Our annual Best Of 2016 issue is out now! And while you can review it in it's entirety online here or in the doorstop-sized Dead Tree Edition, we're also breaking down the picks (chosen both by your humble staff and our trusted readers) into bite-sized lists. This one's about sportsball. Go team!
BEST MARTIAL-ARTS STUDIO
The Dragon House Gym
Self-described as “a family training center,” the Dragon House Gym lives up to the billing; many who took classes as children under Sensei Daniel Higgins now bring their own children here to learn boxing, Muay Thai, jiu-jitsu and other forms of self-defense. The Dragon House Gym also specializes in getting you in shape—fighting or otherwise—through personal-training sessions. After transforming your rocking bod, you can cover it up with Dragon House clothing, available for sale in the front.
Readers’ Choice: Gracie Barra Garden Grove
After arriving at UC Irvine in 2010, Mark Deppe has specialized in out-of-the-box thinking that has led to more outside attention on the school. Having coordinated six consecutive Guinness World Records, Deppe generated even more international buzz by helping to establish an e-sports program that actively recruits the best gamers to major in computer game science and/or participate in live gaming competitions at the Bren Events Center. Deppe is acting director of an e-sports program that was mocked in some corners when it was announced in 2015. But the offering of e-sports scholarships, the opening of a state-of-the-art arena and the enrollment of the brightest gaming minds at Irvine have shot naysayers down as if they were Soap MacTavishes.
BEST SPORTS COMEBACK (INDIVIDUAL)
The retinas in both of Christopher Swieca's eyes becoming detached was likely caused by his severe nearsightedness, not his career as a water-polo player. But surgeries to repair the damage prevented the 6-foot-4 business-economics major from attending UC Irvine's June 10 graduation with his fellow students and teammates. A date was set a month later for Swieca to swing by the UCI Chancellor's office to pick up his diploma, but he was told to wear his cap and gown so he could pose for a photograph. Little did he know he was walking into a commencement ceremony for one, with his family, friends and teammates in attendance to cheer him on.
BEST SPORTS COMEBACK (TEAM)
The Los Angeles Rams Formerly of Anaheim
After 22 years away from the Southland, the Los Angeles Rams returned to the cheers of more than 90,000 fans at the LA Coliseum for an Aug. 13 preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys. Though the Rams no longer play at the Big A, they had already re-established their Orange County fan base by maintaining UC Irvine as their preseason training headquarters. But the exhibition opener started ugly when Cowboys returner Bucky Whitehead took the opening kickoff 101 yards for a score. The Rams went on to trail 14-7 after the first quarter, 24-7 at halftime and 24-14 after three. But third-string quarterback Sean Mannion threw three touchdown passes that led to a 28-24 win. A preseason-opener victory and home-opener win do not a season make, but they were a good re-introduction to our NFL-starved market.
BEST COLLEGE SPORTS TEAM
UC Irvine's Women's Water Polo Team
UC Irvine has become a water-polo powerhouse in recent years. The women's team had another banner season, climbing all the way to fifth place in national rankings. Backed by star goalkeeper Annika Nelson, the Anteaters frustrated their opponents all season long with a stifling defense, only allowing 6.23 goals per game, best in the Big West Conference and second-best in Anteater history. Sophomore Mary Brooks scorched the net on offense, including six goals in a single game against Long Beach State; Brooks piled up the accolades for her stellar play, including making the All-Big West First Team and being named Big West Player of the Year. The Anteaters finished 19-11 under Coach Dan Klatt, placing third in the Big West Tournament and eighth in national rankings. Expect continued excellence next season, as Brooks and Nelson return to wreak havoc in the water. Zot! Zot! Zot!
BEST ANGELS PLAYER
Mike Trout is the best player on a lousy team. Despite the All-Star outfielder's best efforts, Red October aspirations are just a fanciful dream for the Angels. Nevertheless, Trout's glove continues to amaze; he plucked a grand slam home run away from the Seattle Mariners' Leonys Martin over the wall back in August. At the plate, Trout stockpiled statistics that should earn him American League Most Valuable Player honors—but won't because of the team's subpar record. This season, the 25-year-old phenom belted 29 home runs, 100 runs batted in and batted .315. His first six seasons in the major leagues statistically place him among baseball's legends. Only one hang-up remains in his quest for greatness: In Trout's time with the Halos, he has only been in the playoffs once, a regrettable three-game sweep against the Kansas City Royals in 2014. If the Angels find a way to rescue his prime, heroics in the hunt for Red October will cement Trout's immortality.
Readers’ Choice: Mike Trout
Continued on page two.
BEST SURF SPOT
If the drink-infested crowds and overzealous police activity of the U.S. Open of Surfing at Huntington Beach Pier leave a bad taste, try here. Named after the routinely 30-feet-high, wedge-shaped waves, it's a favorite among adventurous surfers and bodyboarders. It's dangerous (there's a man-eating backswell) and parking is hellish (fewer tourists), but it's clean, the surf is consistent, and the swell is intimidating enough to beginners that the pros don't have to share the lineup.
