Both the Eastlake Titans and Otay Ranch Mustangs rolled into the winter break with 2-0 Mesa League records, with both teams eyeing a Jan. 3 encounter to break the deadlock atop the league standings.
Indeed, it appears the 2012-13 roller hockey season will be an exciting one.
“What’s kind of neat for the sport is that we’re starting to get interest from the general student body,” Eastlake coach Ron Cole said. “We’ve got 20 players this season — 10 on the varsity and 10 on the junior varsity. I think that’s the next level for roller hockey, and one that can keep it building.”
A total of 18 teams — nine from the Sweetwater district — are participating in 2012-13 in the CIF-Metro Conference, which is rolling out its 13th season. The circuit remains the only high school-specific roller hockey league in the state to carry the official California Interscholastic Federation brand.
And parity appears to be apparent this season.
Eastlake and Otay Ranch finished behind Hilltop in last year’s Mesa League standings but both east side rivals stripped the wheels off the Lancers in a pair of December encounters.
Eastlake dealt Hilltop a 13-5 defeat while the Mustangs topped the Lancers by an 8-4 score in a pair of games played at the outdoor rink at Castle Park High School. Otay Ranch skated to a 6-1 lead before weathering three late Hilltop goals.
“We didn’t know quite what to expect because we hadn’t seen Hilltop play yet, so we went in blind,” Cole confessed. “We wanted to observe, see what they did and then adapt and adjust. We did that very well.”
Sophomore Aaron Mayer, the team’s pint-size terror on the rink, turned in a breakout nine-point game with seven goals and two assists in leading Eastlake past Hilltop.
Classmate Michael Mechling contributed two goals and four assists while Will Winters collected two goals and one assist, Jacky Ponce dished out a goal and assist and Zane White scored once in support of back-up goaltender Sam Bawden.
Mayer, Mechling and Bawden were Eastlake’s top three scorers last season as freshmen when the varsity team experienced a major makeover due to graduation.
Mayer was the team’s freshman scoring sensation with 19 goals and nine assists. Mechling ranked second in team scoring in 2011-12 with 15 goals and seven assists while Bawden was third with 10 goals and 11 assists.
All three are back in 2012-13 … and look to lead the team to a significantly better finish than last season’s 6-14 record.
“We want to advance as far as we can and continue our learning curve,” Cole said. “We’re looking forward to the next three years.”
The Titans dropped a 16-2 non-league decision to Westview in their 2012-13 debut on Nov. 28 but came back the next day to top Sweetwater, 9-1, in another non-league contest. Mechling finished the Sweetwater game with three goals and one assist.
While Cole said he was “obviously happy” with the result of the first of three meetings against Hilltop, he said his team still has to prove itself.
“It’s nice to get that first league win,” the EHS coach said. “But until proved otherwise, Hilltop is still the defending league champion.”
Mayer remains the Titans’ team leader as a sophomore, and could be a contender for the conference scoring title. He entered the winter break with 14 goals and 11 assists for 25 points — just one point behind conference leader Spencer Ridout of Rancho Bernardo (26 points on 15 goals and 11 assists).
Mechling was not far behind with 20 points (12 goals, 8 assists).
Both Mayer and Mechling look to match their 2011-12 season totals midway through this season.
Other impact returners, according to Cole, include Winters, Ponce, White and Nick Rodriguez. Newcomers expected to make a contribution include Zach Landry and Nick Ziccardi.
Ponce may be the top female player in the conference this season, certainly among South County squads. “I think you can say with some confidence that Jacky is the best girl to have ever played at Eastlake,” Cole said.
Ponce began playing the sport as a young child and her experience is readily apparent to anyone watching the game: she isn’t intimidated on the rink playing against boys.
That was evident in a recent game when she leveled a male opponent in front of the net. She has been a regular contributor with three goals and three assists in the Titans’ opening four games.
“I want to remain active and be with the people I like to spend time with,” Ponce said in reference to her desire to play roller hockey in high school. “I like roller hockey because it has a fast pace and you don’t get bored.”
The coed nature of the sport is further exemplified by EHS netminder Sahar Aminzai, who also plays the goaltender position in both girls field hockey and lacrosse.
She made her debut in an 18-3 victory against Bonita Vista. Of note, the Barons were braced between the pipes in that game by Miranda Peters, another female goaltender.
Peters had 32 saves in an earlier 19-2 loss to Otay Ranch.
“The speed is fast-paced in lacrosse but roller hockey is the fastest sport I’ve played so far,” and Aminzai, who notched 81 saves and three shutouts during the 2012 fall field hockey campaign.
Otay Ranch (4-0) was among just three teams in the 18-team conference to sport an undefeated record entering the winter break. Rancho Bernardo led all teams with a 7-0 record while Cathedral Catholic was 3-0-1.
The Mustangs received their best test in the early going in a 3-1 non-league win over defending South Bay League champion Southwest. Otay Ranch nursed a 1-0 lead deep into the second period.
Ten teams will qualify for this year’s Kiwanis Cup/Don Cerone Memorial Championship tournament. The conference’s four league champions will receive automatic entry, thus making the race for the Mesa League title ever so important.
“Our overall season looks good right now,” ORHS head coach Adrian Rodriguez said. “We have been playing together during the offseason. Our team is connecting and I believe will be one of the top competitors this year.”
