Big matchups on tap to start 2011

The New Year isn’t wasting any time when it comes to big local games, as evidenced by the handful of coaches who reported at Monday’s Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table Luncheon, the first of 2011.

Westmont basketball, which had two Athlete of the Week honorees in Preston Branson and Angel Blanco, hosts a huge women’s and men’s doubleheader on Tuesday night as Golden State Athletic Conference foe Vanguard pays a visit to Murchison Gym.

The Vanguard women are ranked ninth in the nation, and defeated the No. 21 Warriors by just two points in last year’s GSAC Championship Game. Westmont is coming off of wins over No. 11 Westminster and another NAIA standout in Georgetown of Kentucky.

“Hopefully a lot of people will come out to watch us tomorrow,” said coach Kirsten Moore. “Nobody on our team has ever beaten them — until tomorrow.”

Moore was accompanied by Blanco and Vanessa Farias, who is not a starter but leads the team in scoring nonetheless. The Warriors host Azusa Pacific, which shares first place in the GSAC with Vanguard, on Saturday.

Westmont men’s coach John Moore brought along the future of his program — Preston Branson, Marcus Farrand and Jason Ritchey. Branson, a sophomore, is actually the present. He was named Athlete of the Week after hitting a buzzer-beater to beat Bethany Lutheran and then scoring a whopping 40 points the next day against British Columbia — Canada’s second-ranked team — as the Warriors won the Tom Byron Classic.

Moore predicted that Farrand will end his career as Westmont’s all-time leader in blocked shots and said that Ritchey will step into a big role after the graduation of star forward Dan Rasp. The Warrior men have won five straight since the last luncheon, putting them at 10-3 heading into Tuesday night’s game.

“This game tomorrow night is crucial, but as I look ahead a little bit to Azusa (on the road Saturday), there’s a little bit of a payback opportunity there. They beat us and kept us out of the National Tournament last year,” said Moore.

DONS AND DP SOCCER: The biggest local story of 2010 was arguably Santa Barbara High’s victory over Dos Pueblos in the CIF Boys Soccer Final in front of 8,000 fans at Harder Stadium. Not much has changed to tame the rivalry this season, as the teams already met in the Buena Tournament title match, which the Dons won in penalty kicks.

The Dons have also won the prestigious South Torrance Tournament for the second straight year, and luncheon atendee Tony Alfaro was named Athlete of the Week (due to the long break there were two awards doled out to each gender) for heading in a game-winner in the quarterfinal and being named MVP of the tourney.

Now Santa Barbara faces a huge week with a 7 p.m. matchup on Tuesday against San Marcos at La Playa Stadium, then a rematch with the Chargers on the same turf Thursday at 6 p.m.

DP coach Tovi Eliasen introduced midfielders Irving Beltran and Kyle Schmechel.

BEATING THE BLIZZARD: UCSB women’s basketball coach Lindsay Gottlieb and assistant coach Kelly Barsky were stuck in New York due to the recent blizzard while the rest of the Gauchos made it back after a Christmastime road trip. As a result, assistants Selena Ho and Jaida Williams had to run things until “Coach G” finally made it back, just in time for a showdown at Long Beach State.

“Finally Coach G came in, flustered and $1,000 in the hole,” recalled Williams at the luncheon.

She isn’t as flustered anymore, as UCSB crushed the 49ers in the first Big West game of the season, 70-43. The Gauchos are also above .500 for the first time at 7-6.

BIG-WAVE SURFER COMING TO TOWN: Lynda Nahra, President of Community West Bank, was at Harry’s to promote this year’s Women in Sports Luncheon, which will feature big-wave surfer Sarah Gerhardt.

Gerhardt garnered fame in the late ’90s when she became the first woman to surf Maverick’s, a massive break up in Half Moon Bay which features one of the most dangerous waves in the world. On top of her accomplishments in the water, Gerhardt holds a doctorate in chemistry and is a mother of two. Her inspiring story, which began with a poverty-stricken childhood, has led to the production of a film about her life.

The event will be held at Earl Warren Showgrounds at 11:30 a.m. on February 7th, and hundreds of young female athletes will be in attendance. Community West Bank is the chief sponsor of the event, putting up $5,000.


Preston Branson

Angel Blanco

Brittny Hummel

Tony Alfaro

Brittny Hummel, San Marcos Water Polo — Hummel is the undisputed leader of the Royals’ program, and she displayed it in the pool over over the Holidays by scoring three goals in a win against Long Beach Poly, five in a league win over Buena and three more against Bishop’s of San Diego. She’s also the team’s top defender. But coach Brian Roth said that her dedication to the team has been much more important. Hummel was invited to attend a friend’s 18th birthday at Disneyland for a few days last week, and approached Roth to see if she could miss a practice because of it. He left it in her hands, and sure enough she showed up at practice without an ounce of resentment.

“I really applaud her, and I think the fact that she won Athlete of the Week is really more of a result of the choices she’s made over the years… She made that choice because it went in line with her integrity and who she is as a person,” said Roth.

Tony Alfaro, Santa Barbara High Soccer — The Dons are at it again this year, shaking off a 1-3 start to stand at 11-3-3 with two tournament titles under their belt. Alfaro’s game-winning goal in the quarterfinal and overall stellar play were enough to garner MVP honors at the South Torrance Tournament, which is one of the oldest and most elite tourneys in the state.

Angel Blanco, Westmont Basketball — Blanco scored 18 points with six rebounds to lead the way against the nation’s 11th-ranked team, Westminister (UT). After that, she one-upped it with 27 points and eight boards in a win over Georgetown of Kentucky.

Preston Branson, Westmont Basketball —Coach John Moore called Branson the “most competitive” player he’s had in 23 years of coaching, and the competitor came through with a buzzer-beating lay-up followed by a 40-point outburst as the Warriors won the Tom Byron Classic.