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West Ranch High pulling double duty in LAKHSHL, CAHA

 

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There’s a team in the L.A. Kings High School Hockey League (LAKHSHL) that is moonlighting on the side, and while that’s adding some extra games to an already busy schedule, the West Ranch Wildcats wouldn’t have it any other way.

Because they’re a Pure team – with all their players coming from West Ranch High School in the northern Los Angeles suburb of Santa Clarita – the Wildcats are also eligible to compete in the California Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA) high school division. The Wildcats have played just one CAHA game so far this season, but feel like they’re gaining valuable experience playing against the likes of Orange Lutheran, Bellarmine Prep, Santa Margarita, JSerra and Tahoe Hockey Academy.

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“Being a relatively young program, we wanted to expose our kids to an even higher caliber of play,” West Ranch coach Chris LeCornu said. “As the Kings league evolves, the competition will continue to get stronger. We wanted to give the kids the chance to play at a high level, which will not only allow them to develop their skills, but will improve their confidence levels.

“We knew it would be a challenge and we may or may not be ready to play at this level, but over the next handful of years, our goal is to be a nationals-qualifying team.”

Justin Badillo, the team’s captain, said the Wildcats are focused on success in the Kings league, but have also set their sights high for CAHA competition.

“Our main goal overall this year is to make states,” Badillo said. “We have been working endlessly on and off the ice, and our team and coaching staff are dedicated to making us the best we can be. We are on the right track, and we need to buy into the systems and play like the grinders that we are.”

The team’s roster includes forwards Badillo, Luke Boss, Dylan Durrell, Anderson Lee, Chase Neelley, Michael Onda, Jackson Vercellono, Tristan Warr and Josh Watts; defensemen Kenton Call, Kameron Chan, Jack McNamara, Colton Tow and Marian Wise; and goalies Tate Martishius and Jack Titter.

Through early November, West Ranch owned a 5-1-1 record in the LAKHSHL, good for second in the league behind the Santa Barbara Royals.

“We just need to keep practicing hard, buy into the coaches’ system and play as a team, and the wins will follow,” said Watts, an alternate captain. “I feel we are on the right track with the way the team is playing. I think our team is doing great and we have improved in a lot of our weak areas, which is making us a much more dangerous and effective team.”

Vercellono, the team’s other alternate captain, had an even more positive outlook on the season.

“I know for a fact that if we keep increasing our level of play as we have been doing lately, we will not only make it to states, but we could win it all and then go to nationals,” he said.

The players said that competing for a Pure team brings some major advantages. In addition to receiving tremendous support from the school’s administration, they have the motivation of playing to represent their school – something athletes in other sports get to experience, but that is still rare for high school hockey in California.

“There is an enormous pride associated with wearing this sweater with my high school’s logo on it,” said Badillo. “There are very few opportunities to do this, and being the first generation to do it is an honor.”

Added Vercellono: “Playing on a Pure team is unique for us because, unlike other teams, we all see each other basically every single day of the week. We can bond off the ice at school, which really enhances our chemistry as a whole.”

— Greg Ball