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By Zach Cavanagh

The year began with returns to the field and finished with a flurry of successes as Dana Point athletes and teams adapted to the new normal of 2021.

Here is a look back at some of the memorable Dana Point sports moments of 2021:

January

#LetThemPlay

Ten months after high school sports were shut down in California due to the pandemic, student-athletes, parents and coaches held rallies statewide on Jan. 15, including at San Clemente High, JSerra and San Juan Hills, to support a return to play. Cross country was the first sport to return on Feb. 6, and the rest of the outdoor sports were eventually given the OK to return on Feb. 26 and indoor sports on March 5.

Dana Hills’ cross country teams were the first to return to play in February after a nearly 11-month shutdown. Photo: Courtesy of Dana Hills Athletics

February

DHHS Cross Country Returns

For the first time in nearly 11 months, Dana Hills athletes took part in competition as the Dolphins’ cross country team got back on the course. In dual meets, Dana Hills’ boys defeated Aliso Niguel, and the Dolphins’ girls lost to Trabuco Hills.

Dana Hills kicker Leah West became the first female to score a varsity point in Dana Hills football history. Photo: Alan Gibby/Zone57

March

Kicker West Makes History for DHHS Football

With a fourth-quarter extra point kick, Dana Hills senior Leah West became the first female player to score a point in a varsity football game in Dolphins history. West was also coached by special teams coach Mikki St. Germain, the first female coach in Dana Hills football history.

April

DHHS Football Earns Share of Second-Ever League Title

With help from elsewhere in the Pacific Hills League, Dana Hills football clinched a share of its first league championship since 2012 and only its second in school history. Dana Hills, Laguna Hills and Portola finished in a three-way tie for the title.

Capistrano Coyotes Compete in First USA Hockey National Title Game

The Capistrano Unified School District’s combined high school hockey team, the Capistrano Coyotes, advanced to the USA Hockey Division II national championship in Omaha, Nebraska on April 19. The Coyotes qualified for the tournament by winning the CAHA Division 2 state title.

Dana Hills junior Olivia Paquette won the CIF-SS Division 2 girls diving championship. Photo: Courtesy of Dana Hills Aquatics

May

Paquette Wins CIF-SS Diving Title

Dana Hills junior Olivia Paquette won the CIF-SS Division 2 girls diving championship with an 11-dive score of 517.45. Paquette is only the second Dolphins girl diver to win a CIF-SS title, and it was program’s fifth title overall.

Twelve Dana Hills student-athletes were honored in a small, masked-up ceremony for Signing Day. Photo: Zach Cavanagh

Twelve Honored for Signing Day

In a small, delayed and masked-up ceremony at the Dana Hills gym, 12 Dolphins student-athletes were celebrated for signing on to colleges. Dana Hills baseball had the most signees with four.

June

DHHS Grad Williams Makes MLB Debut

Luke Williams, a Dana Hills 2015 graduate, made his major league debut for the Philadelphia Phillies and got a hit in his first at-bat. In the next game, Williams hit a walk-off home run for his first major-league home run. In the previous week, Williams helped Team USA baseball qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.

Dana Hills alumnus Luke Williams (2015) made his major-league debut for the Phillies and hit a walk-off home run in his second game. Photo: The Phillies/Mike Kennedy

July

DP Native McLaughlin Earns Silver in Olympic Swim Relay

Katie McLaughlin, 24, swam the third leg of the 4×200-meter freestyle relay to set the table for American star Katie Ledecky and help the United States earn silver in the event at the Tokyo Olympics. The relay team set an American record at 7:40.73.

August

DHHS Football, Girls Volleyball Open Regular Fall Seasons

After their delayed and augmented seasons in the spring, Dana Hills football and girls volleyball kicked off the regularly scheduled and full fall sports seasons. Football opened with a big win over Laguna Beach, and girls volleyball was successful in tournament play.

September

Chambers Sets DHHS Football Single-Game Receiving Records

In a dramatic, back-and-forth win over rival Aliso Niguel, Dana Hills senior receiver Owen Chambers set single-game program highs with four touchdown catches and 251 receiving yards. Quarterback Bo Kelly threw five TD passes in the game and a total of 15 in the month.

Dana Hills senior Jai Dawson won CIF-SS and CIF State championships to cap his golden season. Photo: Scott Emery

October

Dawson Wins Orange County Championship

Dana Hills senior Jai Dawson won the Orange County Cross Country Championship with a time of 15:07. Dawson is the first Dolphins runner to win the county title since 2016, and it wouldn’t be the last of his wins in this golden season.

DHHS Boys Water Polo Wins League Title

Dana Hills boys water polo finally broke a nine-game losing streak to San Clemente with a dramatic 11-10, double-overtime win, paving the way to the Dolphins’ first South Coast League title since 2015. Dana Hills shared the title with San Clemente.

Dana Hills boys water polo earned its first share of the South Coast League title since 2015. Photo: Zach Cavanagh

November

DHHS Football Plays First Playoff Game Since 2013

With its best regular-season record since 2009 at 8-2, the Dana Hills football team earned its first CIF-SS playoff berth since 2013. However, the Dolphins were edged in the first round by host El Modena in overtime, 23-20.

Dawson Wins CIF-SS, State Cross Country Titles

Dana Hills senior Jai Dawson won the CIF-SS Division 2 and CIF State Division II individual championships to etch his name into Dolphins history. Dawson was the first Dana Hills runner to win a CIF-SS title since 2013 and the first to win a state title since 2008.

December

DHHS All-Time Passer Kelly Signs on Early Signing Day

Dana Hills senior quarterback Bo Kelly signed with Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to open the early signing period. Kelly finished his Dolphins football career as the program’s all-time leading passer with 5,858 yards and 61 touchdowns. Kelly also set single-season marks for completions, yards and touchdowns.

Zach Cavanagh

Zach Cavanagh is the sports editor for Picket Fence Media. Zach is multiple California Journalism Award winner and has covered sports in Orange County since 2013. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @ZachCav and follow our sports coverage on Twitter @SouthOCSports. Email at zcavanagh@picketfencemedia.com.

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