Excitement buzzes around Harry’s at SBART luncheon

Everyone was noticeably excited at Monday’s Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table Luncheon, and it wasn’t just because of the cheese enchiladas.

Roger Kuntz says he is more excited about coaching this year’s San Marcos boys volleyball season this year than he’s ever been in 18 years of coaching.

The trio of senior captains he brought to Harry’s is a big reason. Six-foot-3 senior Andrew Grimes is a Division-I caliber recruit, 6-4 setter Erik Holliday is versatile enough to also play the opposite hitter position (and he’s the school valedictorian), and 6-5 senior Jon Newton can light it up in the middle, according to Kuntz.

“Dos Pueblos has a great team this year, and I have tremendous respect for my friend (DP coach Chris Hughes) and Santa Barbara too. We hope to be competing at that high level this year,” said Kuntz.

SBCC baseball coach Teddy Warrecker is excited to have a team capable of making a run at a state championship this year. After a 10-1 start, however, the Vaqueros hit an early bump in the road. It prompted Warrecker to leave his coaching comfort-zone after a 3-1 loss to Oxnard to open Western State Conference play.

“In between my handshakes with the opposing coaches and the long walk down the right field line to my team, I knew that I had to change to something that I’m not comfortable doing, and that’s voicing my displeasure and getting angry,” he said. “So I got angry with my team.”

Warrecker, like his brothers and dad, Fred, is about 6-foot-6 and built strong — not the kind of guy you wanna see angry.

So he and his coaches decided to have a “pride day” on Friday, in which the team got together and did some home improvement at Pershing Park — painting the foul poles, painting the dugout, pulling weeds, etc…

The coach said the team’s attitude changed drastically during the day, and he’s looking to two of his third-year sophomores to keep that attitude up — Corey Krupp and Aaron Bauman.

They’re really excited over at Laguna Blanca, where the girls soccer team has reached the CIF semifinals for the first time in history. Freshman Becca Braly has scored in seven consecutive games, and the Owls will host Vasquez Tuesday in Hope Ranch. Athletics Director Mike Biermann described the team, which starts four freshmen, as “battle-tested” and praised the job done by head coach Gregg Luna.

Santa Barbara High’s boys team is the other local soccer team still alive. The Dons will play against Valencia of Placencia Tuesday in the CIF Division II semifinals after scoring two goals in stoppage time for an epic 3-2 win over Montebello in the quarterfinals. There were plenty of plays in that game that could have garnered Male Athlete of the Week honors, but Luis Santana’s left-footed game-winner just before the final whistle took the cake.

Santa Barbara’s Mark Walsh was excited to see all 10 of his senior water polo players show up to swimming practices this year, as seniors often play polo in the fall and take the spring off from swimming.

“All 10 of them showed up at practice, which is unheard of,” said Walsh.

Chris Dall and Jason Masho will lead the boys team this year, while girls poloists Olivia Cusimano and Camille Wissman will be key contributors on the girls side.

San Marcos girls coach Brian Roth gave the swimmers on his water polo team the ultimate thrill a couple of weeks ago on the eve of their season ending loss to Los Alamitos down in Irvine. Roth called his college roommate, former Gaucho swim star and Beijing Olympics hero Jason Lezak, and asked if he would go to dinner with the team that night.

“He just kind of walked up real humbly to all these little freshmen kids on my team and shook their hand and they were just in awe. Some of the reactions we got were just so funny,” recalled Roth.

Roth brought along freshman Natalie Chilton as well as sophomore Sarah Thwing, whom Roth says has never left the pool-deck after a practice or game without saying “thank you” to him.

Both Roth and Walsh had special praise for DP’s Sami Hill, who was named Female Athlete of the Week for her dominant performance in the cage in the Chargers’ 3-2 win in the CIF Division I title match over Corona del Mar Saturday.

“To have 17 saves is a huge feat, but to have 17 saves against the No. 2 team in the country is amazing,” said Roth.

Added Walsh, “She’s one of the best goalies in the country. She’s a pleasure to coach, and she makes you look really, really good.”

Jeff Ashton has arguably more to be excited about than anyone else who was in the Ranchero Room Monday. The San Marcos boys water polo/swimming coach moved to Santa Barbara in the 2005-06 season to begin working with the Royals, and Friday, March 13th will be the first true home meet he’s ever coached. San Marcos’ new pool facility certainly has the Royal swimmers anxious to dive into competition.

Aside from being the first home meet for the Royals, it’ll be the first swim meet in general for most of the team, which has only five returners. Ashton said he’s been recruiting from PE classes but has good prospects and high hopes for the season. He brought along his two senior returners, Abel Hamilton and Sam Boysel.

Santa Barbara High softball assistant coach Jeff Dell was making his first appearance at an SBART luncheon in 33 years. He was taken by legendary coach Scott O’Leary back when he was on the Dos Pueblos baseball team.

O’Leary told Dell he was going to have to speak in front of the crowd, and it made the youngster so nervous he couldn’t eat his food. He would, of course, later find out that players at the luncheons do not have to speak.

Times have been tough for the Dons’ softball team in recent years, but Dell said a few out-of-state transfers and the return of star pitcher Rebecca Nielsen-Robbins have this year’s team primed for a turn-around.

