Here are the Napa Valley Register’s Top 10 sports stories from 2019, as selected by the sports staff:
Overlapping league champions
The Vintage High boys soccer and girls basketball teams didn’t let the thrill of leaving the Monticello Empire League on top go to their heads. After winning MEL titles in 2017-18, they entered the new Vine Valley Athletic League – where five of their six opponents were new league foes – and finished first again in 2018-19. The Crushers actually won their third straight boys soccer league title, going 11-0-1 and extending their league unbeaten streak to 20 games.
Grizzlies end boys basketball droughts
The Napa High boys basketball team not only won its first league title since 1991, but went 12-0 in the new VVAL. Head coach Zack Cook’s Grizzlies also won the league tournament and earned their first section playoff berth since 2005. Seeded just No. 14 in the North Coast Section Division I playoffs despite a 23-5 record, they had to travel to Union City for their NCS playoff opener and fell to No. 3 seed James Logan, 85-76.
Newburn era begins for Napa softball
Napa High softball star Caity Newburn became the first freshman to be named Napa County Player of the Year for a sport since Justin-Siena basketball phenomenon Vicky Deely in 2004-05.
The catcher hit .649 with 37 hits, 11 home runs, nine doubles and 33 RBIs. She was named to the MaxPreps.com 2019 Freshman All-American Team and was a finalist for its National Freshman of the Year. She was also named NCS Freshman of the Year by Prep2Prep.com.
Newburn led Napa to its first league title in seven years, as the Grizzlies finished 9-3 in the new VVAL and 15-8 overall. Seeded No. 8 in the NCS Division I playoffs, they knocked off No. 9 Clayton Valley Charter before falling 11-1 to No. 1 Foothill, the eventual champion.
Fisher finally wins Haggin Cup
Napa veterinarian Lindsay Fisher competed in her seventh Tevis Cup 100-Miles One-Day Trail Ride from Squaw Valley to Auburn on Aug. 17 and notched her sixth Top 10 finish, placing ninth out of 98 finishers.
It was her fifth consecutive top 10 finish aboard Monk, a 17-year-old Arabian. It also meant a sixth round of Haggin Cup testing and judging for the 2000 Vintage High graduate, who placed fourth last year, second in 2017, fifth in 2016 and eighth in 2015 aboard Monk and seventh in 2006 on Phoenix Affair.
The Haggin Cup goes to the horse deemed to be in the best condition of the top 10 finishers and Fisher finally won it riding Monk, which is owned by Chris Martin of Penn Valley. Fisher and Monk also had their names added to the Wendell Robie Cup, which goes to a horse that finishes five times.
Diana breaks 24 hours in 100-mile footrace
The third time was the charm for Dr. John Diana at the 42nd annual 100-mile Western States Endurance Run from Squaw Valley to Auburn.
Four years after earning a bronze buckle for the second year in a row for finishing the prestigious ultramarathon between 24 and 30 hours, the Napa orthopedic surgeon came home with the coveted silver buckle that goes to runners who finish in less than a day. Diana placed 91st out of 319 finishers in 23 hours, 13 minutes and 13 seconds.
He got it done two weeks after his 50th birthday, despite sustaining a cracked rib when he’d tripped and fallen on a rock during a training run a month before. Since his previous WS100, Diana’s father had passed away and his family had lost its Silverado highlands home in the October 2017 wildfires.
Juniors bring cross country back to forefront
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Napa County was represented at the CIF State Cross Country Championships by three schools, the most since 2011.
St. Helena junior Harper McClain, who in the spring had placed seventh in the girls 3,200 meters at the state meet, added to her legacy at the cross country state meet this fall by winning the Division 5 girls race in 17:13.4 at Woodward Park in Fresno, topping a field of 198 runners. Saints senior Jordan Reilly placed 58th out of 202 runners in the Division 5 boys race in 17:02.8.
Vintage High junior Mary Deeik competed in her third state meet and finished 76th out of 203 runners in Division 2 in 19:00.4. Competing in his first state meet was Napa High junior David Acuna, who finished 139th out of 197 runners in Division 2 in 16:46.9.
Eight years before, Napa High junior Claire Miller, Vintage junior MacKenzie Mills and Justin-Siena sophomore Teal Bullick represented the valley. They went on to run for the University of San Diego, Western State Colorado University and Carroll College, respectively.
Saints sophomore sets records
History was also made on the gridiron this fall, courtesy of St. Helena High running back Ivan Robledo. In his first full season on varsity, the 5-foot-11, 210-pound sophomore ran for 2,216 yards with 33 touchdowns, both single-season school records. The former rushing touchdown record was 29 set by Charles Bertoli in 2011, and the former rushing yards record was 1,717 set in 2013 by Sebastian Segura.
With only 16 varsity games under his belt, Robledo has 2,691 career rushing yards and 39 rushing touchdowns.
Big year for girls tennis
Justin-Siena sophomore Priyanka Shanker won the North Coast Section Division II girls tennis singles championship, becoming the first Napa Valley player to win a section title since Vintage senior Phil Holbrooke took Sac-Joaquin Section Division I singles honors in spring 2009.
Undefeated on the season, the top-seeded Shanker beat San Marin’s Hannah Lam-Truong 6-3, 2-6, 6-1, Branson’s Anna Larner 6-1, 6-1 and, in the final a senior who was the defending champion, No. 2 seed Olive Maunupau of San Francisco’s Lick-Wilmerding, 6-3, 6-2.
The Braves finished 12-0 in the Vine Valley Athletic League for the second year in a row, before having their 27-match win streak snapped with a 5-2 loss to Head-Royce in their NCS playoff opener. Shanker kept the VVAL singles crown in the family, however, after sister Parvathi won it in 2018.
They aren’t the valley’s only sensational sister act in the sport. Maribella and Allura Zamarripa, St. Helena’s home-schooled tennis twins, were selected as a wild card draw for U.S. Junior Open in Flushing Meadows, New York. Allura made it to the second round in singles before being ousted and joining her sister in doubles, where they fell in the first round but gained valuable experience.
Every football team makes playoffs
For the first time in Napa Valley history, every football team qualified for the section playoffs. Four of the six – Vintage, Justin-Siena, St. Helena and Calistoga – won their first-round games. Napa, back for the first time since 2016, felt better about its playoff loss to Clayton Valley Charter after the Ugly Eagles went on to win the Division 2-AA state title. Vintage lost 28-21 in the section semifinals to Campolindo, which fell 27-7 to Clayton Valley Charter in the section title game.
James ends 40-year Register career
While making household names of countless athletes as a sports editor, columnist and sports writer for the Napa Valley Register since 1979, Marty James became one himself. James, who covered three Sac-Joaquin Section-champion football teams and followed many athletes from Little League or junior golf into their long professional careers, retired on June 4 – the 40th anniversary of his hiring. The graduate of San Ramon Valley High and Sacramento State now writes for the Register as a freelancer and handles sports information for Napa Valley College.
Andy Wilcox's memorable stories from 2019
These are the stories of 2019 I enjoyed writing most, because they had good anecdotes or were about making history.
This story is about the area's best soccer player of the last two years, who dedicated every goal to his late mother.
I've covered this ride for 30 years and it was cool to see Dr. Fisher finally win the award she'd been pursing for 15 years.
Nothing was cooler than seeing the Napa High boys win their first league title since their star's dad won one 28 years before.
John Diana showed in his third Western States 100 that anything is possible with enough preparation.