This past year in Calistoga was full of incredible sports moments. We saw dramatic victories, heartbreaking losses, record-shattering performances, Cinderella stories and everything in between.
Here are the Top 10 Weekly Calistogan sports stories from 2019, as selected by Sports Editor Gus Morris.
Girls basketball makes NorCals
Coming on the heels of the volleyball team’s Cinderella run to a section title, the Calistoga girls basketball team went on the deepest postseason run in program history. With a roster of most of the same players from volleyball, the Wildcats went 15-12 overall and were named the No. 5 seed for the Division 6 North Coast Section playoffs. They downed No. 13 seed Mendocino, 51-41, in their opener then rallied to defeat No. 4 seed El Sobrante Christian, 57-52, on the road to reach the semifinals, a feat that also earned them a trip to the CIF NorCal playoffs for the first time ever. The Wildcats fell to top seed Laytonville in the semis and then saw their season came to an end in the first round of NorCals to top-seeded Redding Christian but they had still made history, and with their entire team back for this season, are poised and determined to accomplish more this winter.
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Boys basketball breaks 12-year playoff drought
While the girls put together their best season in program history, the boys also had their most successful season on the hardwood in recent memory. They snapped a 12-year playoff drought, going 11-15 overall and earning the No. 15 seed in the Division 6 NCS playoffs. While they too were dealt a first-round exit, falling to No. 2 seed Jewish Community 65-19, coaches and players on the team felt that reaching the playoffs would inject some much-needed energy back into the program.
Football makes NCS playoffs, beats Tomales in OT
The Wildcats made a triumphant return to the postseason in just the second year the NCS has held playoffs for the 8-person division. The scrappy bunch from Calistoga hit the road in the first round and beat Tomales 20-14 in a dramatic and hard-fought overtime classic. The win was not only emotional but also served as vengeance of sorts since Tomales took it to Calistoga, 46-28, on the Wildcats’ Homecoming game. The Wildcats were bounced from the playoffs in the semifinals the following week to eventual section champion Cornerstone Christian but finished the year with a positive record of 6-4.
Volleyball named County Female Athletes of the Year, returns to NorCals
For their historic accomplishment a season ago, winning the first section title in a girls sport in school history and being the only team in the Napa Valley to bring home a section title, the Napa Valley Register named the entire 2018 Calistoga volleyball team as the County Female Athletes of the Year. The accolade was added to an already very long list of achievements that they only added to in 2019. They followed up their 2018 season by making more history this fall, qualifying for the Division 6 NorCal playoffs for the second straight year.
Unlike in 2018, though, the Wildcats did not capture a section title, falling to eventual champion San Francisco Waldorf in the semifinals. Still, they became the first team in school history to make two NorCal appearances, doing so in consecutive seasons no less. As the No. 7 seed, they had to travel five hours to face No. 2 seed Fall River in the first round, falling to the higher seed in straight sets. Still, the core group will go down in Calistoga history as having completed the most successful two-year stretch the program or school has ever seen.
Boys soccer goes back to back in NCL II, makes NCS semifinals
Speaking of dominant Calistoga teams, boys soccer put together another stellar campaign in 2019. Under new head coach Charley Hester, the Wildcats went 10-0-2 overall in the regular season and 9-0-1 in league to capture their second straight North Central League II title and earning the No. 4 seed for the Division 2 NCS playoffs. They advanced to the semifinals of the NCS playoffs with victories over No. 13 seed Fremont Christian, 5-1, and No. 5 seed Drew, 3-2, before falling to top seed and eventual section champion Athenian, 4-0. The team, which finished 12-1-2 overall, will be losing five key seniors but will bring back a talented group of juniors and underclassmen that should compete for a third straight league title next fall.
