LCC kicks off grueling Avocado schedule at home Friday

The LCC defense has been formidable in early season action.
The LCC defense has been formidable in early season action.
(Ken Grosse)

In his 13th year at the helm of La Costa Canyon, Head Coach Sean Sovacool, is intimately aware of the peril that exists on a week-to-week basis in Avocado League football.

“I consider it the premier league in San Diego and maybe all of Southern California,” said Sovacool, who has a pair of Avocado titles on his resume. “There are no soft spots.

“That said, it’s an exciting schedule and every week is going to be a dogfight played in a great environment. That’s the fun of it—being challenged and challenging others.”

That gauntlet that is the seven-team 2022 Avocado League football campaign commences Friday night, Sept. 9, and, as per usual, there will be a bundle of high caliber match-ups right out of the gate. Six of the seven teams, headed by No. 2 Carlsbad, are currently ranked in the CIF Top 25. The talent distributed along the North Coast this year, from Oceanside to Torrey Pines and all points in between, figures to only burnish the reputation the league has developed over the last quarter century.

LCC carries a 1-2 record into Friday’s opener, against eighth-ranked visitor Mission Hills (2-1). The first three weeks of the season have been a rollercoaster for Sovacool’s squad. Down, 35-7, on the road to well-regarded Rancho Santa Margarita Tesoro in the opener, the Mavericks roared back behind quarterback Conner Annicharico’s four second half TD passes and barely missed sending it to OT, failing on a two-point conversion try with 18 seconds remaining.

Seven days later, behind a 112-yard., two touchdown rushing performance by Andrew Maes, LCC bounced back at home to blitz North County foe Vista, 43-13. But Sovacool found out after the game that he would likely be without Annacharico, arguably his best player, for the remainder of the season. The 6-2 senior suffered a non-contact knee injury during the victory.

Maverick Head Coach Sean Sovacool.
Maverick Head Coach Sean Sovacool.
(Ken Grosse)

With Annicharico serving as a de facto coach on the sidelines, junior Jack Splavec was under center in south Orange County last Friday against San Clemente, an outfit ranked among the top 50 teams in the state. La Costa Canyon played the Tritons tough before succumbing, 17-0. Several kicking game mishaps were key to an uncharacteristic five turnovers that essentially gifted the hosts a pair of sixes. Any team would be fortunate to prevail with those turnover numbers and Sovacool had no trouble identifying several positives, particularly from the defensive side where senior Cooper Mau and junior Kaeden Miller spearheaded a unit that kept the San Clemente offenseat bay most of the night.

“Our defensive played lights out,” said Sovacool. “We had seven plays for losses and the two TDs both came in short field situations.

“We were a little short-handed and didn’t get a lot of breaks while playing a very good team on its home field in a tough environment. Overall, it was a great experience for our players and the score doesn’t reflect how close that game was.”

Things don’t get a whole lot easier going forward and Mission Hills will provide a huge test in the Mavericks’ ’22 Avocado debut. Veteran Head Coach Chris Hauser returns an experienced nucleus from a club that went 8-3 last fall, finished second to Carlsbad in the league standings and reached the CIF Open Division playoffs. They own home wins over Lawndale, an LA County invader, and Temecula Chaparral and lost in the desert heat last weekend, 36-16, against Palmdale Highland. Sovacool has plenty of familiarity with the Grizzlies.

“We know them very well—they’ve got a really good coaching staff and really good kids,” said Sovacool, whose team came up on the short end of a 41-0 encounter last season. “They’re a sound team that’s got a lot of balance and physical toughness.

“There’s a reason they always seem to be in the top 10 in San Diego.”

Despite the rugged opponent, the start of league action gives the Mavericks a natural opportunity for a re-set and chance to build around not only what they’ve learned in the season’s first three contests but the work their new QB got in against San Clemente.

“We break down each year into four segments—the pre-season, the league season, the Beach Bowl (vs. rival Torrey Pines) and the post-season,” explained Sovacool. “We try to play a tough pre-season schedule because we’ve got to be ready to play in a tough league.

“Our team looks a little different than it did at the beginning of the season. I thought Jack handled himself really well in his first start last week. It’s a big jump from JV to varsity but he’s a big old boy (6-4) and has a bunch of good skill players out there around him. I have total faith in Jack. He’d be the first to tell you there were some plays he’d like to have back last Friday but I know we can be successful with him running the offense.”

Kickoff is at 7 p.m.

Junior running back Andrew Maes (#28) after scoring a TD against Vista.
Junior running back Andrew Maes (#28) after scoring a TD against Vista.
(Ken Grosse)

Q&A with Andrew Maes

One of the pleasant surprises in the early going for this year’s Mavericks has been the play of first-year running back Andrew Maes. The 5-9, 165-lb. junior has rushed for 164 yards (5.0 yds. per carry), caught six passes and has three touchdowns to his credit in his first three varsity games. His gritty, hard-nosed style has won Sovacool’s admiration.

“Drew’s tough and very multi-dimensional,” says Sovacool. “He runs inside, outside, loves to get in space—he just wants the ball any way he can get it.

“But, he’s also just as engaged and physical when he doesn’t have the ball. On and off the field, he’s free-spirited, fun to be around and just checks a lot of boxes.”

With his first Avocado League game looming this Friday, the 16-year-old Encinitas native shared his thoughts on his team’s first three games, scoring his first TD and what it’s like to play for Coach Sean Sovacool.

Q—Three games into the season, how do you feel about your play?

MAES—It was exciting to be in the starting lineup but it’s definitely a battle week-to-week because there are no guarantees and the people who put the most effort in at practice will determine who plays.

I’m happy with how I’ve played but for a running back, it’s not a one-man thing. For me to be successful, the linemen, receivers and tight ends have to block. If my teammates do their jobs, it’s easy for me to do mine. I’ve got some really good players in front of me.

Q—What was it like scoring your first touchdown in the season opener at Tesoro?

MAES—It was awesome, a real adrenaline rush, especially because it was our first touchdown of the year.

I scored on the home side of the field and their fans were booing me. It was great to celebrate there with my teammates—it made me hungry for more.

Q—After a big home victory over Vista, LCC was shut out, 17-0, at San Clemente, a team ranked in the state’s Top 50. How would you describe the attitude of the team afterward and what kind of response do you think we’ll see this Friday against Mission Hills?

MAES—Disappointed, obviously because we lost, but everybody just felt like that game wasn’t a good representation of who we are or what we can be. The defense was stellar and really held things together but our offense could have played a lot better.

I’m excited and can’t wait for Friday. For a lot of reasons, I think people will see a much-improved team this week. We would love to have won last week but this is the start of league play and that’s our major focus. I think we match up well with Mission Hills and are 100% capable of winning.

Q—How do you like playing for Head Coach Sean Sovacool and what kind of environment does he create around the team?

MAES—I love Coach Sovacool. He’s a super positive guy and, personally speaking, his energy reflects to me which I think is true for all of the players. He’s really smart, has good football IQ and loves the game—I don’t think I know anybody who loves the game as much as he does.

As far as the team atmosphere, everybody’s happy and always having fun. Coach Sovacool will definitely get into you if you make a mistake or are slacking off but that’s how it should be and how you get better.

Q—What gives you confidence LCC can contend for the Avocado League championship?

MAES—Everybody associated with our team wants to win and is willing to put in the effort it takes. Our team chemistry is very strong which helps make every part of the team better.

The program has been at .500 the last couple of years and our players, especially the seniors, are committed to changing that dynamic. When the time comes, I think we can be a contender.