Who to Watch: It’s a star-studded winter season

Amber Melgoza is coming off a monster junior season in which she averaged 33.5 points per game.

Amber Melgoza is coming off a monster junior season in which she averaged 33.5 points per game.

Melgoza, Brace, Sanchez, Everman, Hauschild, Garcia, Neushul, Jimenez, Wood, Fidel. There will be plenty of stars to see in the gyms, pools and soccer pitches during the 2015-16 high school winter sports season.

To get you ready, Presidio Sports has put together a Who-to-Watch preview list of the area’s top student-athletes in boys and girls basketball and soccer, girls water polo and wrestling. Several of these players have signed college national letters of intent while other seniors have made verbal commits. Then there are the juniors, sophomores and even freshmen that are on the radar of college recruiters.

Bolden Brace was the Channel League MVP last season.

Bolden Brace was the Channel League MVP last season.

Whatever the sport, the stars will bring out the best in everyone.

Here is a sport-by-sport look at the players to watch this season:

BOYS BASKETBALL

Santa Barbara High’s Bolden Brace is coming off a stellar junior season in which he earned Channel League MVP and All-CIF honors, and led his team to the CIF semifinals for the second straight year. The 6-4 swingman blossomed into an all-around force, averaging 20.5 points, 4.2 assists, 6.8 rebounds and 2.4 steals. He signed with Northeastern University in Boston. Seniors Ben Clay and Nick Busch give the Dons toughness and size. The 6-4 Clay averaged 11 points and 9.5 rebounds. “He became a dominant rebounder for us and caused a lot of matchup problems for other teams,” said assistant coach Joe Bregante. The 6-6 Busch can bury the 3-pointer. Santa Barbara returns six players from a 29-6 team that won its third straight league title.

San Marcos senior Scott Everman is a solid inside-outside threat. The UC San Diego signee averaged 15 points and 7 rebounds last season, and led the Royals to 21 wins, the most by a San Marcos team in several years. Everman is part of a talented and experienced senior class that includes 6-3 Tyson Miller, 6-5 Kele Mkpado and 5-10 shooting guard Ryan McCarthy. They all started for a team that reached the Division 3AA quarterfinals. Miller and Mkpado will miss the early part of the season but they should be ready by Channel League play.

Scott Everman leads the San Marcos attack.

Scott Everman leads the San Marcos attack.

Dos Pueblos will put an experienced squad on the court, led by guards Jayson Williams and Anthony Trujillo. Williams is a senior and 3-year starter. Coach Joe Zamora is looking to him to be a leader and a go-to player during crunch time. Zamora said Trujillo, a junior and three-year varsity player, has worked on his ball control and “can be a good scorer for us.” Senior wing Mounir Mani can play on the inside and on the perimeter.

Carpinteria gets talented point guard Rayshaun Moore back for his senior season after he missed all of last year with a broke leg suffered in football. “He is fired up, finally healthy and ready to play,” coach Johnny Ward said. “He is a great extension of the coaches out of the floor.” At 6-5, Brandon Jordan gives the Warriors size and athleticism. Jax Montgomery will provide leadership and versatility. Ward says he can play any position on the floor.

Bishop Diego has some young talent in sophomores Will Goodwin, Dylan Streett and junior Mitchell Cota.

Providence has a relentless player in 6-1 junior Caleb Jones. He set a school record with 16 rebounds in a game last season. He’ll play point guard this season. Coach Steve Stokes is also expecting big seasons from 6-3 junior Ricky Beebe and 6-5 junior Gianni Madrigal.

Sophomore Marko Pliso returns after a productive freshman season for Cate. “He’s a versatile guard with good size that can really shoot the ball,” said first-year coach Andrew Gil.  “He has the potential to take over the Frontier League.”

GIRLS BASKETBALL

Jada Howard gets Santa Barbara going with her defense.

Jada Howard gets Santa Barbara going with her defense.

The area has been fortunate the last few years to see an extraordinary talent in Santa Barbara High’s Amber Melgoza. She’s wowed fans and opposing coaches with her game. After leading the Dons to a CIF Division 3AA title and state tournament runner-up finish as a sophomore, powered the team to the Division 2AA semifinals, averaging 33.5 points and 8.7 rebounds. For her a senior year, she’ll be playing in Division 1AA before moving on to the University of Washington. Melgoza will be joined by an experienced and talented group of players. Senior Jada Howard (11.2 ppg, 5.3 rebounds, 3.1 steals), junior Kimberly Gebhardt and sophomore Cassandra Gordon all started with her last season. The newcomer to the bunch is exciting sophomore point guard Alondra Jimenez. She missed all of last season with an anterior cruciate ligament injury.

Carpinteria has a trio of juniors who are coming off strong sophomore seasons. Point guard Tori Kelley averaged 16 points, 5 steals and 4 rebounds and was all-Frontier League. “I look for her to involve more players in our offense as she matures as a top area point guard,” said coach Dan Mercer. With her blazing speed, Monique Sanchez is a nightmare for defenders in the transition game. Harmony Reed is strong post player and rebounder.

Savvy point guard Camila Casanueva returns to lead the Dos Pueblos attack. She averaged 11 points and 3 assists as a sophomore and was one of the best free-throw shooters in the area. Amber Belleti is strong player in the post.

Bishop Diego will be counting on senior Summer Soto and a host of juniors to step up and lead the way after last season’s CIF championship run. Soto was the team’s leading 3-point shooter.  Junior Sienna Gonzalez is the top returning post player. “We return six players from last year’s squad, so we feel like we are in a ‘next man up’ situation regarding our starting five,” coach Jeff Burich said. “We have 12 players on our roster which is the largest number we’ve had in six years.”

Guard Elan Halpern leads the attack for Cate. She earned All-CIF honors last season.

Paige Hauschild led San Marcos to the Channel League title last season.

Paige Hauschild led San Marcos to the Channel League title last season.

GIRLS WATER POLO
The talent pool is incredibly deep this season. It starts with San Marcos junior Paige Hauschild. She got called up to play with the U.S. Senior National Team in a tournament in New Zealand and made the U.S. Junior National Team. As a sophomore for the Royals, she earned All-CIF and second team All-American honors.  San Marcos is loaded with standout returning players. Seniors Katie Coski and Hailey Gellert, junior Brittany Prentice and sophomore goalie Sophia Trumbull were on the Channel League championship team last season. Coski, a first-team all-league player, and Gellert have committed to UCSB.

Santa Barbara has a quartet of stellar seniors, led by Cal signee Kristina Garcia. She led the Dons in goals, drawn ejections and steals as a junior. Jessee Ransone was the team’s second leading scorer as a junior. She signed with UC San Diego. Jessie Brummett, a three-year starter, was the team leader in assists last season. At 5-11 and left-handed, Lara Kostruba figures to give defenses problems. Kostruba and Brummett are being recruited by several colleges.

Ryann Neushul was DP's leading scorer as a freshman.

Ryann Neushul was DP’s leading scorer as a freshman.

Dos Pueblos is loaded with young talent. Sophomore Ryann Neushul was the team’s leading goal scorer last year as a freshman and is a member of the U.S. Youth training team. “Ryann is coming off an incredible freshman year and will be a focus on both the offensive and defensive end off the pool,” said coach Chris Parrish. Junior Toni Shackleford, a two-time all-league selection, was the Chargers’ leader in assists. “She is an amazing facilitator for our team,” said Parrish. Freshman Abbi Hill joins the squad after playing for the U.S. Youth team that won a gold medal at the Youth Pan Am Games. She’ll be mixing it up at the center position. Hill and Neushul have sisters playing on the U.S. National Team: Sami and Kodi Hill and Kiley Neushul. Ryann’s other sister, Jamie, is a standout player at Stanford.

Leading scorer and team captain Brenda Rodriguez returns for Carpinteria. She had a monster junior season with 84 goal and 26 drawn ejections in 20 games. Nicole Poulos earned second-team all-league honors as a sophomore goalie. She made 217 saves and 21 steals in 20 games.

BOYS SOCCER
Smooth and slick Brandon Sanchez is the catalyst for Santa Barbara High. The Loyola Marymount signee will be looking to lead the Dons back to CIF glory. A first-team All-Channel League and second-team All-CIF selection as a junior, Sanchez has the top two goal scorers from last season running with him. Senior Jorge Garcia tallied nine goals and five assists and junior Celso Lagunas scored eight goals and had two assists. “We’ll be looking to these two for production up top again this season,” said coach Todd Heil.

Jessie Jimenez of Dos Pueblos.

Jessie Jimenez is a dynamic player for Dos Pueblos.

Dos Pueblos coach Matt York has two exciting attacking players in seniors Jessie Jimenez and Manny Nwosu. Jimenez is an excellent passer, but York is counting on the four-year starter to do more scoring this season. He had seven goals and seven assists last season, helping the Chargers win the Channel League. Nwosu, who had a good year playing running back on the football team, is leaner and faster. “Manny has gotten in tremendous shape this year which we hope will prove to be devastating for the opponents,” York said. “With his increased speed and stamina, he is looking to build on his 6-goal performance last year.”

After guiding Laguna Blanca to the CIF final last season, Daniel Torres takes over at San Marcos. Torres, who previously took Carpinteria to the CIF Final in 2011, has a quality sophomore in Oscar Perez and seasoned veteran and team leader in senior captain Andy Mandrell.

Cate School has speedy forward Joel Serugo and athletic goalkeeper Keller Mochel as four-year varsity players who have gone to the CIF playoffs every year.

Carpinteria returns standout goalkeeper Lalo Delgado.

GIRLS SOCCER
Santa Barbara High coach Jill Wolf has a hard-working group of seniors, led by two-time all-leaguer and UC San Diego commit Julie Pitney. “Julie is a very versatile player, playing both in the defense and as a striker for our team. She is very fast, fearless and leaves it all on the field,” said Wolf. Kylie Schmidt is “the engine of the team” in the midfield; Bailey Wolf, the coach’s daughter, is “a smart, technical midfield” and Katherine Hawkes “has worked extremely hard to become a great goalkeeper,” said coach Wolf. The coach is expecting big things from sophomore Alissa Becerra.

Tasha Wood of San Marcos signed with UCSB.

Defender Tasha Wood of San Marcos signed with UCSB.

Edwin Portillo, who played at Santa Ynez and at Cal Poly Pomona, is the new coach at San Marcos. He takes over a team that has two Division-1 signees: defender Tasha Wood (UCSB) and forward Olivia Jones (UC Davis). The Royals have loads of experience on the back line with Wood, Natalie Widmer and Danielle Anderson and up top with Jones and Chloe Hamer.

Dos Pueblos has three returning standout players in Idalis Rodriguez, Becca Buratto and Anya Schmitz. Coach Hugh Hollis isn’t sure about the availability of forward Kiara Pickett because of her U.S. National Team commitments. She recently was called up to the U.S. Women’s Under-20 squad for the CONCACAF U-20 Championships and World Cup Qualifying Tournament in Honduras.

Carpinteria coach Charles Bryant is counting on sophomores Jenny Alaniz and Alejandra Alvarez to be the cornerstones of the team. Alaniz scored 14 goals last season and Alvarez was dangerous on overlapping runs from her left back position. He said both players might play in the midfield to help with possession and distribution. “We lost 11 seniors and eight starters from last year so these two sophomores will have to grow up quickly, which I think they can,” said Bryant.

Junior Jill Giannini and senior Isabella Gregson lead the attack for Bishop Diego. Giannini, a first-team all-league pick last season, plays forward and outside back. The athletic Gregson is in the central midfield.

Cate has an experienced squad, with seven seniors. Goalie Emma Liberman and centerback Makena Fetzer anchor the defense. Sophomore Isabela Montes De Oca runs the attack.

WRESTLING
There’s been a changing of the guard at Dos Pueblos. Anthony Califano stepped down as coach after 18 season and Chris Mollkoy and Marc Fidel have taken over the successful program as co-coaches. Both were assistants in the program.

“I’ve been affiliated with DP wrestling for the past 12 years, so the transition should be fairly seamless,” said Fidel, whose son Ryan is a standout on team. “I’ll be sharing the coaching duties with Chris Mollkoy who has also been on the coaching staff for the past few years.

“We graduated 22 seniors, and 11 of last year’s starting 14 are in that mix. So we will be young this season. Lots of opportunity for a new crop of athletes.”

The Chargers return two Channel League champions, Ryan Fidel at 106 pounds and Will Fader at 285. Diego Lopez was league runner-up in the tough 170-pound weight class

At Santa Barbara, coach Brian Pearson is excited about 152-pound senior Jesus Corona Tovar.

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