For a school and sports year that ended sooner than expected, the San Pedro Prep Sports 2019-2020 season still had its strong points.
There were eight league champions (none from the Spring Sports due to all those seasons ending early due to the coronavirus pandemic), four on-campus signing day ceremonies, four regular season tournament champions, and two CIF-Los Angeles City Section champions. One of the CIF champs in particular didn't achieve any of the prior categories but made one of the biggest impacts when they mattered, and came away with the most encouraging story of them all.
Missing the playoffs altogether in 2018 after placing second in the Imperial League, the Port Of Los Angeles High girls volleyball program entered 2019 into uncharted territory considering it was the first time in the program's eleven-year history that it failed to reach postseason play.
How did the Polar Bears rectify that?
Capturing their first-ever CIF-LACS championship on November 8, 2019 with a 22-25, 25-14, 25-23, 26-24 victory over East Valley of North Hollywood in the Division 4 championship match.
Well, the season didn't start as auspiciously as they wanted the second school began in mid-August. While most schools had their teams set since June and prepared vigorously all summer, POLA (15-7 overall in 2019) begun tryouts as soon as school was in session. When the team was finally set, the Polar Bears only ran two full practices before their season-opening straight set loss to visiting Foshay of Learning Center on August 26.
From there, the Polar Bears won 10 of their next 12 matches, including capturing one of the many divisional championships in the Maywood CES Tournament, going 6-1 in the tourney, and was tied for first in the Coliseum League.
Not even a three-match losing streak in the second half of league play to Hawkins of Los Angeles, eventual league champion King-Drew Medical and Fremont of Los Angeles dimmed their fighting spirit. Finishing fourth in a competitive Coliseum League with a 6-4 mark, combined with their strong showing in the Maywood CES Tournament, was worthy enough for POLA to garner the fifth seed of the Division 4 playoffs.
Throughout the entire playoff run, the roster was stunningly shortened from 14 girls down to nine, which left POLA short on depth, which they were used to since their final match of the Maywood CES Tournament, a one-set win over University Prep Value of Los Angeles was played with just seven girls.
One notable omission from that match, had herself a dominant postseason showing.
Senior middle blocker Kaylen Scott was sensational in the Polar Bears' five playoff matches, delivering 70 kills, nine blocks and 15 aces against Gardena, Maya Angelou Community, Los Angeles. East Valley and the CIF Southern California Division 5 Regional match at Kerman (Fresno area), 26 of those kills coming in the title match against the Falcons. Even though Scott did most of the damage, she did not do it alone.
The 2019 CIF-LACS Division 4 Player Of The Year would be flanked by five more All-City Division 4 selections who all had their moments in the playoffs.
Junior outside hitter Lauren Brown made great use of her all-around skills and did everything necessary for the Polar Bears to be successful. Freshman outside hitter Sasha Suggs impressed early in their Coliseum League-opening sweep at Jordan of Los Angeles and never lost that consistency. Junior middle blocker Mia DiCostanzo may not be as athletic as Scott up front, but her long arms still posed a threat to the opposition, especially coming in handy against East Valley in the title match.
Two unsung heroes on this Polar Bear team were senior opposite hitter Arelyz Marin-Matienzo and junior libero Kasandra Soria, both of whom came through in the clutch in their final two victories over Los Angeles and East Valley.
Although she was not named to the All-City Division 4 team, junior setter Anaiys Lopez became an even bigger problem in the playoffs with her pinpoint serves, and how she efficiently set up POLA's main weapons like Scott, Brown and Suggs. Lopez had 103 assists during the postseason, and 49 of them came during the title match itself.
Finally, seniors Quitze Gastelum and Lizbeth Becerra (who also won a CIF-LACS Division 2 championship in girls soccer during her freshman year of 2016-2017) both contributed heavily to POLA's offense with their serving, especially in the semifinals against Los Angeles where the Polar Bears served 17 aces (Scott served nine of them).
CIF-LACS Division 4 Coach Of The Year Brian Justiniano was a calming influence every step of the way, even when things got dire in tense matches.
Even in their last match, a straight-set defeat to Kerman on November 13, POLA still managed to have a happy ending. Once the final kill on match point was delivered, the Polar Bears were all smiles, embracing one another as the crowd went wild... because they already made history five days prior by becoming CIF champions.
A fitting conclusion to one of the best 'feel good' stories ever in the annals of San Pedro Prep Sports.
SAN PEDRO NEWS PILOT PAST PREP SPORTS TEAMS OF THE YEAR
2011-2012: San Pedro High School Football (12-1; CIF-LACS Division 1 semifinalists)
2012-2013: Port Of Los Angeles High School Softball (28-8; CIF-LACS Division 3 champions)
2013-2014: Port Of Los Angeles High School Baseball (14-9; CIF-LACS Division 3 champions)
2014-2015: Port Of Los Angeles High School Girls Soccer (22-4-2; CIF-LACS Division 4 finalists; CIF Division 5 Southern California Regional playoffs)
2015-2016: San Pedro High School Girls Soccer (20-2-3; CIF-LACS Division 1 semifinalists)
*2016-2017: San Pedro High School Softball (25-9-1; CIF-LACS Division 1 Champions)
*2016-2017: Port Of Los Angeles High School Girls Soccer (18-4; CIF-LACS Division 2 Champions)
2017-2018: San Pedro High School Boys Soccer (14-9-2; CIF-LACS Division 4 champions)
2018-2019: San Pedro High School Girls Volleyball (26-6; CIF-LACS Division 1 champions; CIF Division 4 Southern California Regional playoffs)
* - Both Teams Share The Team Of The Year Honor