For the first time in its history, the San Fernando Valley private school has piled up enough championships and high national/state rankings in various sports to top all schools in California for the 2020-21 school year. It all started with an unbeaten football team and ended with a celebration on a baseball field at Cal State Fullerton.
For State Schools of the Year by gender, by division plus writeups of other Top 6 schools for 2020-21, CLICK HERE.
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Last year’s State School of the Year selections for the 2019-20 school year were completed in May of that spring since there were no spring sports being played as a result of the pandemic shutting everything down. It was difficult because there were not the usual number of sports that were part of the criteria.
This year’s State School of the Year selections for 2020-21 faced different, difficult challenges. More sports were played, but there were no CIF state championship events to consider. There were CIF regional titles in some sports, nothing in others and not even CIF section titles in the mix in any sports from a couple of the sections. Trying to get State Schools of the Year compiled and announced during a flurry of other statewide honors for 2020-21 before the first football games of 2021-22 are played was another hurdle.
Still, just like in 2019-20, there was enough state rankings in various sports to consider, there were enough section titles and the athletes and schools involved are worth the effort instead of simply skipping a year.
With all of that being said, the 2020-21 State School of the Year honor has gone to Harvard-Westlake of Studio City. This is the first time that the Wolverines have gained the top overall honor although they’ve been selected before for their division.
Obviously, without CIF state titles in many sports, teams had to be extrapolated as to where they might have finished in the state. For Harvard-Westlake, its girls soccer and boys tennis teams were considered to be No. 1. We had the baseball team at No. 2 in our final rankings, but wouldn’t argue with anyone else putting it No. 1. There was also a top five final state ranking in girls basketball, a top 10 for boys basketball, and there are national event-by-event rankings in boys & girls swimming that showed the Wolverines as top five in the state in both. On top of that, the football team posted a 6-0 record and the girls track team won the CIF Southern Section D3 title.
It’s never easy for State School of the Year and it wasn’t this time as well. Three schools that are often near the top of the state in our criteria — Mater Dei of Santa Ana, Torrey Pines of San Diego and Buchanan of Clovis — were all checked out closely again and all had very good years. Mater Dei was closest to Harvard-Westlake and is receiving State School of the Year recognition for boys sports only. The Wolverines are also going to be listed as the honoree for girls sports only.
Harvard-Westlake’s first CIFSS Open Division title in any sport took place with a extraordinarily close championship match in boys tennis vs. top-ranked University of Irvine. The Wolverines won on games 93-88 due to the two teams tying in sets won at 9-9. Head coach Butch Hardt’s squad then followed up by winning the CIF SoCal regional title and capped a 17-1 season. The only loss to Loyola of Los Angeles was later avenged.
It was much easier for Harvard-Westlake’s girls soccer team. Led by sophomore Alyssa Thompson and her freshman sister, Gisele, the squad roared through the CIF SoCal D1 playoffs. The capper was a 6-1 triumph in the final over Pacifica of Garden Grove in which Alyssa scored four goals and Gisele scored two. Head coach Richard Simms’ club also ended with an undefeated record. Thompson, despite being a sophomore, was later honored as the CIFSS D1 player of year and Gatorade state and national player of the year.
In baseball, Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year Jared Halpert’s squad was near the top of the state rankings all year despite several key graduation losses from the previous season. If it had lost in a loaded CIFSS D1 semifinal round that included JSerra of San Juan Capistrano, Orange Lutheran and Ayala of Chino Hills it still would have been considered a successful season. In the final, though, senior pitcher Christian Becerra tossed a one-hit shutout of JSerra after freshman Bryce Rainer pitched a gem in the semis. Harvard-Westlake’s 29-4 final record placed it second in the final Cal-Hi Sports rankings behind 29-1 Thousand Oaks. Both teams opted out of competing in the CIF SoCal regionals. Becerra was later selected as the CIFSS D1 player of the year.
Swimming was more complicated. In the pool at the CIF Southern Section championships, Harvard-Westlake’s girls were second in the D2 team standings behind Corona del Mar (Newport Beach) while in the boys it was a third place showing in D1 behind Santa Margarita and Loyola (Los Angeles). A national ranking of swimmers and relay events based on best times in each event that we saw also indicated at least a top five state ranking for both teams.
The school’s other top five team in the state was in girls basketball. Led by Stanford-bound All-American and Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year finalist Kiki Iriafen, the Wolverines had a win over CIF SoCal D1-AA champion Lynwood and were No. 5 in the final state rankings at 21-4, just behind No. 4 Cathedral Catholic (San Diego), which is the team they lost to in the CIF SoCal Open Division playoffs.
The highlight of the boys basketball season was getting wins over both Corona Centennial (finished No. 1 in the state) and Etiwanda (No. 2). Other losses, though, dropped Harvard-Westlake to 17-6, which resulted in a No. 10 overall final ranking.
