2016 was the year of The 300 in Tehachapi — not Spartans, but Warriors.
In a year of personal accolades and team triumphs, none was more anticipated or celebrated on the mountain than football coach Steve Denman's 300th career victory.
He'd already been inducted into the Kern County Sports Hall of Fame when, on Friday night, Nov. 4 of his 35th season as Tehachapi's head football coach, his Warriors gave him No. 300 with a 35-7 triumph over West.
Although he became only the eighth football coach ever in California to reach that plateau, he remained modest.
“It's not the number that's so important,” he said, “as it is the experiences we've had throughout the years. It's more the journey, for sure, than it is the 300 victories."
There were more than enough accolades to go around town in 2016.
Sagun Gainey was named the South Yosemite League Player of the Year in baseball, while a 25-year-old Tehachapi native, Neeco Macias, became a professional boxing champion.
On the track, meanwhile, a diminutive long distance runner, Dione Sheehan, was inducted into the Warriors Cross-Country Hall of Fame. At 5-foot-1 and just 105 pounds, her teammates call her mom.
"It is so extremely humbling," she said.
The 2016 baseball team might have been the most decorated in Warriors history, even though it fell one victory shy of winning a CIF title.
The girls volleyball team won a long sought-after South Yosemite League title, going undefeated but not without facing adversity. Midway through the season, the mother of one of the Tehachapi girls died of cancer.
“This was a year of overcoming personal hurdles, of mourning the loss of the best team mom a team could ask for,” volleyball coach Sheri Dees said, “and of girls uniting in the face of it all.”
After four years on the varsity team, 2016 marked the end of Johnny Saavedra's basketball career at Tehachapi. An all-league point guard, he had a 40-point game in the playoffs, then followed it with a 29-point game in the Warriors 83-65 quarter-final loss to West on Feb. 25.
“I'm really proud of our team, and I'm going to miss them,” Saavedra said. “We are a brotherhood, and together we're one team, one goal.”
As the 2016-17 season began in November, it fell to David Wheeler to step into the void left by Saavedra.
"They're big shoes to fill," Wheeler said.
Despite the high-scoring tandem of Angie Kroeger and Fiona Ferry, the 2015-16 Warriors girls basketball team struggled through inconsistency and failed to make the playoffs.
Kroeger, a senior, handed the reins to Ferry this season, and the Warriors immediately began to have their ups and downs, once again. Instead of maturing, they got even younger in 2016-17, with Ferry the only senior on coach Jacques Vachon's roster.
"We were hoping to develop players from last year's junior varsity team into this year's varsity," Vachon said. "Sadly, that didn't happen."
As snow levels fall in the winter, spirits rose on the soccer pitch. That's how it was in 2016, anyway.
The Warriors girls, led by forward Hannah Beauchamp on the field, and her father, coach Ryan Beauchamp, on the sideline, were threatening to become a force in the SYL as the year came to a close.
Hannah had a hat trick in the Warriors' SYL-opening victory over West.
"From all four years that I've been on the varsity squad, this has been the best, most well-rounded team," Hannah said.
Obviously, dad must be busting his buttons on the sidelines, but the two try to keep their father-daughter relationship low key.
“We kind of put the dad role on the shelf, and she calls me coach and I treat her like any other player. I'm honored to coach her,” Ryan Beauchamp said, “and so proud of her as a dad.”
The boys were a different story as their 2015-16 season ended on Feb. 11 with a 2-20 record and 0-10 in the SYL. This season, they've shown marked improvement.
As 2016 came to an end, the boys were 3-4.
"So far, it's been a lot better season," second-year coach Dennis Wolfe said. "We've already passed our win total from last year."
In the gym and away from any snow flurries, the wrestling team labored under the lights, trying to restore the wrestling glory that once belonged to Tehachapi.
Dean Hoisington did his part in 2016 when, on Feb. 10, he became the Warriors only SYL champion, beating Tyler Thompson of Golden Valley 8-3 in the 170-pound division.
The victory was particularly sweet for Hoisington, who lost to Thompson in a dual meet Jan. 20. Hoisington was pinned with just 26 seconds elapsed in the first period.
“I was a little intimidated. The guy was pretty big,” Hoisington had said. Not this time, though.
Although they are more or less year round, the Warriors varsity cheer team spent the winter doing some intimidating of its own, showing they too could be competitive.
The Warriors ended an unbeaten 2016 competitive season by winning the USA Spirit National Championships on March 20 at Disneyland.
“Winning it has been our dream since we were freshmen,” senior cheer captain Jamie Phillips said. “We fought with all our might, and the voting was close, but our dreams of being national champions came true.”
No matter how you look at it, 2016 is going to be a tough act to follow for the next Warriors baseball team.
The 2016 Warriors won the South Yosemite League, played for the Division II championship for the second time in four years and grabbed five spots on the all-SYL first team.
Gainey was Player of the Year and even got some consideration from major league scouts, although he was undrafted.
Heavily laden with seniors, it might have been the best team head coach Chris Olofson had in his 14 years at the helm. Although he will be replaced by Chase Dominguez in 2017, Olofson said: “The future looks bright for Warrior baseball.”
Among the 10 or so seniors they lost from their 2016 roster were Gainey, Kern County all-star game MVP Cade Temple and Mr. Warrior Nash Franko.
