Football state championship at Granite Bay tops rewarding season

Oakmont, Roseville, Woodcreek and Valley Christian all have big moments
By: Bill Poindexter, Roseville Press Tribune Sports Editor
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The fall sports season came within a week of turning into a fall/winter season.

Granite Bay High School’s 21-20 victory over storied national power Long Beach Poly earned the Grizzlies a state championship in the CIF Division I State Bowl Game and brought an end to the longest fall sports season in the history of the region.

Granite Bay lost its first two games to Southern California stalwarts Westlake and Oaks Christian, and the Grizzlies fell to 1-3 with an overtime loss to Pittsburg.

But the Grizzlies didn’t lose again. They ran the table in the Sierra Foothill League, which included breaking a three-game skid against Del Oro, blew out Napa, Modesto-Downey and Elk Grove-Franklin in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs before beating Oak Ridge to successfully defend their championship, then mauled San Francisco-St. Ignatius in the inaugural CIF NorCal Regional playoffs to earn a berth in the State Bowl Game at The Home Depot Center in Carson.

The season started with training camp on the first Monday in August, and on and on it went, at least for Granite Bay.

“We’re going on game 16,” head coach Ernie Cooper said following the Grizzlies’ 45-17 rout of St. Ignatius.

Various stars shined as Granite Bay conquered team after team en route to capturing the state trophy: senior quarterback Grant Caraway (27 touchdown passes against just five interceptions and a passer rating of 116), senior running back Johnny Cooley (1,605 yards, 18 TDs), junior flyback Tony Ellison (2,498 all-purpose yards, 19 TDs), senior fullback Taft Partridge (823 yards rushing, nine TDs) and senior tight end Steven Graber (11 of his 29 catches were TDs).

The Grizzlies’ senior offensive linemen became as well-known as the skill players for whom they blocked: Kevin Blank, Parker Doyle, Braulio Gonzalez, Justin Ramirez and Austin Smith.

Granite Bay’s defense became a rock-solid unit that smothered opposing running games, led by senior leader Beau Hershberger with weekly contributions by senior veterans Tyler Arneson, J.R. Calton, Luke Jarvis, Vince Milo and Griffin Powers. A star emerged in sophomore linebacker Cameron Smith (195 tackles, 12.3 per game), playing alongside senior tackling machine Mason Conen (8.1 per game). Senior pals Aaron Knapp (seven interceptions) and Nick Grace (three) anchored a secondary that improved as the season wore on with junior Luke Bussey grabbing four interceptions and junior Jack Dockham earning increasing playing time. Smith had four interceptions, and junior Dylan Keeney took the stage with two picks, one for a touchdown, in the State Bowl Game.

In an age when TV stresses individual achievements and puts “superstar” athletes under the spotlight, Granite Bay won its state title the real way — as a team.


The bouquet toss is up, and it’s good


Oakmont didn’t win the Capital Valley Conference championship, didn’t qualify for the playoffs, but the Vikings earned national attention for a trick-play two-point conversion that beat Lincoln 44-43 in a nonleague game.

After pulling within one on Taylor Laird’s touchdown pass to Namani Parker on the last play of regulation, the Vikings set up for an extra-point kick that would have tied the score and sent the game to overtime.

But Laird, who was holding for kicker Joey Rosnack, caught the snap, stood up and turned his back to the line of scrimmage. Laird flipped the ball high over his head and into the end zone, where athletic teammate Justin Holmes outjumped three Lincoln players for the ball. Holmes sneaked past the Fighting Zebras when the ball was snapped.

The play became known as the bouquet toss. The video went viral, and ESPN, CNN, USA Today and other national media outlets blew up the phone of Vikings head coach Tim Moore for a solid week wanting the story.

“Best game I’ve ever played in,” Laird said.


Granite Bay’s girls tennis dynasty grows


After stringing together five consecutive Division II team tennis section crowns, Granite Bay moved up to Division I in the fall and made it six in a row with a resounding 7-2 victory over Davis in the final.

Leading the charge were twins Chloe and Lily Forlini, who became the first doubles team to win four section championships in four years of high school competition.

“Those girls have been the backbone and foundation of the team,” Grizzlies coach Rory Wood said.

The Forlini twins shared the SFL MVP honor with singles star Kammy Kecki, the 2011 Division II singles champ.

Freshman Bell answers gun in cross country


Maggie Bell emerged from the woods in first place at the season-opening Del Oro Invite, and the Granite Bay freshman kept right on running all the way to the Division II title at the CIF State Cross Country Championships in Fresno.

Bell’s time of 17 minutes, 29 seconds was fourth-quickest overall among 947 girls competing in five divisions at Woodward Park in Fresno. Bell also won the Stanford Invite and Division II section championships.

“She has an amazing kick,” Grizzlies coach Carla Kehoe said after the state meet. “She’s the whole package.”


A top-10 end for Granite Bay senior Brendel


Like Bell, Granite Bay senior Trent Brendel capped his high school career with a 10th-place finish in the Division II race at the state meet.

Brendel started the season by winning the Del Oro Invite. He went on to hit the tape first in the Hornet Jamboree, Stanford Invite and SFL final and then won the Division II subsection and section titles for the second time each.


Make it nine for Woodcreek boys and girls


Woodcreek’s boys and girls cross country teams qualified for the state meet for the ninth time each.

The squads received senior leadership from Karina Nunes, Jon Horvath and Justin Clark, and underclassmen Luis Romo, Spencer Lachman and Lauren Mason developed into productive runners.

“We were very pleasantly surprised,” coach Terri McKillop said after the section meet, when the Timberwolves earned another state berth.


Grizzlies advance to NorCal volleyball final


Granite Bay rolled through the SFL and advanced to the Division I section and NorCal finals. The Grizzlies just couldn’t quite get by St. Francis, losing to the Troubadours in a season-opening Foundation Game and in the section and NorCal finals.

Still, Granite Bay finished its best season yet with a 41-7 record. The Grizzlies were led by All-SFL players Taylor Nelson, Maddy Deters and Nicolette Pinkney, all juniors, and senior Kiah Drongesen. Nelson was co-MVP in the league for the second year in a row.


Oakmont wins first section volleyball crown


In nearly 50 years of existence, Oakmont had never won a section championship in volleyball, and the Vikings came close to letting their first one slip away. But Oakmont, under coach Shelby Weinberger, rebounded from a two-set deficit and stormed back to dethrone two-time defending Division III-champion Vista del Lago 16-25, 20-25, 27-25, 25-18, 15-4 in the final at UC Davis.

“To leave Oakmont with this legacy is amazing, knowing that we’ll be remembered,” said team captain Katie Carte, the co-MVP of the CVC.

Senior Brennah Gladwill and sophomores Kyra Rogers and Ally Wubben were All-CVC first-team choices.


Valley Christian accomplishes its goal


There were six players on Valley Christian’s volleyball roster who played in the Division VI section final in 2010. That ended with a Lady Lions loss to Woodland Christian, and those players set a goal to get back to UC Davis for the section final in their senior year.

So Valley Christian’s 25-8, 23-25, 25-13, 25-20 loss to Turlock Christian at The Pavilion at UC Davis didn’t sour the season for the Lady Lions, who won two playoff matches on the road to advance to the final.

So Valley Christian achieved its goal and “exceeded my expectations,” head coach Maria Hill said.


Not to be forgotten …


  • Granite Bay’s boys water polo team won the SFL title and advanced to the Division I final, a 13-5 loss to section stalwart Davis.
  • Granite Bay’s boys soccer team, a three-time Division II champion in the last six years, advanced to the Division I final but lost to national power Jesuit 5-0.
  • Granite Bay golfer Paige Lee wrapped up her illustrious high school career by finishing ninth individually in her third trip to the CIF/WSCGA Foundation Girls State Championship. Lee shot a 5-over-par 79 at Red Hill Country Club in Rancho Cucamonga. She’ll head to UC Davis as a four-time Division II section medalist and three-time SFL MVP.
  • Oakmont senior Maddy Gedeon earned the MVP award in the CVC for the third year in a row and advanced as far as the CIF NorCal Championships. She signed a national letter of intent to continue her education and golf career at Rutgers University next fall.
  • Roseville sophomore Neilson Powless placed second to Brendel in the SFL and Division II subsection finals, third in the section meet and 23rd in the Division II race at the state meet. Halfway through the season, Powless traveled to Hawaii and became the youngest overall winner in the XTERRA World Championships triathlon competition.