In football, Harvard-Westlake doesn’t compete at the higher divisions, but had a breakthrough season with six wins in six games and won a league title. The big news was the junior Jason Thompson was named as the State Small Schools Player of the Year. He’s now considering several D1 college offers and later was named the L.A. Daily News Boys Athlete of the Year (based also on his track-and-field accomplishments).
Athletic director Jason Kelly provided a summary of the school’s 2020-21 athletic highlights. There were 12 league titles in all (split evenly between boys and girls). In sports not mentioned above, the league titles came in boys water polo, boys track, girls cross country and girls water polo. There were four CIFSS team titles (one second-place) plus several CIFSS individual champions. That list included (from Track and Field) Anna Jennings – Long Jump; Julia Hines, Gabby Odoom, Lauryn Milburn and Chance Walker – 4 x 100 M relay team; Isaac Dienstag – 800 Meters; (from swimming) Benjamin Ham, Tommy Park, Ronald Dalmacio and Ethan Wang – Boys Medley; Ronald Dalmacio – 50 Free and 100 Backstroke; and Lily Neumann, Therese Enriquez, Claire McLean and Allison Nguyen – Girls 200 and 400 Meter Relays.
Whether it’s called Harvard-Westlake of North Hollywood (old habits die hard) or Harvard-Westlake of Studio City, the only sure thing is that it’s Harvard-Westlake, State School of the Year.
Cal-Hi Sports State Schools of the Year
2020-21 – Harvard-Westlake (Studio City)
2019-20 – Buchanan (Clovis)
2018-19 – Buchanan (Clovis)
2017-18 – Mater Dei (Santa Ana)
2016-17 – Cathedral Catholic (San Diego)
2015-16 – Torrey Pines (San Diego)
2014-15 – Torrey Pines (San Diego)
2013-14 – Mater Dei (Santa Ana)
2012-13 – Mater Dei (Santa Ana)
2011-12 – De La Salle (Concord)
2010-11 – Long Beach Poly (Long Beach)
2009-10 – Junipero Serra (Gardena)
2008-09 – Archbishop Mitty (San Jose)
2007-08 – Long Beach Poly (Long Beach)
2006-07 – Archbishop Mitty (San Jose)
2005-06 – Buchanan (Clovis)
2004-05 – Clovis West (Fresno)
2003-04 – De La Salle (Concord)
2002-03 – Torrey Pines (San Diego)
2001-02 – Long Beach Poly (Long Beach)
2000-01 – Long Beach Poly (Long Beach)
1999-00 – De La Salle (Concord)
1998-99 – Clovis West (Fresno)
1997-98 – Santa Margarita (Rancho SM)
1996-97 – Mater Dei (Santa Ana)
1995-96 – De La Salle (Concord)
1994-95 – Mater Dei (Santa Ana)
1993-94 – Clovis West (Fresno)
1992-93 – Esperanza (Anaheim)
1991-92 – Mater Dei (Santa Ana)
1990-91 – Poway
1989-90 – Bakersfield
1988-89 – Corona del Mar (Newport Beach)
1987-88 – Capistrano Valley (Mission Viejo)
1986-87 – Mission Viejo
1985-86 – Bellarmine (San Jose)
1984-85 – Bellarmine (San Jose)
1983-84 – Cordova (Rancho Cordova)
1982-83 – St. Francis (Mountain View)
1981-82 – Mission Viejo
1980-81 – Long Beach Poly (Long Beach)
1979-80 – Berkeley
1978-79 – Mt. Whitney (Visalia)
1977-78 – Andrew Hill (San Jose)
1976-77 – Pasadena
1975-76 – San Fernando
1974-75 – Clovis
1973-74 – Kearny (San Diego)
1972-73 – Monte Vista (Spring Valley)
1971-72 – Ygnacio Valley (Concord)
1970-71 – Lompoc
1969-70 – Blair (Pasadena)
1968-69 – Compton
1967-68 – Homestead (Cupertino)
1966-67 – El Rancho (Pico Rivera)
1965-66 – El Segundo
1964-65 – Long Beach Poly (Long Beach)
1963-64 – Long Beach Poly (Long Beach)
1962-63 – Santa Clara
1961-62 – McClymonds (Oakland)
1960-61 – Compton
1959-60 – Long Beach Poly (Long Beach)
1958-59 – Long Beach Poly (Long Beach)
1957-58 – Berkeley
1956-57 – Fresno
1955-56 – Jefferson (Los Angeles)
1954-55 – Centennial (Compton)
1953-54 – St. Ignatius (San Francisco)
1952-53 – Santa Monica
1951-52 – Compton
1950-51 – Compton
1949-50 – Jefferson (Los Angeles)
Note: All-time list extends back to 1890-91 in the Cal-Hi Sports State Record Book and Almanac. All selections prior to 1980 made retroactively through research by the late Nelson Tennis, founder of Cal-Hi Sports.
Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of CalHiSports.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports