ENCINITAS — The San Dieguito Academy boys basketball team, a program without much recent success, appears poised to make some noise this season.
The Mustangs are 4-0 to open Avocado League play, including recent victories over Fallbrook and rival Sage Creek, and bolstered by a strong group of seniors who seem ready for the pressure that comes with success.
Last season, the Mustangs were eliminated from the CIF Division III tournament by the Bobcats following a successful 11-6 regular season. But with San Dieguito’s fast start this season, the team’s sights are clearly set on advancing further.
“Every year each class has the pressure of, how far can we go?” head coach Jason Stewart told The Coast News. “But what I preach is the legacy of SDA. And even though there was a break in the banners, let’s say, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a strong athletic history here to uphold.”
San Dieguito is led by seniors who are proven leaders. Brothers James and John Hapgood, both of whom transferred from La Jolla Country Day, bring experience and athleticism to the roster.
Owen Isachsen, a three-year varsity player for the Mustangs, is a dominant force on the court, but Stewart said he is most impressed with the senior’s growth as a leader off the court.
Earlier this month, San Dieguito Academy was the target of racial and homophobic graffiti. After the incident, Stewart said, Isachsen took it upon himself to do something about it.
“Owen called a team meeting to get the guys to ask how they can leverage their voice on campus to make this better,” Stewart said. “I don’t care what program you’re a part of, I don’t know too many high school athletes who are willing to do that. And that is leadership that goes to our younger guys.”
Stewart, who has led the Mustangs since 2014, said his senior leadership has been priceless and will help keep the team focused as they head into the second half of league play, including a trip to Rancho Buena Vista on Friday night. The Mustangs handily defeated Rancho Buena Vista at home last week, 69-29.
Whether or not the Mustangs are destined for a CIF title, their early success has gone against a common perception that San Dieguito doesn’t have the strongest athletic programs. Despite a long athletic history, the school is not regarded in the same manner as other schools when it comes to sports.
Stewart hopes his team, and other athletes currently experiencing success show younger kids they are building a new and exciting legacy of athletics.
“You can get, as this team is showing, just a very good and competitive sports experience here at San Dieguito,” Stewart said.