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Valencia athletics: Getting with the program

Thanks to success in different sports, Valencia has become the valley’s best athletic institution

Posted: December 26, 2010 9:42 p.m.
Updated: December 27, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Alex Lightfoot (pictured) and the Valencia baseball team have dominated the Foothill League over the past decade or so. A lot of other programs at Valencia have done the same, and the Vikings have become the premiere overall athletic program in the Santa Clarita Valley.

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It didn’t matter which sport it was.

Up until about a decade ago, if you wanted to know who the best team in the Santa Clarita Valley was, the smart money would be on Hart.

That was true for football, baseball, basketball and a lot of other sports in which the school participated for a lot of the valley’s history.

Somewhere along the line, a new school began rearing its purple and gold head — and that head was wearing a Vikings helmet.

Valencia High School athletics introduced itself to the Santa Clarita Valley in 1995, when its programs first entered the varsity level.

It wasn’t long before Valencia programs were dominating league opponents and claiming CIF championships.

“Somebody’s finally admitting it,” jokes Valencia athletic director Brian Stiman.

Though when it happened is up for debate, Valencia has established itself as the area’s powerhouse in nearly every athletic arena.

In all, the school has won at least a share of 71 Foothill League titles spread across 13 programs, both girls and boys.

The boys volleyball team already has four CIF-Southern Section Division II championships and a state title in 2008.

In softball, the school has two CIF-Southern Section Division I championships and also took home a national title in 2007.

The football team nabbed its second straight league title earlier this year and advanced to the semifinals for the third straight season in the CIF-SS Northern Division.

“I think everybody gets up for Valencia, and it doesn’t matter what sport you’re playing ... if you beat Valencia, it’s a notch on your belt,” says Valencia softball head coach Donna Lee.

In most sports, the takeover began right around the start of the new millennium.

The first league title was won in 1999 by the girls volleyball team under head coach Ray Sanchez.

Since then, Sanchez, who still coaches the team, has won nine more league titles, spanning consecutive seasons from 2002 to this year.

“I think the single most important ingredient is having a good administration,” Sanchez says. “Some administrations don’t put a lot of emphasis on sports and I think our administration has always had sports as a priority. And that’s all sports, not just the big ones.”

Stiman, who coached the football team for its first 10 years of existence, agrees, saying the success starts at the top with principal Paul Priesz.

“Somehow, he has found that balance where academics are an extremely high priority. ... But at the same time making athletics equally important,” Stiman says.

As head coach, Stiman saw the Vikings beat Hart in football for the first time in 2004.

That ushered in an era during which the program has gone 4-1-1 against Hart since head coach Larry Muir took over in 2005.

“When I first started, the mission was to be the best high school in the valley in every aspect,” Stiman says, adding that facilities, teachers and academics also factor into the equation.

But others feel like Valencia’s rise to dominance can be attributed to more tangible causes.

“Players,” says Saugus baseball head coach John Maggiora, who was an assistant coach for Valencia baseball from 2000-05.

Drawing from the highly populated Valencia community, the high school may have a talent advantage simply due to sheer numbers, he says.

“When we were there, the amount of talent over there was incredible,” Maggiora says.

Reputation helps, too.

“I have kids in second grade who already want to go to Valencia and they’ll say, ‘Are you still going to be here?’” Lee says. “And I say, ‘Yes, the program will still be here.’”

Valencia High has set enough of a standard to attract more students, more athletes and more competition.

“There are expectations as soon as they get to school,” Lee says. “With some of those kids, there are expectations even before high school.”

Sanchez, on the other hand, believes Valencia’s newfound dominance has come as a result of the dedication of the coaches and teachers alike.

“I don’t think we have more talent than Hart, I don’t think we have more talent than Saugus,” Sanchez says. “But I think we do a pretty good job of making the most out of our talent.”

And Stiman says that what has made Valencia the class of the valley’s athletic landscape is precisely what will keep things that way.

It’s a competitive culture, he says, from top to bottom. It’s the kind of place where everyone involved in the school, whether athletically or otherwise, will always try to improve.

“It’s a cool place to work, but you can’t sit back and feel like you’ve gotten there,” Stiman says. “If you want to go to a place where you can sit back and relax, this is not the place to work.”

So if Valencia truly has become “the new Hart” of the valley, that’s fine with Stiman. But it was never his intention.

“We don’t look at it that way because we never wanted to be like Hart High school,” Stiman says. “We wanted to be better than Hart.”

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