Boys basketball defeats Sierra Canyon to advance to Open Division Finals


Allegra Drago/Chronicle

Boys basketball defeats Sierra Canyon to advance to Open Division Finals.

Allegra Drago and Charlie Seymour

The boys basketball team defeated the Sierra Canyon High School Trail Blazers 63-60 in the California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section (CIF-SS) Open Division semifinals on Friday Feb. 18. The team’s wins against Sierra Canyon, Notre Dame High School and Mater Dei High School in the regional tournament qualify it for a higher seed in the CIF state tournament.

Forward Brady Dunlap ’23 said the anticipation of playing the Trail Blazers has been a driving force in practices and coachings since their 75-65 loss in 2020. He said the players had been hoping for a rematch since their defeat. 

“For the last two years, we’ve been working to play Sierra Canyon and beat them to get into the championship game,” Dunlap said. “It’s what we’ve always been working towards. [Playing them] is always mentioned in practice, motivating us to work harder and prepare for that moment. Winning is what we’ve dreamt of.”

In addition to the rivalry behind the game, power forward Jacob Huggins ’23 said the pressure of elimination from the CIF regional tournament helped motivate the team to victory.

The team really left it all out [on the court] more than we have in previous games,” Huggins said. “Knowing that this was a big [game] and we could’ve been eliminated with a loss really gave [the players] energy and a drive to get the job done and come out with a [win].”

Dunlap, who shot 10 points in the fourth quarter, said the score being so close throughout the match kept the team motivated to continue to play their best. He said he and his teammates played for the success of the team, rather than for their own individual stats.

“It’s always great to help the team in any way I possibly can, but I wasn’t thinking about the points while I was playing,” Dunlap said. “I was feeling really good in that fourth quarter, and it was fun to see [the points go up] on the scoreboard, but I was doing it for the team. It wasn’t about any of our individual successes, it was about the outcome.”

Dunlap said winning the game was emotional for the team as a result of the hard work they put in for this game. 

“The losses that we’ve had the last few years in the playoffs have really hurt,” Dunlap said. “There have been times where it hasn’t been tears of joy like those from the game but real heartache instead.”

Boys Basketball Program Head David Rebibo said despite the rivalry with the team’s opponents, the coaches sought to prepare the players in the same manner as any other match to ease the pressure on the team to perform.

Every game presents new challenges that [the coaches and players] have to address and prepare for,” Rebibo said. “We were aware of [this match’s] implications and encouraged our guys to embrace this opportunity and lean on each other for strength and confidence.”

Rebibo said the win over Sierra Canyon was especially important for the team going forward because it showcased the ability of the team as a whole, not just the talent of individual players.

“Our players were together from start to finish,” Rebibo said. “They never wavered from each other and stayed committed to the game plan and one another.” 

The game attracted hundreds of fans, with tickets selling out within minutes of their release Feb. 17. Head fanatic Ridley Berger-Sacks ’22 said leading the school’s student section in the bleachers at this game was especially momentous because of the large number of spectators in attendance.

This is the best game we have had as fanatics this year,” Berger-Sacks said. “In a stadium, everything gets amplified so much more and [the fans’] impact on not just how our team plays, but how the other team plays is amazing.”

The team will play Corona Centennial High School in the CIF SS Open Division finals on Feb. 25, marking its first appearance in a Southern Section Open Division final in program history.