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There are some winds of change this fall with a new sport and updrafts for some of Dana Hills High School’s top athletes.
Girls flag football makes its arrival in CIF-SS, and with an infusion from the Dolphins’ softball team, Dana Hills is joining the competition.
Both Dana Hills cross country teams are looking to defend their CIF-SS championships and enter the season with No. 1 rankings.
Girls volleyball and boys water polo have continued to build and look poised for deeper runs into the CIF-SS playoffs.
Let’s shine a light on some of the fall sports teams at Dana Hills High School:
Girls Flag Football
Joining the roster of CIF-SS sports this fall is girls flag football, and the sport is already off to a roaring start in Southern California.
There are 114 schools participating across the CIF-Southern Section, including nearly every team in the Coast View Athletic Association and Capistrano Unified School District. San Clemente is the lone holdout of that grouping.
Much like the schedules, referee crews and just about everything else about this first season for the sport, Dana Hills’ program got started on the fly over the summer with impetus from the Dolphins’ softball team.
“Our softball girls are the ones that put it together,” Dana Hills softball and girls flag football coach Brandon Cosenza said. “They came up to me and said, ‘Hey, there’s flag football at the high schools next year, but we need a coach. Would you do it?’ If we had a team, I’d consider it, but they put it together.”
Cosenza, who was set to help out with the regular boys football team this fall before this effort, estimated the roster is about 80% softball girls, 15% soccer girls and then a smaller mix from other sports, including track. Only two girls had played organized flag football previously, but Cosenza said even that was when those girls were “real young.”
Which means, again like the sport itself, everything about the program has had to start from scratch, including the girls’ knowledge of football terms, skills and formations. Even the smallest instincts of the game, like contesting balls in the air rather than sitting back to catch them, have had to be learned.
“I think they’re starting to get it, but it’s going to take a little while,” Cosenza said. We’re all still so new to this.”
Even for someone knowledgeable about the common game of football like Cosenza, there has been a lot of learning every week about the differences between flag football and tackle football.
First, the game is quick. There are two 20-minute halves with a running clock, except inside of two minutes, when there are more regular football stoppages. The game is also played 7-on-7, rather than with 11 players a side.
The field is only 80 yards long and 40 yards wide. First downs are gained in 20-yard increments, but it’s not always 1st-and-20. Drives start on the 20-yard line, which means teams have to reach the 40-yard line to earn another first down. However, the next first down line to gain is still the next 20-yard line. For example, if it’s 3rd-and-2 and a team gains seven yards, it isn’t 1st-and-20 from that new line of scrimmage. Since they would be five yards into that next 20-yard chunk, it would be 1st-and-15.
Also, on fourth down, teams either have the option to go for it or “punt,” with the ball simply being placed at the opposite 20-yard line instead of actually being kicked.
Beyond the logistics, there are differences in the game play. If teams are within five yards of a first down or 10 yards from the end zone, those are “pass-only” zones, meaning no running plays can be called. Quarterbacks can only run once every four downs, unless the defensive team uses a double-blitz, and pass rushers must start beyond a designated line off the ball, not on the line of scrimmage.
All of that, and so much more, are what Dana Hills and a wide swath of new high school athletes are figuring out this fall.
Dana Hills is next at home on Wednesday, Sept. 13, against Westminster. The Dolphins will continue league play at San Juan Hills on Sept. 19, and Dana Hills will host the Stallions on Sept. 20.
Boys Cross Country
Last season was a meteoric rise to the top for Dana Hills junior runner Evan Noonan.
As a freshman, Noonan finished 39th at the Orange County Championships, 62nd at the CIF-SS Division 2 Finals and 100th at the CIF State Championships. Then, as a sophomore, Noonan rocketed up the charts with a second-place finish at the Orange County Championships and wins at the CIF-SS Division 3 Finals and CIF State Championships.
With that sophomore campaign and a similarly splendid track season under his belt, Noonan now has expectations placed upon him and on the Dolphins as a whole, as Dana Hills enters the season ranked No. 1 in the CIF-SS Division 3 poll after capturing the CIF-SS championship last season.
While Noonan sets the pace, the Dolphins will be bolstered by seniors new and familiar.
Jayden Hernandez, a transfer from Godinez, joins Dana Hills, and his new Dolphins teammates will be acquainted with the senior’s work, as he won the Dana Hills Invitational by nine seconds last season. Garrett Woodruff also returns for his senior season with Dolphins after a strong track season in the spring.
Due to scheduling complications, the Dana Hills Invitational will not run this season, but the Dolphins will still run on big stages with the Woodbridge Invitational next Friday and Saturday, Sept. 15-16, at the Great Park in Irvine, the Clovis Invitational on Oct. 7 and the Orange County Championships on Oct. 13-14.
Girls Cross Country
It’s not just the Dana Hills boys that are grabbing headlines in the early season, as the Dana Hills girls also enter the 2023 campaign with high expectations.
The Dolphins girls are also ranked No. 1 in the CIF-SS Division 3 preseason poll after capturing their CIF-SS championship last season. While Dana Hills will be without graduated senior and reigning CIF-SS individual champion Allura Markow, the Dolphins are still built up for success.
Taking the place as lead runner is junior Annie Ivarsson, who finished fifth at the CIF-SS Finals and 11th at the CIF State Championships last season. Ivarsson also advanced to the CIF-SS Masters Meet in the 1,600 in the spring.
Behind Ivarsson is a crop of senior runners that have stayed together through the cross country and track seasons in Cooper Murphy, Paige Scheer, Quinci Lott and Tessa Anderson.
After a steady build of work over the past few seasons, the Dana Hills girls volleyball team looks ready to fly.
The Dolphins (10-3) have been fairly dominant in the early season and have earned a No. 6 ranking in CIF-SS Division 3. Dana Hills’ only three losses this season have come to ranked CIF-SS Division 1/2 opponents, including two losses to No. 10 JSerra. Of the Dolphins’ 10 wins, seven have been sweep victories.
Dana Hills opens its South Coast League schedule next Tuesday, Sept. 12, at Aliso Niguel and hosts Tesoro on Thursday, Sept. 14. The Dolphins are at San Clemente on Sept. 19 and host San Juan Hills on Sept. 21. Aliso Niguel, San Clemente and San Juan Hills split the league title last season, with Aliso Niguel being the runner-up in CIF-SS Division 2 and San Clemente a quarterfinalist.
Boys Water Polo
Another team looking to further its postseason resume is the Dana Hills boys water polo team, and the Dolphins are off to a strong start.
Dana Hills, which opened the season on the CIF-SS Division 2 watch list, is 2-0 with wins over Tesoro, 12-7, and Laguna Hills, 14-8. Dana Hills next hosts El Toro in its South Coast League opener on Sept. 26.
Circled on the calendar are the Dolphins’ matches with rival San Clemente, with the Tritons playing host on Oct. 3 and the teams meeting at Dana Hills on Oct. 19. In a stunning turn, the Dolphins have now won two of the past three matches against San Clemente following a string of nine straight losses.