Tis the season of giving.
In terms of high school sports in Kern County, we are on the receiving end of many great moments each and every year.
For a moment, just look back at 2017. Highland baseball won the first boys sports Central Section team title in school history, Navonte Demison won a second consecutive CIF State Wrestling title, and we can’t forget Stockdale’s Marcus Mota running half of the state track and field boys 3,200-meter championships with just one shoe.
Those moments and stories make this job of mine enjoyable and exciting because you never really know what is going to transpire on a daily basis.
Now let’s take a look ahead to 2018.
I have a chance to ask Santa for what I want in the coming year. I thought about it, and here's my wish list:
1. Stockdale baseball winning the D-I title: The Mustangs were so, so close to playing at Rawhide Ballpark in Visalia for the Central Section Division I baseball championship. Instead, they lost a 7-5 home heartbreaker to Clovis in the semifinals.
But the Mustangs bring back their top-four hitters, including two-time BVarsity Player of the Year Sean Mullen (who will eventually head to UCLA for college) and second baseman Jalen Smith (who will play college ball at UC Davis).
Mullen will help form a solid pitching staff, along with Alejandro Murillo and Kade Sheedy. And the entire middle of the defense — from catcher (Eli Brum or Sheedy) to centerfield (Jacob Ruley) — returns. Yes, the Mustangs have the firepower to unseat the Tri-River Athletic Conference for a championship.
2. A D-I boys basketball champion: Bakersfield High gave us all a treat last March, when the Drillers advanced to the Central Section D-I boys basketball championships at Selland Arena. Since the section moved all division championship games to the downtown Fresno Arena in 2005, the Drillers were the first Kern County team to play for the D-I boys championship.
BHS beat Liberty for the Lloyd Williams/Kern Schools Shootout title earlier this month, before Liberty had the better showing of the two at the Clovis West Nike Invitational.
While Clovis West appears to be the most complete team in Division I, teams like Fresno-Central, BHS, Liberty and Centennial all look like they have a shot at Selland. Could we get a champion this season? Can't hurt to ask.
3. Track and field state champion: There is a pattern in Kern County over the last 13 years that, if proven correctly, there should be a CIF State Track and Field Champion coming out of the county this June.
Since 2005, there have been four years that the county was without a state champ in the sport. It began in 2006-07, then there was an explosion of 12 state titles coming back home over the following three years. Then nothing in 2011-12 before a total of six over the next three years. And, again, the county has been without a state champ the last two years.
So does it change?
Well, it could. Liberty junior Daniel Viveros is the top returner in boys shot put in the state. If he stays in the event, Highland senior Moises Medrano posted the third-best time overall in the state 800 last year. And Stockdale senior Aaliyah Wilson had the second-best time in the 100 hurdles and third best time in the 100 for returners.
If history repeats itself and these incredible athletes continue to rise, state gold will be back in Kern this spring.
4. A football team playing for a section title: To say what we witnessed this season was an anomaly might be actually an understatement. For the first time since 1992, no Kern County team played for a section title in any of the top-five divisions. It’s mind blowing that it happened, let alone it happening a second year in a row. Bakersfield High and Liberty return enough starters to be in the conversation in D-I. Garces is always a contender in D-II, particularly now that Kazmier Allen will be at UCLA instead of Tulare Union. Plus, Shafter brings back star quarterback Alex Aguilar. There is hope that we can get title games back in Kern.
5. The new league alignments do us all good: The Central Section will witness some retooling to leagues around the region. Locally, while the Southwest Yosemite League remains the same, the other three major leagues in the county will get facelifts. Bakersfield Christian moves into the South Yosemite League. The Eagles will get to play teams in town instead of taking road trips to Delano, Taft, Arvin, Shafter or Wasco. The level of play in most sports will be more competitive as well, as the football and volleyball teams have not been challenged much in recent years. East is leaving the SYL to head into the Southeast Yosemite League. The Blades move makes that league truly an east Bakersfield alignment with North, Mira Monte, Highland, South and Foothill. And lastly, McFarland moves into the South Sequoia League for the first time while getting a chance to play against Kern County teams instead of schools north of the county line.