Girls basketball’s hot start
While the 2018-19 girls basketball team was historic in many ways, this year’s team is shaping up to be even better. The Wildcats, currently off for winter break, are 8-0 to start the year and already have an impressive resume. They won the Duffy Holiday Classic, the first time a Calistoga girls team has done so in recent memory, and followed that up by winning St. Helena High’s Lady Saints Invitational, beating Division 2 San Rafael on a buzzer-beating three-pointer. As mentioned prior, the Wildcats return every player from last year’s team and have their eyes set on bringing home a section title this winter.
12th Annual Vermeil Classic
St. Helena native Rico Abreu picked up his third Vermeil Classic win in August, thoroughly dominating the winged sprint car portion on the final night of racing. He put up the fastest time in qualifying and went on to lead for the entirety of the 30-lap race. It was Abreu’s 12th career win at Calistoga Speedway, making him the fourth-winningest driver in the track’s 82-year history.
In the non-winged sprint car race, Jake Swanson took home the Louie trophy after a hard-fought race with runner-up Ryan Bernal. Swanson held off several charges from Bernal over the latter half of the 25-lap race, finally seizing control over the final seven laps.
On the first night of racing, Dominic Scelzi and Austin Williams each won their races, with the former coming in the winged sprint car race and the latter in the non-winged race.
This was also the first time the Vermeil Classic was an all-sprint car event.
Girls soccer makes playoff in return season
In 2018, the Calistoga girls soccer team had to call it quits just weeks into the season because of academic eligibility issues. But in their return to the pitch, the Wildcats put together a successful 2019 season that featured a trip to the postseason and a dramatic playoff win. Like the boys, they earned the No. 4 seed in the NCS Division 3 playoffs and dispatched No. 5 seed South Fork in penalty kicks in the first round. The game went to a shootout scoreless but the Wildcats eventually edged out the Cubs, 4-2, to advance to the semifinals. They fell to top seed Technology, 2-0, in the semis but finished with an overall record of 8-4-2, not bad after not being able to complete a season a year prior.
Tom Seaver diagnosed with dementia
Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver, a star for the New York Mets in the late 1960s and 70s and founder of Seaver Vineyards on Diamond Mountain, was diagnosed with dementia in March and announced he’d be stepping away from public life.
A three-time National League Cy Young Award winner and the 1967 National League Rookie of the Year, Seaver won over 300 games, recorded over 3,600 strikeouts with 61 shutouts and had post a 2.86 earned run average, over his career which spanned from 1967 to 1986. He had five 20-win seasons and was elected to the Hall in 1992, appearing on 425 of 430 ballots for a then-record 98.84 percent, a mark only passed in 2016 by Ken Griffey Jr. and this year by Mariano Rivera, who was the first unanimous selection.
Seaver and his wife Nancy founded Seaver Vineyards in 2002 on 116 acres of land just outside of Calistoga.
Dick Vermeil Super Bowl LIII preview
Super Bowl LIII in February featured a defensive brawl between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams. It was also the first time the two teams had faced each other since Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002, a game that Calistoga native and Super Bowl winning coach Dick Vermeil was in attendance for. Vermeil had led the then-St. Louis Rams to their first NFL title two years prior in Super Bowl XXXIV and spoke with the Napa Valley Register in late January to preview the 2019 title fight.
His prediction, a Patriots win, rang true. But his score prediction, 24-21, was just a bit off from the 13-3 final we got instead.
Gus Morris' top 5 most memorable stories of 2019
Prep sports in the Napa Valley this past year provided some incredible stories I was honored to tell. Here are some I thought stood out from the rest.
St. Helena junior Harper McClain won the first cross country state title in school history and also qualified for the Nike Cross Nationals.
St. Helena running back Ivan Robledo cemented himself as one of the greatest backs in school history with his late-season performance against …
All four Upvalley soccer teams all advanced in the 2019 North Coast Section Winter Soccer playoffs, several in dramatic fashion.
St. Helena catcher Caleb Jeske had a historic junior campaign, breaking a 20-year school record for hits in a season while leading the Saints …
For winning first girls section title in school history, members of the 2018 Calistoga volleyball team was named the Napa Valley Register's Co…
Contact Gus via phone at 707-304-9372 or email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustGusMorris.