The top two local sports stories of 2014 are stories of triumph and tragedy.
On the triumphant side, the Santa Barbara High girls basketball team created a buzz in the community with a magical run to the program’s first CIF-Southern Section division championship, a regional title and CIF State finals appearance. The Dons came up short in the State Division 3 final in Sacramento, falling to Modesto Christian, 64-55. But that loss couldn’t diminish the excitement the team generated. The team brought in new fans to J.R. Richards Gym. Several fans made the long trip to Sacramento and cheered louder than anyone in the arena.
The Dons finished the year with a sterling record of 30-6.
Santa Barbara’s amazing season and longtime coach Andrew Butcher winning his first CIF title, is the Story of the Year for Presidio Sports.
Led by sophomore scoring sensation Amber Melgoza and savvy senior Dezzy Coleman, the Dons earned that most-deserved CIF title for Butcher. Melgoza was named the Southern Section Division 3-AA Player of the Year, Butcher was honored as Coach of the Year and Coleman was named to the All-CIF team.
Melgoza was a scoring machine during the playoffs. She poured for 40 points in a quarterfinal win at Irvine and scored 38 in the 3AA championship victory over Lakeside at Azusa Pacific University. She became Santa Barbara’s first CIF basketball player of the year since Holly Ford in 1983 and 1984.
Melgoza is off to a sizzling start to the 2014-15 season. She tied Ford’s single-game scoring record of 45 points and passed it with games of 47 and 48 points in December.
Just days before the Dons girls basketball team made its state final debut, the community was stunned by the tragic death Nick Johnson, a popular aquatics athlete in Santa Barbara. He died while doing offseason workout at the SBHS pool.
Johnson, a sophomore water polo player at UCSB and a former standout at Santa Barbara High, was found unresponsive at the bottom of the pool. He was administered CPR by Santa Barbara High swim team members before paramedics arrived and rushed him to Cottage Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The cause of death was ruled as an accidental drowning, possibly attributed to a shallow-water blackout.
The aquatics community was devastated. Johnson was a leader and a role model to young water polo players and kids in the Santa Barbara Junior Lifeguards Program.
“I thought so highly of Nick as a person and a role model, I had him coaching our frosh-soph players before he had graduated high school,” Santa Barbara High water polo and swim coach Mark Walsh said. “If I was ever in need of help to coach or run a tournament, I thought of Nick first.”
Said UCSB water polo coach Wolf Wigo: “Nick was the best kid, hardest working kid, a first-class person and a wonderful student and brother to his teammates. I was lucky enough to be his first coach and along with everyone in the UCSB family and water polo community, I will miss him greatly.”
Rich Hanna, director of aquatics for the City of Santa Barbara, said of Johnson: “He was the kind of quintessential kid; he did everything in the program and excelled at the highest level athletically. But, he was also one of those guys who was all about teamwork and a good guy. He always put everything above himself, and he never let the team down.”
Walsh said the impact Johnson left in the SBHS program lives on.
“Nick will not be remembered for a goal he scored, a pass he made, or a center he shut down. Nick’s lasting memories are far more reaching,” Walsh said. “His display of relentless hard work made lasting work ethic changes in the athletes in his class and the classes behind him. So, years later, when you see a kid jump in the pool first or a kid push himself to his limit, you can see a piece of Nick.”
Other top stories of 2014:
—Stamatia Scarvelis of Dos Pueblos caps her high brilliant high school career by winning the throws double at the CIF State Championships and three-peating as the girls shot put champion, the first prep girl to win three straight shot put titles in 30 years. She leaves DP with records of 53-3.50 in the shot put and 172-7 in the discus. Scarvelis is now at UCLA.
—Dos Pueblos junior Alex Valente tore it up in the swimming pool. He set a national 15-16 age-group short-course record in the 100 butterfly with a time of 46.99 and later won a CIF-SS 100 fly title with a record time of 46.69. Valente signed with USC.
—It was a breakthrough season for San Marcos football and coach Anthony Linebaugh. In his third year at the helm, Linebaugh guided the Royals to wins over rivals Dos Pueblos and Santa Barbara for their first City Football Championship in several years. The win over DP was the first Channel League victory for Linebaugh and the victory over Santa Barbara snapped a four-game losing streak in the Big Game.
—One of the longest league win streaks in CIF boys tennis was snapped as Dos Pueblos stunned Santa Barbara, 10-8, in Channel League play. The Dons had won 114 straight league matches going back to the year 2000.
—It was a good year for girls tennis. The Santa Barbara doubles team of Mattea Kilstofte and Madison Hale advanced to the doubles final of the CIF Individual Tournament. They are the first Dons team to play in the final since 1997.
Kelsie Bryant of Carpinteria High capped a brilliant career by winning a fourth straight league singles title.
—Two-sport All-CIF athletes are rare these days in high school sports. Shane Hauschild of San Marcos accomplished the fete, earning All-CIF honors in water polo and volleyball. He’s playing both sports at UCSB.
—In of the most incredible sights you’ll ever see in a sporting event, a pod of dolphins joined surfers riding the waves at the annual Rincon Classic.
—After five years at the helm, Mark Massari stepped down as Director of Athletics at UCSB to accept a position at Oregon State. Massari raised the profile of UCSB athletics during his tenure with strong marketing campaigns and outreach programs. He established the Gaucho Fund, resulting in the largest number of annual donors to athletics. He also helped bring the NCAA men’s soccer College Cup to Harder Stadium.
—Dos Pueblos water polo star Blake Parrish capped a stellar prep career, scoring 204 goals during his senior season, which is eighth best all-time in CIF Southern Section history. He scored 519 goals in his career, sixth best in section history.
—San Marcos freshman Erica Schroeder took matters into her own hands and won a CIF-SS track championship, capturing the 800 meters in the Division 3 finals. Schroeder decided to pull away from a crowded field and held off Palos Verdes freshman Camille Hines to win in 2:15.30.
—The Cate girls volleyball team had the best season in program history, winning the CIF-SS Division 4A title, winning their first state tournament match and going 24-2.
—SBCC started a women’s water polo program and the team enjoyed success in its first year. Under the coaching of Brian “Chuckie” Roth, the Vaqueros won the Western State Conference title and advanced to the Southern California Regional quarterfinals.
—Santa Barbara’s boys of summer, the Foresters, captured their fifth National Baseball Congress World Series title with a dramatic 3-2 win over the defending champion Seattle Studs in 12 innings in Wichita, Kan. Ford Stainback scored the winning run in the top of the 12th with two outs on an RBI double by Granger Studdard.
The title was a fitting conclusion to a wonderful week in Wichita for the Foresters. At the start of the tournament, longtime Foresters manager Bill Pintard was inducted into the NBC World Series Hall of Fame.
—Former local stars made their mark on the world stage this summer. Karch Kiraly (SBHS) coached the U.S. Women’s Volleyball team to the FIVB World Championship, the program’s first major title. The U.S. women started their run to the world title in Santa Barbara. Kiraly brought the team to SBCC in May to begin its training.
In water polo, Kami Craig (SBHS), Kiley Neushul (Dos Pueblos) and Sami Hill (Dos Pueblos) helped Team USA win the FINA World Cup title.