Athletic community regains focus after holidays

After nearly a month of tournaments, travels, triumphs and tribulations, the troops gathered back at home base Monday for the first Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table Luncheon since before Santa came to town.

The big guy in the sled gifted local coaches with gifted athletes and big-time performances during the break, and Carpinteria boys basketball coach John Ward is certainly appreciative.

The Warriors are off to a 10-4 start, a mark which Ward said he wouldn’t have believed before the start of the season. The coach’s gift has been a group of players who “are genuinely interested in winning,” and co-Athlete of the Winter Break Manny Rodriguez, who put up monster numbers during the break.

The 6-foot-3 junior had 29 points and eight rebounds against Chinese Christian, then added 28 with 19 boards a few hours later against Santa Ynez in the Valley Christian Tournament.

Point guard Kevin Lusterio’s numbers were equally impressive, and together the duo combined for over 100 points, 25 assists and 40 rebounds in the two games. A big test arrives for the Warriors on Wednesday, when they travel to face crosstown-rival Bishop Diego on Wednesday at 7 p.m.

Chris Jackson has been a gift for coach John Moore and the Westmont men’s basketball team. The point guard averages less than five points per game, but leads the Golden State Athletic Conference in assists (7.2) and steals (2.5). He is also the only new Warrior in a jersey the season.

“He also leads our team in leadership. He’s the reason we’ve won five in a row,” said Moore.

Dan Rasp has also been a big reason, winning his second straight Tom Byron Classic MVP Award as the Warriors defended their title last week. Tyler Dutton surpassed the 1,000-point mark in Westmont’s latest win, becoming the 34th Warrior in history to do so.

Westmont hosts Cal Baptist — which was at one point the top team in the country this season — on Tuesday.

Moore also brought along “super-sub” Matt LeDuc, who was an all-tournament selection at the Tom Byron along with Jackson.

Bob Williams was up after Moore, but the UCSB men’s coach spent a little time discussing Westmont as well, calling Moore ” a real treasure for this community” and praising all of the Warriors’ talented players, especially Jackson.

“Not a Division 1 school in the country recruited him, and they should have. You cannot stay in front of him,” said Williams.

The Gauchos have lost four of their last five, including a 71-69 loss to UC Riverside in Saturday’s league-opener. Chris Devine has been playing stellar basketball despite facing double-teams, but the Gaucho shooting guards went only 9-for-34 from the floor on the weekend.

UCSB, now 6-8 and 0-2 in the Big West, hosts Irvine on Thursday night at 7 p.m.

“It’s going to be great to be home,” said Williams.

The Gaucho women are on a three-game winning streak which has been led by Big West Player of the Week and SBART co-Athlete of the Winter Break Lauren Pederson, who led the team in scoring with outputs of 14, 16 and 21 points in the three games.

The 6-6 Gauchos defeated UC Riverside — picked to finish first in the Big West —on Sunday at home and travel to Irvine on Thursday with a chance to go 3-0 to start conference play.

Local wrestling squads also begin league competition this week, and San Marcos will be heavily favored in Thursday’s match against a relatively new Santa Barbara program thanks to the likes of Zach Belway, who earned co-Athlete of the Winter Break honors for winning a pair of holiday tournaments — the Gold Coast Classic and the Camarillo 10-way.

After missing last school year with an illness, Belway is currently 21-0 amongst 173-pounders this season. He also has a 4.74 GPA and had a perfect score on his SAT Chemistry test.

Coach Tony Becerra said that Belway is known as “The Baby-Faced Assassin” for his innocent, smiley attitude. The coach also brought along heavyweight Jake Jourdan, who has excelled despite competing in the shadow of NFL-bound center Alex Mack, who was a standout wrestler in his time as a Royal.

Becerra’s son, Tyler Mallard, was also at Harry’s to be recognized.

Joining Belway, Pederson and Rodriguez in the Athlete of the Winter Break club was Dos Pueblos water polo goalie Sami Hill, who had 18 saves in a 6-5 win over Coronado and 10 saves in an 8-7 win over Montebello. The Chargers finished third over the weekend in the Newport Harbor Tournament, which is arguably the toughest field in the state. 

It was an up-and-down holiday for the San Marcos girls basketball team, which has dealt with injuries and a lack of consistency in the preseason. The Royals finished last in the Green Division at the Tournament of Champions and have a record of 5-10, but showed what they’re capable of in an 11-point loss Sunday to a power-packed Valencia team.

Kimmy Sanchez, the team’s starting point guard, started tentatively but has suddenly become a go-to player according to coach Kristyn Miller. Sanchez is the team’s second leading scorer. Lindsey Hyslop, like Jackson, doesn’t score much but is invaluable to the team with her hard-nosed, mad-dog style of play.

“I think she leads the team in floor burns,” joked Miller.

The Royals kick off league play with a tough test as they host Buena on Tuesday night.

Santa Barbara’s girls hoopsters are off to a fantastic start with a 14-3 record. Longtime coach Andrew Butcher has plenty of experience on his hands with the likes of Brandi Blackwell, Larissa Lavender and Geena Boscacci.