Rodriguez, who has returned to coach at his alma mater, attributed team strengths this season to “heart and great work ethic.”
“Some of our goals are to win league and win CIF, but most importantly, to build a stronger program,” Rodriguez said. “Since we have started a JV program this year, we are hoping to grow the South Bay program back to how it was when it was a powerhouse.”
Rodriguez was a bona fide superstar during his high school playing days. He led the conference in scoring in 2004-05 with 62 goals and 101 points. He won a silver medal while playing for Team USA at the 16U World Cup in Canada.
“It’s all about pride,” Rodriguez said in returning to lead his former team.
The Mustang coach is looking for improvement from last season’s 8-12 team that failed to qualify for the Kiwanis Cup playoffs.
“We have five newcomers, none with experience, but they’ve been practicing and we’ve really been working with them,” Rodriguez said. “They’ve improved a whole lot from being new to the sport, especially my goalie Carlos Horta.”
Otay Ranch has established leadership in seniors Joey Parisi, Gabe Beatie and Matt Mendez — and a whole lot of scoring potential.
Two younger players, Cole Beatie (58 goals, 80 points) and Devyn Taras (38 goals, 76 points) ranked among the top scoring tandems in the conference last season.
Taras, in particular, looks to pile up the numbers not only this season but in the future. He’s just a sophomore.
“We’ll be a high scoring team and a team with the meanest defense,” Rodriguez said, smiling.
The former attribute has certainly taken root. In their 4-0 start, the Mustangs have out-scored their opposition 45-8.
Taras tops the team with 14 goals and 23 points, followed by junior Carlos Barrios with nine goals and 13 points, Mendez with eight goals and 13 points and Gabe Beatie with six goals and 13 points.
Taras led the Mustangs with 11 points on five goals and six assists in the 19-2 win over Bonita Vista while Barrios chipped in with seven points on six goals and one assist.
Otay Ranch led 17-0 before Bonita Vista’s Jon O’Brien spoiled the Mustangs’ shutout bid.
As strong as the start to the new season has been for the Mustangs, Rodriguez noted his team still needs more work. “We can get better,” he said.
Going for gold
Otay Ranch all-league cross country runner Andie LeDesma, trading in her running shoes for skates, could be in line to win a winter sports league championship to go with a fall sports title.
LeDesma placed ninth overall at the 2012 Mesa League cross country finals as the Mustangs out-pointed chief challenger Bonita Vista 28-33.
“I wanted to try a new sport because I had been running since I was 5 and I wanted to try something new,” she said. “I was going to try either water polo or roller hockey and I thought that roller hockey had more to do with leg speed. I thought it would be more fun because it was more physical, and it was a coed sport.”
An aggressive runner on the cross country course, LeDesma has taken that same mind-set into roller hockey. Though she didn’t score in her first game, she did collect a goal in her second game and scored two goals in her third game.
“I was kind of shocked when I scored my first goal,” she admitted. “I’m progressing each day and I don’t feel as much of a burden to the team any more.”
For up-to-date statistics and standings, visit the website at www.skatesandiego.net.
(Through Dec. 21, 2012)
Cathedral Catholic Dons 2-0-1
West Hills Wolf Pack 1-1-1
St. Augustine Saints 1-1-1
La Jolla Country Day Torreys 0-2-1
North County League
Rancho Bernardo Broncos 4-0
Del Norte Nighthawks 2-2
Poway Titans 2-1
Westview Wolverines 1-3
Scripps Ranch Falcons 0-4
Eastlake Titans 2-0
Otay Ranch 2-0
Bonita Vista Barons 0-2
Hilltop Lancers 0-2
South Bay League
Southwest Raiders 3-0
Sweetwater Red Devils 3-1
Castle Park Trojans 2-2
Mar Vista Mariners 1-2
Chula Vista Spartans 0-4
(Through Dec. 21, 2012)
Rancho Bernardo Broncos 7-0
Otay Ranch Mustangs 4-0
Westview Wolveriens 4-2
Cathedral Catholic Dons 3-0-1
Eastlake Titans 3-1
Southwest Raiders 3-1
Del Norte Nighthawks 3-2
Poway Titans 3-2
Sweetwater Red Devils 3-2
West Hills Wolf Pack 2-3-1
Castle Park Trojans 2-4
Bonita Vista Barons 1-2
Hilltop Lancers 1-2
Mar Vista Mariners 1-3
St. Augustine Saints 1-4-1
La Jolla Country Day Torreys 0-3-1
Chula Vista Falcons 0-4
Scripps Ranch Falcons 0-5
(Through Dec. 21, 2012)
1. Rancho Bernardo 7-0
2. (tie) Westview Wolverines
2. (tie) West Hills Wolf Pack
2. (tie) Poway Titans
5. Del Norte Nighthawks
6. Cathedral Catholic Dons
7. St. Augustine Saints
8. Scripps Ranch Falcons 0-5
9. Otay Ranch Mustangs 4-0
10. Eastlake Titans 3-1
11. La Jolla Country Day Torreys
12. Hilltop Lancers 1-2
13. Southwest Raiders 3-1
14. Sweetwater Red Devils 3-2
15. Bonita Vista Barons 1-2
16. Castle Park Trojans 2-4
17. Mar Vista Mariners 1-3
18. Chula Vista Spartans 0-4