Readers’ Choice: The Wedge
Don't waste your time with large chain gyms when you can be part of one much better. Renaissance Club Sport is more like a resort than a gym. Here, you can enjoy more than 100 weekly group exercise classes, plus a NCAA-sized basketball court, as well as racquetball, handball and squash courts. When the weather is warm and you want to get some exercise or simply have some fun, dive into one of the lap, exercise or recreation pools; have mimosas or cocktails while the kids jump around in the splash-and-play area. Zoning out during your cardio workout is a breeze thanks to personal televisions on most equipment. You could spend an entire day there eating, drinking and relaxing. The club staff will even do your laundry while you work out. And if one day isn't enough, you can book a room in the attached hotel and do it over again the next day, this time with a special trip to the spa.
Readers’ Choice: 24 Hour Fitness
BEST PLACE TO BUY FAN GEAR
Whether it's baseball, football, basketball or another professional sport that you're interested in, visit Sports Treasures. You might find other options online, but this is the best place to walk in and out with your favorite team's fan gear and memorabilia. While the focus in mainly on football and basketball, there are other sports collectibles for the home, garage, kitchen, men, women, babies—even the dog. This family-owned chain only carries licensed products, and the staff is very informed, friendly and willing to take the time to help you find whatever you are seeking.
BEST BOOT CAMP
No Limit Boot Camp
This is our same winner as last year, so let's see the replay: “It seems masochistic to pay money to experience the pain of a hardcore workout. But once you've made it through a 45-minute session at No Limit Boot Camp, you realize the feeling of finishing it is worth every penny. Rope-waving and kettle-bell-wielding action await you at this top-notch facility in Placentia, where instructors drill you up to seven days per week on strength, speed, agility and endurance. Most important, No Limit teaches you about respect for yourself and others in the class who are all going through the same pain you are. There's no question you'll want to bond with one another over your soreness while sipping protein shakes after it's all over.”
Readers’ Choice: Newport Beach Fit Body Boot Camp
BEST BASKETBALL COURT
There are countless gyms in OC for ballers to lace up their sneakers and shoot some hoops. But the real action is playing pickup games outdoors. Of course, OC isn't New York City, with its storied ball courts and legends such as Earl “The Goat” Manigault, but it has some nice spots to go after work or on the weekends. Borrowing the name of its famous counterpart, Central Park in La Palma offers three well-lit courts on which players can practice their pull-up-threes à la Steph Curry, each framed by tall chain-link fences reminiscent of “The Cage” courts of Greenwich Village. And rather than white lines painted over graying asphalt, these courts are beautifully painted green and blue. It's the perfect place in OC to say, “I got next!”
If you need a justification for this choice, then you must've thought Rex Hudler was the second coming of Red Barber.
Readers’ Choice: Vin Scully
BEST COLLEGE PLAYER
The Hawaii native was named by Orange Coast College as its Athlete of the Year, not just for his skills with the kills, digs and blocks necessary to excel in volleyball, but also for leading by example; the Pirates were able to score third- and second-place finishes in California's community-college volleyball championships during Faitalia's time. “He's just a steady athlete who worked hard and did everything we asked of him,” OCC volleyball coach Travis Turner told a school publication. “He made the most of his opportunity here at Coast, and that hard work paid off for him. He's a great example of what you can accomplish there at OCC if you take advantage of what this school has to offer.” Faitalia will play for Long Beach State this fall.
MOST INSPIRATIONAL DUCKS/ANGELS STORY
Catcher Geovany Soto broke in with the Cubs and played seven years in Chicago until being jettisoned to the American League in 2012, so it's inspiring that he can still keep his head up while the Cubbies are tearing it up this season and the Angels have spiraled around the toilet bowl. It's also inspiring that first-year outfielder Ji-Man Choi is choosing to ignore the spotty history of South Koreans in Major League Baseball (Chan Ho Park was the best of a pretty mediocre lot). But the most inspiring Halo on this year's squad has to be third baseman Yunel Escobar. No, it's not because he rebounded from a 50-game suspension in 2014 for testing positive for a banned substance, hitting more than .300 this year and last. It's because he's living proof of how MLB cares. In 2012, while playing for Toronto, Escobar took the field with the word maricon carved in the black tape beneath his left eye. He was suspended three games, and the salary he forfeited was donated, in part, to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. Escobar apologized for the affront, saying he meant nothing by it, that it was a joke, and that he has many gay friends. In other news, maricon is Spanish for faggot.
BEST BEACH VOLLEYBALL COURTS
Huntington Beach Pier
These courts are so popular that the city of Huntington Beach has a 10-point rulebook dedicated to them. Home to some of the biggest pro tournaments in the nation, all 20 courts are free, open to any level and, unlike many other sand courts, come outfitted with quality nets. At least two players must be present to claim a highly coveted court, so grab a team and arrive early. Don't have a ball? Rent one from a beach concession or, better yet, jump in on an ongoing game.
BEST DUCKS PLAYER
It took a while to get used to cheering for Ryan Kesler instead of for whoever checked Kesler, but even the grouchiest Ducks fan came to realize he was part of the best trade Bob Murray ever made, which sent Luca Sbisa to Canada's Cupless Team in exchange for Kesler and a third-round pick in the draft. Kesler is the faceoff king, second only to Jonathan Toews for percentage of faceoffs won. He can skate, he can block, and he can shoot. Thanks, Canucks!
Readers’ Choice: Ryan Getzlaf