Both Blackwell and Lavender are four-year starters for the Dons, and Blackwell has shown versatility with impressive and diverse statistical performances, turning out a double-double and then some in nearly every game thus far. She was recently offered a scholarship to Fresno Pacific University. Lavender is a true coach’s player, and it figures considering she’s the daughter of former Santa Barbara and San Marcos boys coach Jeff Lavender. Boscacci provides a steady hand at the shooting guard position, and the team is lucky to have her back at 100-percent after an ankle injury during the TOC.

Early this season, Butcher made a point to work on his players’ ability to stay positive. He took a big piece of poster board and had the Dons write what makes them mad on one side and what makes them happy on the other.

“Basically we’ve tried to work on keeping the happy feelings no matter what happens in the game… We’ve done a great job this year of doing that, whereas last year we sort of shut down and had a feeding frenzy on ourselves,” said Butcher.

With often just seven players available, the Santa Barbara boys team has done plenty of feeding off of Oregon State-bound star Roberto Nelson and college-caliber teammate Spencer Thomas. Coach Chris Hantgin has Nelson playing down in the post due to the fact that four of the seven players he has are around 5-foot-7. The Dons are at 7-7 after a strong finish in their own Holiday Classic and host Ventura on Friday.

“It’s fun right now as a coach,” said Hantgin. “It’s sort of smoke-and-mirror time, and I really don’t know what’s going to happen.”

No one can be certain about what’s going to happen, but coach Jeff Burich knows that his Bishop Diego girls basketball squad is a front-runner in the quest for a Frontier League title. He brought his two seniors, Heather Aijian and Jennifer Jimenez, who will both be key components in living up to the team’s potential.

The Cardinals are 6-5 so far, with a fantastic win coming against La Reina a few weeks ago in the title game of Bishop’s own tournament. The Cards trailed by five with a few minutes to go, but surged back to defend their title.

Burich can appreciate Jimenez as more than just a standout on the court — he also found out that she was his cousin when he started coaching her three years ago.

Westmont Sports Information Director Ron Smith has had some trouble with family… family names that is. He keeps calling women’s hoops coach Kirsten Moore by her pre-marital name, Kirsten McKnight. Whatever he calls her, she’s doing a heck of a job over in Montecito. Her Warriors are ranked 15th in the nation in Monday’s newly released polls, and are 10-1 overall and 2-1 in the GSAC. Smith recalled a stretch in which the Warriors allowed just two points in 15 minutes in a recent win.

Another women’s hoops team in town doing extremely well is the 14-8 SBCC Vaqueros, coached by Sandrine Krul. Krul has established a team motto of “MTXE,” which stands for “Mental Toughness and Extra Effort.”

Josie Piercy put in the extra effort in the offseason, and it’s paying off. Krul recalled how the sophomore would air-ball free throws in practice last season, and that the coach was uncertain whether she would have a spot for her this year. Well, she has a spot and is making good use of it this year as an on-court leader for the Vaqs. She works out every day and even runs marathons. Katie Randall will likely move on to a 4-year college as a volleyball player, but Krul is ecstatic to have her playing hoops as well. The spiker is the team’s leading scorer.

Nick Marquez has been the San Marcos boys team’s leading scorer as expected this year. The Jim Bashore Classic MVP is scoring at about a 20-point clip and is the biggest contributor to the Royals’ 9-6 start to the season. Then there’s Chris Vines, who has, well, refined his game since last year.

Coach Jarrod Bradley said that Vines was “kind of a train-wreck” last season when he drove into the paint, but has now learned to smooth things out a bit. He had 15 points, 12 rebounds, three rebounds, three assists and two blocks in a recent win over Oak Park.

Christian Rios was also present, and he is the team’s best on-ball and help defender while leading the team in charges taken.

Bradley also took a moment to congratulate and praise the Carp boys team.

“If you haven’t gone to see Carp play basketball you really need to. They are really a great team to watch,” said Bradley.

The Royals take on Buena at home on Wednesday.

The Dos Pueblos boys soccer team has been dealing with a host of injuries in the preseason but is excited about beginning Channel League play according to coach Guerrero. The first-year mentor said that while crosstown-rival Santa Barbara, now 16-1, is going to be very tough, he thinks his Chargers have a shot.

“We have a lot of talent, and the last two weeks we’ve recovered a lot of our injured guys,” said the coach.

The coach brought along senior captain Gustavo Hernandez and junior captain Anthony Mendoza, whom he said are two of the best players in the county.

Last but not least is contributor and SBCC Sports Information Director Dave Loveton, who has grown out his mustache nicely over the holidays and now bears a slight resemblance to 1970s boxing great Chuck Wepner.

Wepner is famous for going 15 rounds against Mohammed Ali in 1975, and is the inspiration for the character of Rocky Balboa.

Wepner lost to Ali, and Loveton reported a similar story about the Vaquero men’s hoopsters, who nearly took down top-ranked Fresno in a 92-90 overtime loss to open the Hancock Holiday Classic before bouncing back to win three straight.

The Vaquero men and women open conference play at home on Wednesday night at the Sports Pavilion.