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The Age of Excellence: The growing pains

Since opening in 2004, West Ranch and Golden Valley have seen struggle and success

Posted: December 23, 2009 11:04 p.m.
Updated: December 24, 2009 4:30 a.m.
West Ranch quarterback Josh Gibbs (1) runs off the field in celebration after Tyler Casepo, not pictured, scored the winning touchdown with 32 seconds left in the Wildcats’ 26-22 victory over Golden Valley on Nov. 10, 2004, at COC. West Ranch quarterback Josh Gibbs (1) runs off the field in celebration after Tyler Casepo, not pictured, scored the winning touchdown with 32 seconds left in the Wildcats’ 26-22 victory over Golden Valley on Nov. 10, 2004, at COC.
West Ranch quarterback Josh Gibbs (1) runs off the field in celebration after Tyler Casepo, not pictured, scored the winning touchdown with 32 seconds left in the Wildcats’ 26-22 victory over Golden Valley on Nov. 10, 2004, at COC.

By 2000, a population boom in the Santa Clarita Valley had more than caught up with the William S. Hart Union High School District.

In 2004, to address overcrowded classrooms at Valencia, Hart and Canyon high schools, two new schools were opened.

During perhaps what is arguably the most competitive eras in the region’s sports history, two new sets of student athletes emerged with Golden Valley and West Ranch high schools.

Grizzlies and Wildcats — welcome to the SCV.

Golden Valley opened near the previous districts of Canyon and Hart high schools and West Ranch primarily addressed the Valencia and Stevenson Ranch areas.

Both schools have taken their lumps and experienced a harsh learning curve as they’ve worked to carve their own niche.

Understandably, Foothill League titles have been few and far between for both schools, as the other four members had at least an eight-year jumpstart in varsity-program development.

West Ranch has three league crowns — girls tennis tied Valencia for one in the fall, and boys golf has won it for the last two seasons. Golden Valley won a boys basketball league title in 2009.

There have been struggles and successes.

“I think success breeds success,” says West Ranch athletic director Dody Garcia. “And it comes and goes in cycles.”

More than three decades of coaching and teaching athletics in the SCV has given Garcia a unique perspective on the situation. She’s worked at every school except Golden Valley, as she has been with West Ranch in her current position since the school opened.

Garcia feels that there are so many factors that go into a program’s success, it’s hard to pinpoint why those three Wildcat championship teams have had more success than others.

Talented athletes, solid coaching and parent support are particularly strong for those sports though, she says. “It’s a lot of the dedication of the athletes themselves and the parents,” she adds.

Golden Valley athletic director Chris Printz started as the school’s first head coach of boys basketball and stayed with the team since being promoted to AD three years ago.

He says a big reason for basketball’s success is that from the outset, he set as tough a schedule as possible and tried to build expectation within the program.

“I think the biggest challenge is that we had very young athletes and no seniors. Really, the success of any athletic program comes from leadership. Not just from an administrative perspective, but from students and student leadership. And that comes from having kids who have been there before,” Printz says.

He adds that his first year, the team was 7-17.

“But it was a blessing in disguise,” Printz says. “We challenged ourselves from the very beginning, and we came back and we were better the next year. I don’t think that would have happened if we hadn’t had that experience the year before.”

Both schools have also lost talented players to neighbors in the SCV. Some athletes moved out of the SCV altogether.

It’s a burden shared by Garcia and Printz.

Brian Stiman, the athletic director at Valencia, says as coach of the Vikings football team early on, it was incredibly difficult. The problem was not just finding athletes you could teach but keeping them.

“To be quite honest with you, I hate to say it, but I think it was actually more difficult for us,” Stiman says. Valencia opened in 1994 when Hart, Canyon and Saugus had long been established in the valley. “There was a road that was paved for (West Ranch and Golden Valley). But when we came along, we were really the new kids on the block. The other schools had been established so long ago.”

Not only that, but at that time, the district had an open-enrollment policy, which meant kids could transfer to whatever school they wanted.

“Who wants to come to the new program?” Stiman asks rhetorically. “The truth of the matter is, unless you have the support (of parents and administrators), it can be very difficult.”

It has also been difficult for the two new schools to find a consistent leader in perhaps the most high-profile coaching position on campus — varsity football.

While both ADs say they are happy with the people in charge now — Andy Campbell and Sean O’Brien, for Golden Valley and West Ranch football respectively — only history will tell whether either will be able to last more than three seasons. That’s the longest tenure on either side.

It may not seem significant given how new each school is, but Stiman stayed on to coach Valencia’s varsity squad for 12 years before stepping down to become AD.   

“It’s always hard to transition from one coach to another,” says Printz, who is the only remaining head coach from Golden Valley’s original hires. “When you have freshmen coming in and you have that transition from one coach to another, that model changes a little bit. The longer you have coaches in place the more it benefits the program.”  

Jacque Snyder, who was Golden Valley’s principal for its first four years, says at that position it can be especially difficult because of the odds a new coach is facing.

“Unfortunately, football has taken the biggest hit,” Snyder says.

Snyder says there were a lot of calls for the team to go varsity with its first junior class.

“We got good advice from the league it seemed,” she says. Snyder pointed to the fact that Valencia had done the same and went on to become another powerhouse program. “But we were smaller than they ever were,” Snyder adds.  

“I think there’s pressure from parents, from media, from the league and I think it’s hard (for a coach) to lose and they work so hard. And our numbers have never been real big, so once you get an injury. ... I remember one of the games (in the 2006 season) spending the whole night at Henry Mayo (Newhall Memorial Hospital) because they were sending in the kids one after another. And I felt bad for the kids. It wasn’t because they weren’t working hard.”

West Ranch varsity football is 18-22 through four seasons. Golden Valley is 7-35.

The struggles on Fridays, though, may be overshadowing the progress of both programs, Printz says.  

In more individual sports like tennis, golf and running sports, both schools are producing talented athletes.

Golden Valley’s Seth Totten will probably be running for an NCAA Division I program, Printz says. The Ho sisters were both in the semifinals for league tennis, and both are in their first two years at the school.

West Ranch’s J.J. Holen could be the best in Foothill League golf soon. The girls cross country team advanced to the CIF state finals and finished fifth. Jake Bernards is playing baseball for San Diego State after playing quarterback and first base for the Wildcats.

It could be a matter of time before the SCV is talking about the first West Ranch or Golden Valley dynasty,

“Obviously, you have more schools now, and the athletes are going to be divided a little bit more and you look now and there’s more parity between schools (in sports like football) than there ever was before,” Garcia says. “It’s been a building process that every school goes through.”

Snyder says she’s already seen positive signs even though the task of building a new program is getting harder and harder.

“I’ve seen improvements,” Snyder says. “They’re still small, but I’ve seen improvements.”



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