Empire notebook: Fall sports are just around the corner

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Ah summer, where have you gone? It seems like we were just at the CIF State Track and Field Championship and here we are on the cusp of the 2019-20 fall season with football, volleyball, cross country, golf, tennis and water polo competitions just around the corner. We will again use this space to keep readers apprised of area teams and athletes as well as those who have graduated and are playing at the next level. Have an idea for a notebook item? Shoot me a note:

Pavitt to Woods, Take 2

The Cardinal Newman Cardinals return key pieces of the football team that went 5-0 in the North Bay League-Oak Division last season while putting together a 11-1 record overall before seeing their season end with a North Coast Section-sanctioned coin flip.

Senior Jackson Pavitt amassed big numbers as the starting quarterback last season: 2,494 yards with a 77 percent completion rating. He threw 30 touchdown passes to just three interceptions. Pavitt lost one of his favorite targets, Jake Woods, to graduation but still has Woods’ cousin, Giancarlo. Last season as a junior Giancarlo Woods caught 16 passes for an average of 14 yards per catch. On the run, Woods averaged more than seven yards per carry.

But no one carried the ball more for the Cardinals than Shane Moran. As a sophomore last season, Moran was the Cardinals’ workhorse, carrying the ball 101 times, gaining an average of 6.6 yards per carry. Moran ran for 15 touchdowns. Pavitt ran for 11. The Cardinals’ first game is Aug. 22 at Healdsburg’s Rec Park against Fortuna.

Howard leading the way for the Grizzlies

Class of 2016 Maria Carrillo grad Claire Howard is heading into her redshirt junior soccer season at the University of Montana, leading a squad picked to finish third in the Big Sky Conference in pre-season polls.

Howard, a goalkeeper, has started in 42 of her 43 career games for the Grizzlies. She played in a program record 2,062 minutes last season. Howard was an All-Academic Big Sky Conference pick last season, as well as an honorable mention All-Big Sky player. She was voted to the Big Sky Conference All- Tournament team last year after the Grizzlies, seeded fifth, beat No. 4 Northern Arizona, No. 1 Weber State and No. 3 Northern Colorado to win the conference tournament.

The Grizzlies open their regular season Aug. 23 on the road against North Dakota.

Firepower returns for Mustangs soccer

Middletown’s girls soccer team scored 61 goals last season and allowed just six. Unfortunately for every team the Mustangs face this season, the player responsible for 31 of those goals — more than double any other person on the team — is back and is just a junior.

Sophie Kucer, daughter of coach Lamont Kucer, scored 31 goals in 24 games, leading the Mustangs to a 21-3-2 record and a North Central I League title before getting knocked out by top-seed Eureka in the semifinals of the Division 1 North Coast Section tournament.

The Mustangs graduated their second top scorer in Kassi Agapoff, but return a slew of players who have proven to be offensive weapons: junior Brie Alves, and sophomores Harper Moreno and Zamora Rogers. The Mustangs open their season Aug. 22 against Lower Lake.

Wildcats looking to reload

Ukiah volleyball likely has big shoes to fill. The Wildcats won the North Bay League-Redwood Division with an 8-2 record last season, just ahead of El Molino at 7-3. They were 20-11 overall and earned a trip to the North Coast Section Division 2 tournament before falling 3-1 to No. 5 seed Washington High in the opening round.

The Wildcats were propelled by big numbers from seniors Valentina Evans with 145 digs on the season. Evans also led the team with solo blocks, serving aces and was far and away the Wildcats’ leader in kills with 210. Rising senior Victoria Ruiz had the second highest number of digs on the season and Madison Cathey should be expected to take over in the kills department.

Send us your scores

And in perhaps the most important note of this first Empire Notebook of the 2019-20 school year, here is the first of many reminders to all coaches, team managers, volunteer parents — please send in games scores and stats immediately following the conclusion of your contests to If you send them, we’ll post them.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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