Maranatha Teams Find Immense Success

By Nick Ostiller

It’s rare enough for a high school to see one of its sports teams bring home a CIF or state championship in any given year. Two teams pulling off the feat is even more impressive. Three? Almost unfathomable. But for Maranatha High School athletics, calling the past 10 months a “banner year” might be an understatement.

That’s because the Minutemen not only captured CIF titles in boys’ basketball and girls’ tennis, they also achieved a state championship in girls’ soccer to go along with an undefeated regular season in football.

“For us, it was an incredible experience,” said Maranatha Athletic Director Brian DeHaan. “That’s the type of success that we want to duplicate. We want that to be an annual outcome. … There’s been a lot of groundwork laid over the last decade. To see it come to fruition in a year was a lot of fun. We’ve intermittently had a championship here, a championship there, but to have three in one year was a remarkable run. It was phenomenal.”

It all began last fall when Maranatha’s varsity girls’ tennis team made a name for itself after years on the fringes of the school’s athletic consciousness.

“Tennis is one of those forgotten sports, so it really doesn’t usually get much attention,” said head coach Arthur Hsieh. “The girls used to complain about it — nobody would acknowledge them. … It’s not something that Maranatha has ever really been known for. So even when I came in to coach [three years ago], it wasn’t really something on the radar.”

All of that changed with the team’s victory over the Thatcher School in the championship match of the CIF-Southern Section Division 5 playoffs.
Hsieh encouraged his players to become winners off the court in order to become winners on the court.

“I really worked on the girls being the right people inside first,” he said. “I worked on them fighting the tougher battles — battles of the heart, battles of bad habits, battles of sins, battles of all the tough stuff, being kind to your parents and your brothers and sisters, being loving, and all the things that are harder than tennis and harder than the competition.”

With those lessons ingrained alongside the fundamentals of the game, the Minutemen were able to cap off a 19–3 season by becoming the first girls’ tennis team in school history to reach the pinnacle. Junior Hailey McNail and senior teammate Sage Polanco earned the Olympic League Doubles MVP award.

“We’re kind of a regular sport now,” said Hsieh. “It’s been wonderful to see the girls take pride in a healthy way and actually feel good about being tennis players when they’re walking on campus.”

While the girls’ tennis team was serving its way to postseason glory, a new chapter in the story of Maranatha varsity football had begun. First-year head coach Steve Bogan insisted that his team “play smart, play hard and play together — all of that to honor Christ.” The motto soon became a philosophy not just on the gridiron but for all sports on campus.

“To play hard, that’s an individual-effort thing,” said DeHaan. “To play smart, that’s how hard are you going to work off the court or off the field? To play together, that needs to be sacrifice and understanding that it may not be your night, but you also have another job of getting teammates involved and helping out.”

Maranatha head football coach Steve Bogan

The Minutemen reeled off an undefeated regular season and captured the Olympic League title. Defensive back and running back Caleb Devine earned the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award, and Maranatha received a total of seven first-team selections following its run to the CIF Northwest Division quarterfinals.

Prior to arriving at Maranatha last fall, Bogan had already spent 20 years leading the West Covina South Hills football program, a stint that included four CIF championships. Although the Minutemen fell short of adding a fifth to his resume, the program appears to be headed in the right direction.

“I think it’s a departmental effort. I don’t think it’s me operating alone,” said DeHaan. “I think that [Assistant Athletic Director] Eddie Arnett has a lot of ties to the community. … We want to be the school of choice in Pasadena and the San Gabriel Valley. I think people are realizing that we want to compete, that we want to be one of the top programs in the area and we’re trying to make those efforts to get there on an annual basis.”

An example of that effort was the 2013 hiring of varsity basketball coach Tim Tucker, a well-regarded hoops helmsman in the area. Tucker moved across town to Maranatha after a successful 18-year run at Pasadena High School, where he won two CIF championships and 15 league titles.

The payoff was nearly immediate, as Tucker — in just his second season — guided the Minutemen to their first-ever CIF championship this past winter.

“I work for the best administrators, said Tucker. “… That makes my job easy when you can come in to work and can feel supported in what you do. It’s not an easy job to be a head coach, especially in private schools. There’s a lot required when you have great players. It’s important that the people behind you are really behind you. [DeHaan] and the school principal, Michelle [Purghart], have been behind me 100%.”

Tyler Dorsey was the undisputed leader of Maranatha’s basketball team this past season

Oregon University-bound Tyler Dorsey averaged 34.0 points per game to lead the Minutemen, who advanced to the semifinals of the California state playoffs after defeating North Hollywood Campbell Hall in the CIF championship game. Dorsey was named the Southern Section Division 4A Player of the Year and earned a spot on the All-State Team.

“Those kinds of players come around once in a lifetime,” said Tucker. “I don’t think we’ve seen the best of Tyler Dorsey. I think that we’ll probably see him in an NBA uniform someday. To be able to coach a kid who’s like a sponge that takes up everything even though he’s one of the best players in the country … was just awesome.”

Just outside the gymnasium, the Maranatha girls’ soccer team was making history of its own. But, unlike the basketball team, the Minutemen’s championship journey on the pitch began with a jarring loss against Menifee Paloma Valley High School in the CIF semifinals.

“The girls were really distraught,” said head coach Robert Gurulé, whose team still qualified for the CIF-State Southern Regional playoffs. “I said ‘We have a chance to regroup if we can and make history. I firmly believe that you guys can do it.’ There was a big roar. It was funny because Paloma Valley’s on the other side and they’re looking over going, ‘Why are they roaring?’ But I think that there was a belief.”

That belief turned into reality when the Minutemen came from behind to defeat Strathmore High School in the state championship game.

“I have a picture in our family room of the team right after the championship,” said Gurulé. “Every time I look at it, I just go, ‘What a journey this team had.’”

Maranatha finished with a 24–5–3 overall record, including 7–0–1 in the Olympic League. Senior Morgan Howe, junior Tatum French and sophomore Kin Spencer received All-CIF first-team selections.

“In smaller schools, there are just so many things,” said Gurulé. “Some of the girls are in dance. Some of the girls are in theater while they’re playing soccer. Some are playing another sport. … The support from the parents was awesome.”

DeHaan explained that the root of this support is not one-dimensional but rather multi-faceted.

“We talk about family,” he said. “Any time you’re involved in athletics, you hear that term used. For us, we really are intentional about supporting one another. We’re a smaller school. We’re 680 kids. So we encourage our kids to do multiple things. … When you do that, you find that there’s a lot of crossover and kids support one another. We just had that this year. We had that energy amongst the coaches, amongst the kids, amongst the families.”

Maranatha Athletic Director Brian DeHaan

DeHaan also takes pride in the fact that 22% of Maranatha’s athletes go on to compete collegiately, a figure that is five times the national average.

“We’re producing those kinds of numbers and I think that’s an intentional effort by our coaches, by our families and kids,” said DeHaan. “We’re trying to get them seen. We’re trying to expose them to the reality that there could be a continuation of this high-school experience. Once you get a group of kids, it’s kind of that tipping point. You get to a point where enough people begin to think collegiately and begin to think about what they need to do to get to that next level. Then it kind of spills over into all the other programs, and that’s what we’re really trying to do. We’re trying to infuse that into our program and see what happens as a result.”

Originally published for the Pasadena Outlook Newspaper on July 2, 2015.
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