Those three were named to the all-SYL first team, along with another senior, pitcher Ryan Hanzel. The only underclassman who made first-team all-league from Tehachapi was junior outfielder Jalen Wallace.
In softball, 2016 was the last hurrah for three big-time seniors. Now, just like the baseball team, it's up to the returning underclassmen.
The 2016 Warriors were a bit Jekyll-and-Hyde-like. They could — and did — score 20 runs in a game, or almost none. They could play virtually errorless softball one game, then commit a half dozen errors in the next.
Just ask Independence.
The Warriors beat Indy four times during the regular season, then almost inexplicably lost 7-6 to them in the Division III semifinals.
Youth and inexperience probably contributed to the ups and downs. The Warriors had only three seniors on their roster, but they were huge: co-captains Danay Lee and Michaela Peters, and slugging DH Taylor Cummings.
“We are really going to miss them, not only for their skills but also for their leadership and the example they set,” first-year coach Joan Cooper said.
Oftentimes, optimism is the residue of a bad season. That's not really the case with Mike Heckathorn and his Warriors track and field team, though. Heckathorn's glass is almost always half full.
Although none of his athletes qualified for the state meet out of the CIF Southern Area varsity finals last May 11 at Liberty High School, there were some near misses — and real cause for optimism.
For example, sophomore Favian Garcia, who missed part of the season with injury, was eighth in the shot put after competing on junior varsity most of the season, and freshman Lucy Coe was ninth in the 400.
“THS represented itself well,” Heckathorn said. “We qualified 19 individuals and six alternates, as well as both the women's and men's relay teams, for the Southern Area finals.”
Many of them were underclassmen who will be returning for the 2017 season.
Coach Rick Lund's boys tennis team won its final two SYL matches of the season to finish 5-5. Although they did not go to the postseason as a team, Eric Bilotta and Ethan Zehr qualified for the CIF South Area finals.
Both lost in the early rounds.
Of all the seasons of 2016, football easily had the most plot twists. The Warriors won their first South Yosemite League title after a 0-4 start. They got running back Keyron Scott back after a year-long injury, then lost fullback Chase Podratz to a broken leg late in the season.
Finally, on the last day of the regular season, the Warriors got Denman his 300th victory. They tacked on 301 in the playoffs before losing in the second round to their postseason nemesis, Tulare Western, which had knocked them out in the first round a year earlier.
"A lot of those ups and downs came from playing some really good teams early on," Denman said.
Two of their early-season losses were to Burroughs and Bakersfield Christian, both by one touchdown. The other two were more lopsided, to Paraclete and Garces.
Given hindsight, the Warriors 0-for-4 was anything but shocking.
Both Paraclete and Bakersfield Christian went on to play in CIF State Bowl Championship games, and Garces beat BCHS in its season opener.
There were many heroes as the Warriors began to turn their season around, but probably none bigger than Chris Garcia, a sophomore who took over as starting quarterback.
In a huge, 28-14 upset of Ridgeview on Oct. 28, he threw for three touchdowns, cementing himself as the Warriors' quarterback of the future.
The girls volleyball team, meanwhile, was marching through the league. After a rough preseason, the Warriors girls showed they were ready for the SYL by winning every set in every game they played.
Then, they lost in five sets to Lemoore in the first round of the CIF postseason.
“We gave it all we had,” said Toni Ward, one of six seniors on coach Sheri Dees' roster. “We started strong and we finished strong, that's the best thing a player could expect from her team.”
It was never easy.
On Oct. 15, sophomore Paige Parker lost her mother, Lisa Benya, to breast cancer, and the girls' bond with each other became even stronger.
“This team will never forget this season,” Dees said, “not because of our loss to Lemoore or because of winning league championship, but because of the fight they made to support each other and the life-long friendships that grew during these last three months.”
When it came time to determine the best girl tennis player in the league, it was an all-Tehachapi affair. Maranda Maliska and Eileen Rooney, the Warriors top two singles players, played for the SYL singles championship on Oct. 14 at the Bakersfield Racquet Club.
Maliska won 6-3, 6-1.
The championship final was the exclamation point on an outstanding league campaign for the Tehachapi girls.
They won their last five league matches to finish 8-2 and second in league to undefeated Independence.
“I'm excited. It's really cool,” Maliska said. “It’s my senior year, and all I’ve ever played (in the postseason) is doubles. I knew this was a step up to play singles, so I’m happy.”
About a month early, in what boxing buffs like to call the square circle, Neeco Macias extended his pro boxing record to 13-0 with a fifth-round knockout of another unbeaten fighter, Rolando Garza of Mexico, for the vacant WBC United States super welterweight title.
Garza was the favorite, promoted by Roy Jones Jr., but Macias left little doubt who was the better fighter that night, throwing more than 160 punches in the fifth round before the ref stopped it.
"I knew he was done when he spit out his mouthpiece," Macias said.
While Macias is still fighting for his future, Dione Sheehan ensured hers — at least in sports — as she was inducted into the Warriors Cross-Country Hall of Fame on Nov. 30.
Recruited to run by another Warriors Hall of Famer, Alexis Namey, Seehan was awestruck by her new neighbors in the hall.
"I remember watching Alexis Namey's induction into the Hall of Fame during my first cross-country season," Sheehan said. "I can't believe that now I have been inducted too."
Sheehan became only the fourth female honored by the hall and 10th runner overall. Sheehan and teammate Ethan Zehr also were named all-SYL runners.