SB swimmer’s moving words lift spirits of coach Walsh

Michael Boelter, left, and Joel Corona have helped the Dos Pueblos baseball team to  first place in the Channel League.

Michael Boelter, left, and Joel Corona have helped the Dos Pueblos baseball team to first place in the Channel League. (Presidio Sports photo)


The tragic death of UCSB sophomore water polo player and Santa Barbara High alum Nick Johnson four weeks ago hit the aquatics community hard.

Mark Walsh, Johnson’s water polo and swim coach at the high school, expressed how difficult it’s been for him and his team during his talk at Monday’s Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table press luncheon.

“It was real difficult for us, obviously,” he said.

On March 24, Johnson was found unresponsive at the bottom of the Santa Barbara High pool, where he was doing a swim workout. He was pulled from the water by members of the Santa Barbara High swim team and transported to Cottage Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, Walsh said he’s learned a lot about the character of his swimmers. One of the swimmers he singled out was Cuyler Gabriel.

He said Gabriel has helped him move forward, and he shared a conversation the two of them had recently.

“Just walking out on the pool (deck), he said a couple of things to me, like, ‘Coach, we can get through this with your leadership. And, with the spirit of Nick, we can make it through this,’” Walsh related. “I was still in a state of mourning, where I hadn’t got to where he was, looking at the positive that can be taken out of what happened. It really turned the switch for me. It got me moving forward.”

Cuyler Gabriel is a standout swimmer for Santa Barbara High

Gabriel usually trains with the Santa Barbara Swim Club but during the week the high school team returned to its pool, he worked out with his Dons teammates.

“He swam with us the entire week and said, ‘I need to be here for the entire team.’ That impressed me,” an emotional Walsh said.

Walsh thanked Gabriel and John Salman for their support and hard work. He said the mindset of the swimmers has been: “If you really want to honor Nick, you have to work out like he does.”

Walsh also introduced two standout members of the girls swim team: sophomore Jessie Brummett and senior Jessica Gaffney. He said Brummett is already showing leadership skills, and he’s excited about the rest of this year and the years to come. Brummett is a top breaststroker and one of the most versatile swimmers on the squad.

He said Gaffney is the team’s “go-to girl and one of our best swimmers.” She does the 200 IM and 100 fly.

Chuckie Roth is having successful seasons with the SBCC women’s and San Marcos girls swim teams. His SBCC team finished third at the Western State Conference championships in its inaugural year. It was beaten out for second by L.A. Valley because Valley has divers.

“My girls swam probably one of the best meets I’ve ever coached in my life,” Roth said. “I’ve never seen so much improvement, such a great team dynamic.”

He introduced Kaili Faust, who placed in three events while swimming with a torn labrum and a bone bruise in her shoulder. He also lauded the leadership and dedication of Lauren Shackelford. The Dos Pueblos grad did the distance events.

On his team’s performance at the championship meet: “It’s great for our program. It’s a great place to start out.”

From his San Marcos team, Roth brought senior and two-time captain Megan Riley and freshman Paige Hauschild. He said Riley has been accepted into UCSB and Hauschild is “one of the most talented aquatics athletes to come through San Marcos.” She recently was named the MVP at a U.S. Water Polo Cadet Division Tournament.

The Royals have a busy week with Channel League dual meets against Buena and Santa Barbara and the Mt San Antonio College Invitational.


San Marcos (23-3, 6-1 in Channel League) has a huge match on Tuesday at Santa Barbara. A Royals’ victory gives them the outright league title. If Santa Barbara wins, it would earn a share of the title.

San Marcos coach Roger Kuntz introduced middle Diego Almanza and outside hitters Ben Hauschild and Jake Pighetti. They turned in some strong performances in third-place match at the Santa Barbara Tournament of Champions.


Santa Barbara High assistant George Rempe noted that the Dons’ two losses to Dos Pueblos last week put the Chargers in the driver’s seat for the league title.

Santa Barbara is 3-3 in league and 11-6 overall. Dos Pueblos is 5-1 and 10-9.

“DP has destiny in their own hands,” he said. “They can win it all without anybody’s help. We’re still mathematically in it, but we need help from others, and we have to win all of our six remaining Channel League games.

Rempe brought players Stephen Denlinger, Kevin Gowdy and John Jensen. Denlinger has been sidelined all season with an injury, but he has kept a good attitude, Rempe said.

Rempe said sophomore pitcher Gowdy “is far beyond his years in terms of poise and ability.” Jensen, an outfielder, was called up to the varsity before a tournament in Arizona. “He got hit six times in Arizona and got the moniker from his teammates, ‘Ice Pack.‘ That was pretty appropriate,” said Rempe.

DP coach Nick Katzenstein called senior catcher Joel Corona one of the hardest working kids in the program. He said senior infielder/pitcher Michael Boelter has worked his way up in the batting order. He’s hitting .354.

San Marcos assistant coach Morgan Moore introduced the battery of Davis Valles and catcher Parker Rozenberg. The Royals are 5-12 and 0-6 in Channel League

“We’re looking to play spoiler the rest of the way,” said Moore.

Carpinteria coach Pat Cooney said the team is doing well in Frontier League play. He introduced outfielders Haley Van Stein and Isaiah Sosa.


Santa Barbara JV coach Jay Wright said the varsity team is going through a rebuilding season with lots of sophomores. He brought Fabio Rodriguez and Austin Coombs. Wright noted that the Dons JV team has suffered only one loss in two years.


Westmont survived the desert heat, swept Arizona Christian in Phoenix last week and find themselves in the hunt for first place in the GSAC.

Coach Robert Ruiz said the team can finish in first place or fifth after this weekend’s regular-season series finale against The Master’s at Russ Carr Field. With a record of 33-14, the Warriors’ next win will tie the program record for most wins in a season.

Westmont and The Master’s play a single game Friday and a doubleheader on Saturday.

The postseason hopes of the SBCC baseball team come down to the final two games of the regular season. The Vaqueros play L.A. Pierce away on Tuesday and at home on Thursday. They are tied with Hancock for second place at 10-8 while L.A. Pierce is one game back at 9-9.

“There are a lot of scenarios,” SBCC Sports Information Specialist Dave Loveton said, “but we know one thing: we win our last two games and that gives the best chance to make the postseason for the fourth straight year, first time in school history.”

Former Santa Barbara High star Connor McManigal is SBCC’s leading hitter with a .333 average.

UCSB assistant coach Neil Walton said freshman starter Shane Bieber and sophomore closer Dylan Tate have been solid. He noted that Tate threw up to 98 mph during Saturday’s win a Long Beach State.

The Gauchos host UC Riverside in a Big West series this weekend. Next Tuesday, UCLA visits Caesar Uyesaka Stadium.