Revealing the 'Best of The Times' high school sports awards

Since the start of the 2022-23 season, the Los Angeles Times has been working to honor the best of the best through our new high school sports awards.

Winners were measured by factors such as statistics, achievements, team success and character. Honorable mention spots reserved for those who competed in different sports than the winners.

Presenting the first “Preps: Best of the Times” showcase, honoring our elite 11 award winners.


WINNER: Dijon Stanley, Granada Hills, Football


Lex Young, Newbury Park, Cross Country

Young continued an ever-developing family running dynasty by winning both the Southern Section Division 2 finals Nov. 19 and the 5,000-meter state Division 2 title a week later.

Ben Liechty, Newport Harbor, Water Polo

The UCLA commit scored three goals in the Southern Section Open Division boys’ water polo final to lead the Sailors to back-to-back championships.


WINNER: Sadie Engelhardt, Ventura, Cross Country

After a dominant freshman season, Engelhardt fought through an illness that limited her for nearly two months in the fall cross-country season to win the Division 2 individual state championship in the 5000-meter in a time of 16 minutes, 58 seconds. Engelhardt also smashed the three-mile course record at the prestigious Woodbridge Classic in September.


Kenzie Nguyen, Portola, Tennis

As just a freshman, Nguyen broke onto the high school tennis scene by going undefeated in the competitive Pacific Coast League, then winning the CIF Southern Section individual title. She’s the fourth-ranked player in USTA Southern California junior girls’ tennis.

Charlie Fuerbringer, Mira Costa, Volleyball

Fuerbringer was the athletic mastermind behind a banner Mira Costa volleyball season that fell one win short of a Southern Section title, the setter and Wisconsin commit widely heralded as one of the top recruits in the country.


WINNER: Jared McCain, Corona Centennial, Basketball


Oscar Vargas, Birmingham, Soccer

A preseason transfer from Moorpark, Vargas assumed a leadership role immediately inside City Section powerhouse Birmingham, according to coach EB Madha, and led the City champion Patriots with 29 goals. Vargas, according to Madha, will be the first in his family to attend college when he begins at Oxnard College, with plans to transfer to a Division I program after a year.

Ronnie Ramirez, Walnut, Wrestling

Ranked the top wrestler in the state in the boys’ 113 class by The California Wrestler, Ramirez had a dominant run through the Southern Section as just a sophomore, winning the sectional, Masters and state championships.


WINNER: Juju Watkins, Sierra Canyon, Basketball


Lauren Steele, Orange Lutheran, Water Polo

A clutch stopper in the cage for the Open Division champion Lancers, the UCLA commit enhanced a loaded Orange Lutheran program by giving the offense breathing room “to take more risks,” coach Brenda Villa said.

Briley Phelps, Hart, Soccer

Phelps is high school soccer’s version of the “five-tool player” in baseball, if you ask coach Brett Croft. The senior Biola University commit led Hart with 19 goals en route to a Southern Section Division 2 title, but Croft’s favorite aspect of Phelps’ game comes on the defensive side of the ball, where he plugged her for entire stretches of games to utilize her tenacity.


WINNER: Rodrick Pleasant, Gardena Serra, Track and Field


Rex Maurer, Loyola, Swimming

Stanford commit Maurer delivered a time of 4:12:70 in the 500 at the May Division 1 Southern Section finals, breaking former Santa Margarita standout Grant Shoults’ 2016 national record.

Justin Lee, Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks, Baseball

A UCLA commit and sure-fire MLB prospect, Lee rode a 95-mph heater and much-improved command to a breakout senior season on the mound for Sherman Oaks Notre Dame, going 9-0 with a 1.06 ERA and 98 strikeouts in 66 innings.


WINNER: Anahi Arreola, Oaks Christian, Softball


Ava DeAnda, Riverside Poly, Swimming

DeAnda capped her freshman season with a dominant performance at the Southern Section swim finals, winning the girls’ 200 in Division 2 and breaking the sectional D2 record in the 100 freestyle with a time of 48.85.

Aujane Luckey, Long Beach Wilson, Track and Field

The queen of the 400-meter in 2023, Luckey notched the fastest time in the nation in the one-lap with a mark of 52.71 at the Southern Section Masters, then took home the state crown at 53.26 the following week while leading a stacked Wilson program to a girls’ team state championship.



