A youth sports season is often a rewarding journey in one way or another. The winding course offers lessons starting in practice and continues with thrilling games and encounters that promote sportsmanship and community pride.
The 2016-17 year for Orange County’s Parochial Athletic League (PAL) was no different. Here is a year-in-review of the boys and girls seasons for the top seventh and eighth-grade teams from the faith-based league, according to PAL director Russ Smith of St. Simon & Jude:
St. Mary’s of Aliso Viejo captured the large-school division in flag football by defeating Saint Bonaventure, 36-6, in the championship game at St. Catherine’s Academy in Anaheim.
St. Angela Merici edged upstart Blessed Sacrament of Westminster, 26-22, in an intense final in the small-school division. Blessed Sacrament believes it reached the final for the first time in school history.
In girls volleyball, St. Junipero Serra beat St. Bonaventure in the large-school final at St. Anne in Laguna Niguel.
Laguna Beach’s St. Catherine took the small-school crown, defeating St. Anne of Santa Ana in two close games. Coach Robin Price’s St. Anne team was led by Emily Rivera and Sammy Dreyer.
“We practice on asphalt,” Price said. “God gave our girls talent and they used it to their ability. We’re blessed.”
Basketball took center stage in the winter season.
The St. John’s Episcopal boys from Rancho Santa Margarita claimed the large-school title with a 54-27 victory against St. Simon & Jude at St. Margaret’s. St. John’s flashed its intent earlier in the season by winning the Mater Dei tournament.
Christ Cathedral Academy grabbed the small-school boys division with a 32-29 triumph against league rival St. Irenaeus in the final. Christ Cathedral also won the Mater Dei tournament.
In girls basketball, St. Simon & Jude and Coach Karen Foster bounced back and won the large-school championship by edging league foe St. Hedwig, 30-28, in the final. The Dolphins were paced during the season by guard Noelle Duffey.
The small-school girls division featured an all-Santa Ana finale. School of Our Lady defeated St. Joseph, 39-30.
“That’s awesome,” Smith said of the matchup. “Historically, we have not had that many Santa Ana schools win a diocese title. … Both principals were there. It was exciting.”
Coach Mary Gonzalez’s Our Lady squad was paced by Aries Jimenez and Fatima Rodriguez. The squad’s only loss was in the regular season against St. Simon & Jude by a narrow margin.
“This is the first time our school won the whole thing in any sport since I’ve been there,” said Our Lady athletic director Brian Flores, who has been at the school for 12 years. “We had a lot of good scholar-athletes on this team. We had good leaders.”
PAL’s busy spring season features boys volleyball, girls softball and the co-ed PAL track meet at Saddleback College.
St. Margaret’s emerged as the large-school champion in boys volleyball with a three-game victory in the final against St. Bonaventure at St. Margaret’s.
The St. Cecilia boys finished atop the small-school division with a win against St. Anne of Santa Ana in the championship.
St. Simon & Jude won the league’s lone softball division by defeating visiting St. John the Baptist. Coach Mark Rogers’ Dolphins were led by pitcher Morgan McConnell, who is headed to Mater Dei. “She’s a fire-baller,” Smith said of McConnell.
St. Simon & Jude also showed its sportsmanship by donating softball equipment to Saint Polycarp in Stanton.
“We gave them bats, catching gear, some balls, some gloves,” Smith said. “The first time they came here to play … (athletic director Paula Miers) had all the girls come over and thank me. It was very cute.”
In junior high track, St. Mary’s (large school division) and Blessed Sacrament (small school division) secured titles to help cap the PAL year.