Tri-county athletes among section elite
When Chas Konopka began coaching volleyball at Los Molinos High in 2002, the team had a very different look. The players sported old basketball uniforms and got by just passing the ball over the net.
It was his first time coaching volleyball, though he played the sport for two years in high school, and the team struggled, winning just eight matches in his first two years as coach.
Fast forward 11 years and the Bulldogs made their mark on the Northern Section end-of-season awards; Konopka is the Northern Section Coach of the Year and senior hitter Clarivel Castillo is a first-team all-section selection.
Willows hitter Ally Brunner earned second-team honors, and Pierce blocker Mariah Diaz and Maxwell setter Shelen Boyes were named to the third-team.
"It was a gradual change, it took awhile to run a quicker offense and actually use a setter rather than just passing the ball over the net," Konopka said. "It was just changing the culture and the terminology."
Konopka's Bulldogs compiled a 54-97-7 record in the first five years and have gone 187-66-12 since.
The program's shift from a struggling program to one of the most successful in the section was due in part to the work of coaches at the lower levels, from junior varsity coach Ralph Wood to the junior high schools where many of the players get their start, Konopka said.
With a sound scaffolding to build from, the players coming through the program make the victories happen. Castillo led a veteran team to the section title this year with sweep of Durham in the section championship game before losing 3-1 to St. Joseph Notre Dame of Alameda in the state playoffs.
Castillo moved up to varsity as a sophomore, along with Kaitlyn Seaman and Emily Bailey. Fellow seniors Katie Morgan and Dom Henderson joined them in the playoffs as sophomores and gave Konopka a veteran core of players to work with the last two seasons.
Last year, the 6-foot Castillo became the first Los Molinos volleyball player to be named to the All-State team and this year she topped that honor by earning a spot on the MaxPreps Small Schools All-American Second Team.
"Last year she was third team all-section and she was second in the section in just about everything — kills, digs — but she was one of only a few players from the section to get recognized on the all-state team last year," Konopka said. "I think that kind of got her some recognition last year and she's also the two-time five star league MVP."
At this stage, Castillo is looking to take her talents to Butte College next year, Konopka said.
She proved herself in front of the large school coaches and players in the 13th annual North vs. South All-Star game on Dec. 8 in Willows, Konopka said.
"I don't think she got recognized until the all-star game this year," Konopka said. "All the different coaches hadn't seen her before because we're from a small school."
In that game, Castillo, along with Brunner and Diaz, formed Konopka's front line though they lost in five games. All three proved they can play with the best the section has to offer, Konopka said.
Brunner's second-team honors add to a successful senior campaign in which she led the Honkers to a Sacramento Valley League title and the Division IV title game where they lost to West Valley. Brunner was the SVL MVP.
Diaz led Pierce to the semifinals of the Division V playoffs where the Bears were swept by Los Molinos. Diaz was named to the all-SVL team as well.
Boyes guided Maxwell to its first section championship, a 3-1 victory against Redding Christian and was named the MVL MVP.
Football All-Section Team
The Orland High football team landed three players on the all-section team, including two first-teamers; wide receiver Kavi Ram and linebacker Victor Raigoza.
Orland went 8-4 and lost in the semifinals of the Division II playoffs to eventual champion West Valley. The Trojans relied on a dominant defense to reach the playoffs after starting quarterback Tyler Batchelder missed a chunk of the season with an injury.
Ram was one of the top receivers in the section, hauling in 46 receptions for 660 yards and four touchdowns but his value was in his versatility. The senior also rushed for 321 yards and two touchdowns, and contributed on defense and special teams.
Raigoza helped lead one of the top defenses in the section with 154 total tackles, third in the section, while forcing three fumbles and recovering another two.
Defensive end Arthur Flynn earned second-team honors after posting 105 total tackles and 8 .5 sacks. The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder also played fullback where he rushed for 1,027 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Joining Flynn on the second-team were Maxwell's Zach Troughton and Blake Vierra at tackle and safety, and Colusa linebacker R.J. Phillips.
Troughton anchored the offensive and defensive line for the section champion Panthers while Vierra quarterbacked the offense and was a force in the defensive backfield.
Troughton opened lanes for Vierra and running back Brian Burg to both have 1,000-yard seasons, and was fast on his feet as the key blocker on many of the Panthers' screens plays.
Vierra made his mark on both sides of the ball and perhaps his most defining moment of the season came in a 27-20 victory against Fall River in September when he ran in a 10-yard touchdown on the first play of overtime and intercepted a pass, which was tipped by Troughton, at the 1-yard-line to seal the win.
From that point on, Maxwell beat every opponent by 13 points or more while rattling off an 11-game win streak which included a 35-7 victory against the same Fall River team in the Division IV title game.
Colusa linebacker R.J. Phillips helped guide the RedHawks to a 9-3 record and the school's first Mid-Valley League title since 1997. Phillips posted a team-high 96 total tackles to go with six sacks, three forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and an interception.
Phillips also contributed on offense where he had 24 receptions for 457 yards and four touchdowns from the tight end position.
CONTACT Kirk Barron at 749-4789