.
Boys’ Soccer – Canyon Crest 1 Torrey Pines 1
In perhaps the most-anticipated of the day’s quartet of games, No. 1 Torrey Pines had to come-from-behind at home to earn an entertaining, 1-1, tie with No. 4 Canyon Crest, both goals coming in the first half. The two teams each complete week one of Avocado West play at 1-0-1, half a game behind 2-0 La Costa Canyon. Torrey Pines remains undefeated at 13-0-1 while CCA stands at 12-1-3.
Canyon Crest senior Mike Avila put his side on the scoreboard first, drilling in a free kick from long range. “Mike’s got an incredible leg and can really whip it in there with a lot of pace,” said CCA Head Coach Tom Lockhart, who estimated the shot at 35 yards. “You always have to be a little lucky to score from that distance but he didn’t give the keeper time to react.”
Torrey Pines scored the equalizer on another set piece as senior Connor Wood made a nice early run to get the first touch on a free kick that he re-directed into the net. Torrey Pines Head Coach Andy Hargreaves didn’t get the verdict he was looking for but was philosophical about the draw. “I don’t think we played our best,” said Hargreaves. “We did enough to win but the result was reflective of a tight game with a lot at stake. CCA plays a pretty defensive style and Tom’s definitely got his guys well-organized. It’s difficult to break them down.”
After Wood’s tally, it was end-to-end action but no goals in a contest that could have gone either way. “I thought both teams had very legit chances to win it,” said Lockhart, whose crafty senior forward Danny Najifian created several quality opportunities, including a late two-on-one, but came up empty.“They possess the ball really well and they’re a little bigger than we are—they have some trees in the back that make it pretty tough to penetrate.”
Torrey Pines turned its offense loose in the final minutes but some big plays by Raven keeper Brandon Kaleta kept things even on the scoreboard. “We had enough chances to win but you’ve got to finish,” lamented Hargreaves. “We’ll go forward at full strength with plenty of confidence.”
Boys’ Basketball – Torrey Pines 75 Canyon Crest 56
The day’s action was capped off by the No. 2-ranked Torrey Pines boys’ hoops team pulling away from visiting Canyon Crest, 75-56 in front of a raucous bipartisan crowd at the TP campus gymnasium. “I was surprised by the final margin,” said veteran Torrey head man John Olive. “It was a very close game in the first half and I expected it to go pretty much along that way.”
Seven first half three-pointers had the No. 4 Ravens trailing by a mere 32-29 margin at the break and anything seemed possible. A couple of tweaks by Olive made the second 16 minutes a different story. “We made a little adjustment in our rotations at halftime that helped limit their clear looks at threes,” he said. “and without them knocking down threes, they struggled a little bit to find other offense.
“We also talked about our defense being able to create our offense and that’s exactly what happened. We were able to make them take some tougher, more contested shots and kept them off the glass. We were in attack mode after that.”
Senior Finn Sullivan scored half of his game high 24 points on treys and the junior twins Bryce and Michael Pope netted 24 and 15 points respectively. Bryce Pope scored 11 in the third quarter when the Falcons took control. “Finn was really unbelievable but everyone played well, even some guys who didn’t score a lot made an impact defensively,” said Olive. “It was a real team effort but Finn was the difference.”
Coach Brian Baum was succinct in evaluating the outcome. “They shot the ball well and we didn’t,” he said. Senior guard Aaron Acosta led the Ravens with 21 points.All-in-all, a four-game show that definitely lived up to expectations and promises to keep on delivering. “Our kids always look forward to these games and they’re games our student body circles on their calendars as ‘the one I’m going to,’ “ says Keenan. “A lot of our coaches will say it’s just another game but they’re not being totally truthful.”
As the Torrey Pines cagers started to open up the gap on their CCA opponents in Friday’s second half, the Falcon student section serenaded the visitors with an “it’s not a rivalry” chant. To which the CCA throng promptly responded “we don’t care.” Seemed like a bit of a fraud on both sides.
So the question remains. Is it a rivalry? Sounds like a rivalry. Looks like a rivalry. Feels like a rivalry. Whatever you want to call it, it’s a good time that one can only hope keeps getting bigger. These same four teams will collide for round two, Wednesday, Feb. 7, with the venues reversed. Check it out and make your own decision.