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Prep Focus: AAA sees more parity, harder battles for teams at the top

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Galileo’s state football title is just one sign of the rise of competition all around the Academic Athletic Association. (Photo: Robert Schnitzer, special to the S.F. Examiner)

Beginning with Mission’s boys basketball Division III title last winter, the last 15 months have been marked by state championships and tremendous successes by schools from San Francisco’s Academic Athletic Association.

The Bears have won four straight AAA basketball championships, and Lowell has taken home the City baseball crown six years in a row, but there’s been a marked increase in parity all around the league, and that growth has helped the newly-crowned champions greatly.

For years, it seemed like the City champion would cruise to a league title, only to be walloped early on in regional and state competition. With the recent development of teams all around the City, the entire AAA has benefited across almost every sport. Teams have had to fight for championships, and they’ve been far more prepared for state-level competition as a result.

Galileo football is a clear testament to this increased parity. The Lions finished second in the AAA regular season and won a close rematch with third-place Lincoln in the semifinals.

Galileo then rolled past regular-season champion Mission in the section championship game — the traditional Thanksgiving Day affair which was played a week later than normal due to fire-related postponements.

No San Francisco high school football team — public or private — had ever won a regional playoff game or even kept one close, but the battle-tested Lions rolled into Rio Vista and emerged with a Northern California title. They then made the fateful trip down to Calexico to defeat Vincent Memorial and return home with the CIF Division 6-A Championship.

Meanwhile, Lincoln girls volleyball had multiple stiff tests from Lowell en route to a state championship appearance. Lowell took two of the five meetings, including the AAA title, but Lincoln still went on to win a Northern California title.

That Lincoln gym could be home to a lot of success over the coming years. Mission basketball is clearly the class of the AAA, but the Mustangs are coming. Mission has returning talent in Kamiri Smith, Ben Knight and an impressive supporting cast, but Lincoln will be ready to go with tons of experience, bringing back seniors Shakur Blaylock, Zev Curiel-Friedman, Pajri Samhi and Gabino Valdivia. Rafiq “Badu” Griffin will enter his junior season as one of the City’s players to watch, and Tahj Farley showed potential as a freshman.

The same sort of competition should be present on the girls side, with Lowell and Lincoln battling much like in volleyball. KD Lee, Aly Lee and Sammy Quach will all be seniors for Lowell, the defending Northern California Division V champs, while Lincoln returns Angelina Jimenez and Lily Donovan.

Lowell has certainly stood atop the section in most spring sports, but the Cardinals had one of their toughest battles yet to earn that sixth consecutive baseball championship. AAA Player of the Year Owen Mahoney escaped a bases-loaded jam in a 1-0 semifinal win over Washington, and Pitcher of the Year Alex Bradshaw threw six shutout innings in a 3-0 championship victory over Mission.

Mission’s title appearance likely won’t just be a flash in the pan. Manager Chris Ayag and his staff have worked tirelessly to restore the glory of the program, and with first-team all-leaguer C.J. Pino back for his senior season, there’s a good chance the Bears will be fighting for a title again next year.

Even if some of the same teams have stayed at the top of the AAA, they’ve hard a harder time getting there. There isn’t just one team with all the talent, and the growth seen all around the league is poised to continue.

Prep Focus writer Ethan Kassel covers high school sports throughout the Bay Area. If you have a story tip, game to watch or player to track, email him at ethankassel@gmail.com.

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