Former prep stars playing at colleges from coast to coast

Out of the water, former Santa Barbara High star Cortney Collyer is a soft spoken, bright, easy-going college senior.

Former Santa Barbara High star Cortney Collyer is in her senior year at UC Irvine.

In the pool for the UC Irvine women’s water polo team, she is a tenacious all-around player for the Anteaters.

Collyer is one of several former local high school players who are currently playing at the next level from coast to coast.

As the college women’s water polo season gets under way, a total of 11 young women from the Santa Barbara area are on college rosters — nine in Division 1 programs and two others on Division 2 teams.

From Santa Barbara High: Collyer at UC Irvine; Kelly Easterday, a senior at UCLA; Leah Gonzales, a freshman at Division-2 UC San Diego.

From San Marcos: Christine Goetsch, a junior at Maryland; Jade Wentz-Fitzgerald, a freshman at San Diego State; Tanya Mullen, a senior at Div.-2 Cal State Monterey Bay.

From Dos Pueblos: Jessica Morelos, a sophomore at Loyola Marymount; Sienna Van Alphen, a sophomore at UCSB, and freshman Sami Hill at UCLA, Alex Hill at California and Amanda Redfern at Indiana.

It’s an impressive list of players from just three high schools.

Collyer credits the rise in college players to the club water program and the quality coaching in high school.

Collyer played for Mark Walsh, who coached U.S. Olympians Thalia Munro and Kami Craig when they were at Santa Barbara High.

“He did a really good job,” she said of Walsh. “He sends a lot of players to really good colleges.”

Collyer led UC Irvine in goals last season with 43 and received All-American and All Big West honors.

This year she hopes to lead the Anteaters to the NCAA Tournament. The Big West completed its two-year probationary period and is now eligible to compete for a NCAA championship.

Collyer started playing water polo when she was in the sixth grade. “I learned to play right over there at Campus Pool,” she said in an interview at the recent UCSB Tournament.

She also played soccer. Since the sports were conducted during the same season in high school, she decided to go with water polo.

Her decision paid off nicely, as she earned a scholarship to UC Irvine.

“I knew there were people who graduated before me that went off to schools like UCLA and Stanford, so I definitely used (water polo) as a springboard,” she said.

One of her high school teammates, Kelly Easterday, is playing at UCLA.

Kelly Easterday played on two national championship teams at UCLA.

Easterday, a defender, started all 30 matches in 2010 and scored 23 goals, registered 27 earned ejections, 12 steals, nine assists and seven blocks. She was a honorable mention All-American pick and an academic All-American for the third straight year. She was part of Bruin national championship teams in 2009 and 2008.

“Kelly is one of our defenders who has been really key to our program the last three years,” UCLA coach Brandon Brooks said. “She has emerged as a very strong and powerful defender. She can hold her own against anyone and helps provide a lot of senior leadership to this team, particularly on defense. She has been very consistent each day in putting in her work.”

Joining Easterday at UCLA is Sami Hill, the goalkeeper on three straight CIF championship teams at Dos Pueblos. She capped her prep career by helping the Chargers go 31-0 last year.

Brooks played HIll right off the bat, starting her in the Bruins’ season-opener against Colorado State. She made six saves in a 15-6 win. She had 12 saves in an 11-5 win over Cal State Northridge at the Michigan Invitational.

“We have two fantastic goalkeepers on this team in Sami Hill and Caitlin Dement. Sami started at goalkeeper for the junior team and played with the senior national team last fall,” Brooks said. “She learned a lot from that experience. Sami is very athletic and is determined to be the best player that she can be. We’ve got a very good situation with our two goalkeepers this season.”

Morelos made an impact in her first season at LMU, playing in 32 of the Lions’ 34 games as a true freshman. She also excelled in the classroom, earning second-team National All-Academic honors.

Christine Goetsch of San Marcos is in her junior year at Maryland.

Goetsch had a productive sophomore year at Maryland, scoring 21 goals and recording 42 steals (second on the team). Coach Carl Salyer is counting on her experience to help the team reach its first NCAA Tournament.

Mullen has been a steady player for Monterey Bay and has excelled in the classroom. She was an academic All-American in her junior year.

Wentz-Fitzgerald scored her first collegiate goal in Santa Barbara, she beat Sonoma State’s goalie in a 24-3 win at the UCSB Tournament.

Van Alphen notched her first goal for UCSB in an early season win over Cal State East Bay.

Alex Hill scored her first college goals for Cal, tying for team scoring honors with three in a win over Cal State Bakersfield a few weeks ago.

In the Midwest, Redfern scored in her first two games with Indiana.

It’s further proof that the quality of girls water polo in Santa Barbara is recognized all over the country.