Having concluded the nonleague portion of its schedule with three victories, the football team will open play at Belmont High Friday against defending champion Venice and hopes his Lions are up to the challenge.
Fairfax is the last team to beat the Gondos in league, but that was way back in 2005. The Lions won the City Section Division II title last year and moved up to Division I this season. They are hoping to finish high enough in the standings to earn a playoff berth.
Here's a preview of the Western League, along with Friday's matchups:
Venice Gondoliers (1-4)
Last season: 8-5 overall, 5-0 in league (1st place)
How can a team that lost four if its five nonleague games be considered the favorite? Easy, because it's Venice, which is gunning for a 10th straight league title. What's more, Coach Angelo Gasca's squad has played one of the toughest schedules in the City Section, with games against four teams ranked in the top five in their respective playoff divisions. After beating Harvard-Westlake, which has since reeled off four straight wins, the Gondos lost to Chaminade (ranked No. 2 in the CIF Southern Section's Western Division), St. Francis (No. 4 in the Southern Section's Western Division), Helix of La Mesa (ranked No. 1 in Division II in the San Diego Section) and Bishop Amat (No. 4 in the Southern Section's Pac-5 Division). The combined record of Venice's five nonleague opponents is 21-4. The Gondos have one of the most dynamic players in the City in SMU-bound receiver/cornerback back Gabriel Marks.
Last season: 6-5 overall, 3-3 in league (4th place)
The Comets are off to a fast start under new coach Seka Edwards and have scored more points (166) than any team in the league thus far. They have also allowed the second fewest (109) points of any team. Westchester is coming off its first loss, a 50-20 defeat at Marine League power San Pedro. Its wins were against Inglewood of the Southern Section and three City teams: Cleveland of the West Valley League, Jordan of the Eastern League and Locke of the Coliseum League. The combined record of Westchester's five nonleague opponents, however, is only 11-15. Offensively, the "King connection" has been clicking for the Comets--senior quarterback Nicholas King and junior receiver Jason King. The last team to win the league other than Venice? That's right, Westchester in 2001.
Last season: 7-6 overall, 3-2 in league (T-2nd place)
There may not be a more dangerous winless team in the City Section than the Dolphins, mainly because of a nonleague slate consisting of El Camino Real, Santa Monica, Crespi and Vista Murrieta (ranked second in the Southern Section's Inland Division) that has them battle tested. Outside of Venice, no team in the league has played better opponents heading into league play (a combined 21-5 record) than the Dolphins and now that they are healthier (quarterback Nathan Dodson and running back Justin Sinclair are expected to start this Friday) they are primed for their first victory. Also working in Palisades' favor is that it'll get to play what could be its three toughest league games (Venice, Westchester and Hamilton) at home. The Dolphins have scored the fewest points (42) and allowed the second most (161) of any team in the league.
Last season: 3-7 overall, 1-4 in league (5th place)
The identity of Coach Ernest King's team thus far has been its stingy defense. The Yankees have allowed a league-low 49 points through five games (60 less than the next closest team) and have two shutouts, including a 35-0 rout of L.A. Fremont in their nonleague finale. Leading the charge is senior defensive tackle Jonathan White, who has 25 solo tackles. Hamilton has also scored the second most points of any team in the league (129), led by junior quarterback Acusio Bivona and senior running back Marciss Grigsby. The Yankees lost to Inglewood (which in turn lost to Westchester) but routed Cleveland, which defeated University last week. Hamilton went 11-3 and won the City Division II title two years ago. The Yankees gave up 63 points at home and lost to Palisades by four touchdowns in last year's meeting.
Last season: 11-3-1 overall, 3-2 in league (T-2nd place)
For a program that won the City Division II title last year, finishing in fifth place might seem like a failure. However, even Coach Shane Cox knows this is not the same group that routed Chatsworth in the finals last fall. Staying healthy will be a must for the Lions, who simply don't have the depth with only 27 players on their varsity roster. They were defeated handily in their season opener by the same Harvard-Westlake team that had lost to Venice one week before. Allowing 113 points (third fewest among league teams) and scoring 125 (the fourth most) is one thing, but perhaps more telling is the combined record of Fairfax's five opponents: a mediocre 14-12. Senior quarterback Joe Floyd has thrown for over 750 yards and seven touchdowns and his favorite target is junior Robbie Floyd (18 catches for 214 yards and two touchdowns). The Lions are the last team to defeat Venice in league, edging the Gondos 19-14 in 2005.
Last season: 0-9 overall, 0-5 in league (6th place)
The Wildcats have been one of the "feel good" stories in the City this year. They began the season on a 24-game losing streak, but showed they are on the road back to respectability with a 49-6 rout of Animo South Los Angeles in their opener. University was riding sky high after its 28-13 home win against Panorama before being sent back down to earth by a blowout loss to Los Alamitos of the Southern Section's highest division (the Pac-5). A 26-20 victory over Eagle Rock followed, then a disappointing loss to Cleveland last week. First-year coach Lee Lowe has stressed defense and the Wildcats rank fourth among league teams in points allowed (26.6 per game). After beating Palisades 42-14 in its league finale in 2007, University marched to the City Division II championship game.
Palisades at University, 3 p.m.
Westchester at Hamilton, 3 p.m.
Venice vs. Fairfax at Belmont High, 7 p.m.