JSerra Soccer

Ranked the No. 2 high school program in the nation by the United Soccer Coaches, 20-1-1 JSerra won the Southern Section Division 1 and CIF Southern California regional titles. The team's most impressive achievement: a comeback against San Dieguito Academy (Encinitas), down 2-0 with five minutes to play and rallying to win 3-2 in overtime during the regional semifinals.

Newbury Park Cross Country

We’ve seen few phenomena like the Panthers in running history. Not only are they easily the Southland’s most dominant program, in December, at the Team Cross Country Nationals in Oregon, they breezed to a championship and were the only school to place four runners in the top 35.


WINNER: Santa Margarita Girls’ Soccer


Sierra Canyon Volleyball

After moving to a competitive Mission League preseason, 33-5 Sierra Canyon rode depth built around the golden arm of senior Olivia Babcock to a Southern Section Division 1 championship, knocking off the favored Mira Costa in a sweep for the title.

Foothill Lacrosse

Extending an undefeated streak in the Southland dating to 2019, Foothill went 18-2 and 18-0 against Southern California teams to cruise to a Southern Section Division 1 girls’ lacrosse title.



Sina Aghassy, Chatsworth Boys’ Volleyball

Few coaches in the Southland are more respected for their work ethic than Aghassy, who crossed off a long-awaited goal by helming a 40-9 Chatsworth team to a City title. He’s also a constant advocate for City volleyball, and has helped elevate the sport in Los Angeles through club team SoCal Legends, where he coaches many of the best players in the City.

Crystal Irving, Long Beach Poly Track

A mentor who’s ingrained into the very fabric of Long Beach Poly, Irving coached a talented Jackrabbits boys program to a Southern Section team title and the girls to a silver medal. The athletic director for girls’ sports at Poly, teams under her umbrella are some of the highest-achieving academic squads in the section.


WINNER: Feb. 25, 2023 – Aaron McBride’s dunk lifts Corona Centennial over St. John Bosco


Oct. 14, 2022: Bella Rasmussen of Laguna Beach runs in two touchdowns

Ever since she was little, Laguna Beach senior Bella Rasmussen has wanted to score a touchdown in high school varsity football. And after playing four years of youth football and four years with Laguna Beach, the dream came true Oct. 14, when she ran in one-yard and four-yard touchdowns in a 48-0 win over Santa Ana Godinez. It made her the first girl in California state history to score two touchdowns in a high school football game, and made her a national name complete with a Super Bowl commercial appearance and multiple NIL deals.

Oct. 21, 2022: East L.A. Classic hits the Coliseum

There are few better rivalries in California high school football than the “East L.A. Classic” — the Garfield Bulldogs vs. the Roosevelt Rough Riders, two fiercely proud programs from East Los Angeles who play with the cultural pride of a working-class, largely Latino area. And this year’s Classic was one of the best yet, featuring a return to the iconic Coliseum and a triumphant halftime performance by the Black Eyed Peas and Roosevelt alumnus


This award honors the most inspiring Times-area athletes who faced and overcame incredible adversity to help themselves and their team to athletic achievement.

WINNER: Carson Fox, Los Alamitos, Football and Track and Field


Landon Sachs, JSerra, Tennis

Paralyzed since he was 8 years old, Sachs has found a passion and purpose through tennis, becoming the first athlete in Orange County high school history to compete as a wheelchair tennis player in matches against able-bodied athletes. A captain this past senior season on JSerra’s JV team, Sachs is ranked fourth in the nation in the United States Tennis Association’s junior wheelchair rankings and earned an adaptive sports scholarship to the University of Arizona.

Nathan Santa Cruz, Venice, Football and Track and field

On the opening night of football season in August, panic struck as Venice’s Santa Cruz slumped on the bench with an apparent head injury. He was transported by paramedics and doctors moved quickly to execute a life-saving brain surgery. Nine months later, healthy and carrying an unflinchingly positive attitude, Santa Cruz ran the anchor leg of the 4-by-400 relay to help Venice record a school-record time at the City Section track and field championships.


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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.