The UCSB men’s basketball team has made quite a turn-around lately, winning five out of its last six games to move out of the cellar of the Big West Conference. The most-recent win was Saturday’s 66-64 decision over UC Davis.

“We’re finding a way to win the close ones, finally,” said coach Jono Metzger-Jones. “They may not always be pretty. Some of these games are a little ugly and down-and-dirty.”

The Gauchos host Riverside and Long Beach to close out the season, with a chance to leapfrog four teams should they pick up a pair of wins.

Like the Gauchos, Westmont’s hoops teams are gearing up for their conference tournaments. The No. 17 Warrior women will host their opening game in the Golden State Athletic Conference on Wednesday night against The Master’s at 7:30 p.m. Athletic Director Ron Smith challenged the community to fill Murchison Gym for what should be a great game. The Mustangs and Warriors have met in the first round the past two years, with Wednesday’s game serving as a rubber match of sorts.

The Westmont men lost 84-62 to Azusa Pacific later on Monday night, and thus will return to play the Cougars on the road in the GSAC tourney opener on Thursday night.

Smith also mentioned the baseball team, which went 1-3 last week and had a rare feat accomplished by junior Mark Magdaleno. He hit home runs from each side of the plate in a doubleheader on Saturday.

UCSB’s baseball team is off to a 5-2 start, including wins over UCLA and Washington. Fresh off of a plane from Minnesota, where the Gauchos went 2-1 in the Dairy Queen Classic at the Metrodome, coach Bob Brontsema talked about ace pitcher Mike Ford, who was the winner against both Pac-10 schools, as well as standout transfer hurler Joe Gardener and third-baseman Ryan Cavan, who is 7-for-12 so far on the year.

The Gauchos’ game against Westmont slated for Tuesday was cancelled due to a Big West regulation about the amount of non-conference games a team can play.

Anthony Califano said that it’s always exciting for wrestlers to be at the luncheons in March, because it means they’ve qualified for the state tournament, which will be held this weekend in Bakersfield. The DP coach introduced Connor Dorais, who is 43-6 on the year with 36 pins. He also mentioned San Marcos’ Zach Belway, who finished fourth in the CIF Master’s tournament this past weekend and will also be in Bakersfield.

“It’s the first time in a long time that two wrestlers from Santa Barbara have made it to state,” said Califano.

Speaking of state tournaments, the SBCC men’s golf team looks like an early contender for a state title after starting the season by winning four straight tournaments with an overall record of 48-0 in those events. Freshman sensation Andrew Perez, a Santa Barbara High graduate, has been nothing short of spectacular thus far, averaging 69.6 strokes per round.

Bishop Diego volleyball coach Joe Reiken doesn’t seem worried that his team was bumped up to Division III after a semifinal appearance last season. With a lanky 6-foot-6 talent like Garrick Vanderfin on the right side and a husky 6-6 bruiser like Connor MacGillivray in the mix, he’s got plenty of reason to be excited. Add senior setter Sean McIver, who’s returning to run the offense once again, and Reiken is downright giddy.

Reiken pinch-hit for Cardinals softball coach Tom Beamer, who said in a statement that he has plenty of key returners this year. Junior Porscha Van Wingerden will miss the early part of the season due to a broken thumb, but should contribute immediately when she returns. Sophomore outfielder Maria Salgado will also have a big impact. Both players are 3-sport athletes.

Donn Roberts is a first-year coach for the DP softball team, and said that the past week of practice has been very productive in “shaking the webs out” and getting players assigned to different positions. He brought along a pair of seniors.

Andrea Castagnola is a pitcher and outfielder for the team, but Roberts said the most important thing she provides is leadership. Ashley Herald is another senior, who “dominates in the outfield” according to her coach.

Alex Sheldon has an experienced group on his hands as well, as his San Marcos girls softball team fields 10 seniors this season. Four-year varsity player Emily Mason will be the team’s top pitcher in the circle, while Cady Haskell will handle things in the hot corner and Katelynn Kaufman will take over the shortsop position after playing catcher last season. The Royals open up at Hueneme on Friday.

Dos Pueblos volleyball coach Chris Hughes brought along a pair of seniors who know more about the sport than the average teenager. Jordon Dyer has learned from his older brother Brennon, who currently plays for the University of Hawaii. Dillan Bennett, meanwhile, is known as “The Kid” down on East Beach for his prowess on the sand. Dyer and Bennett have also been teammates on the beach for numerous tournaments over the past couple of years.

Another member of the team is junior setter Will McCracken, who was on hand to receive the prestigious Phil Womble Ethics Award. McCracken carries a 3.5 GPA and has racked up a jaw-dropping 500 hours of community service, including time spent at the Transition House, which houses homeless families. He helped out with the freshman girls volleyball team this fall and is omnipresent at Charger athletic events.

“His dedication to the school is unbelievable. Every sporting event I’ve been to, there’s Will,” said Hughes. “He’s there to help out. I think he spends more time at school than he does at home… He’s very humble, and he always puts his teammates ahead of himself.”

Plus, he’s proud to have over 560 friends on Facebook.

The kid’s got the whole enchilada.