Who-to-Watch List for fall prep sports

Peyton Shelburne returns to Cate after leading the Rams to the CIF Division 4-A title last season. (Presidio Sports photos)

Peyton Shelburne returns to Cate after leading the Rams to the CIF Division 4-A title last season. (Presidio Sports photos)

The Fall sports season for high schools is under way, and Presidio Sports wants to get you up to speed on who the area’s top athletes are in boys water polo, girls volleyball, girls tennis, girls golf, boys and girls cross country and 8-man football.

Each year, the area produces outstanding athletes and teams in these sports. Last fall, Cate School won the CIF-SS Division 4A title and earned its first-ever win in the state tournament. Blake Parrish of Dos Pueblos scored 204 goals in water polo (8th best all-time in CIF history) and earned a scholarship to Stanford. Adilene Aldapa of San Marcos qualified for the CIF State Cross Country Championships and earned a scholarship to San Jose State.

Who will be the standouts this season? You’ll get a better idea by checking out our Who-to-Watch List.

GIRLS VOLLEYBALL

As the season begins, three teams received preseason top-10 rankings in their respective division.

Coming in at No. 1 is Cate, the defending CIF champion in Division 4A. The Rams return their top two hitters, Peyton Shelburne and middle Delaney Mayfield as well as several other key players. Shelburne, a senior with a whip-like arm swing, shared 4A Player of the Year honors and was the Frontier League MVP.

“Peyton’s game is what I look for in a player,” coach Greg Novak says. “She is a fierce competitor, has great court sense and doesn’t like to lose.”

Mayfield earned All-CIF honors as a sophomore. Novak says she can play any position in the front row, which makes it tough for defenses. “In preseason observations, Delaney is hitting the ball higher and harder, which will be a huge asset against our tough season schedule,” he says. In addition to her hitting, Mayfield has a lethal serve.

The Rams return most of the players from the championship team.

Phoebe Madsen runs the attack for Laguna Blanca.

Phoebe Madsen runs the attack for Laguna Blanca.

“This year we are senior heavy,” says Novak. “Joining Peyton in the senior lineup is Hannah Bowlin, who will fill the libero position, and Anna Graves will help as a defensive specialist; Lydia McMahon will return in the middle position and Jillian Rogers will play right side. Setter Hannah Barr, who ran a 5-1 for most of last season, will return to the court with junior setter Haile Straathof.”

Ranked third in Division 4AA, Laguna Blanca also is loaded with experienced players. And the Owls have a coach who knows something about winning a CIF title.

Jason Donnelly returns to the school as girls volleyball coach and athletic director. He guided the Owls to five CIF finals and won the championship in 2006.

Donnelly feels fortunate to have an experienced all-around player in Phoebe Madsen. A tremendous athlete, Madsen is a four-year varsity player who has committed to Claremont-McKenna College. “I’ve been relishing the chance to coach Phoebe and help her reach the next level,” says Donnelly.

Senior Dani Abrams returns as a force in the middle and senior Emily Lafitte is a six-rotation player “with great skill both offensively and defensively,” says Donnelly, who previously coached at Bishop Diego.

Younger players expected to make an impact include sophomores Caylin Zimmerman and Kendall White.

Powerful senior Chloe Allen paces a potent San Marcos attack. The UCSB-bound outside hitter will be the go-to player for coach Erica Menzel Downing’s Royals, ranked seventh in Division 1A. “She is leading this young team, and I am excited to see what she can do this year,” said Menzel.

Allen will be joined on the front line by senior middle Kamille Williams. “She has a lot of passion for the game and we expect her to do some great things for us this year,” said Downing.

Junior Gabi Peoples returns to run the show for the Royals. The uber competitive Peoples has committed to San Diego State.

Menzel is expecting big contributions from junior Cassidy Drury-Pullen and sophomore Jenna McFarlene. Drury-Pullen is an all-around player and McFarlene is a good passer and smart hitter, according to the coach.

Santa Barbara's Jessyca Beksa has raised the level of her all-around game.

Santa Barbara’s Jessyca Beksa has raised the level of her all-around game.

Seniors and returning starters Lourda Weger and Jessyca Beksa are the big guns for Santa Barbara High. Weger “is a six-rotation player who can terminate for the outside and well as lead our defense,” says coach John Gannon. “Her work ethic and leadership make her a strong presence on the court for the Dons.”

Beksa has played every position on the front row in her career with the Dons. “From middle blocker to opposite to outside hitter, Jessyca can do it all,” said Gannon. “She has been working hard on her passing and defense in order to be a six-rotation player. Jessyca also possesses athleticism that few athletes in the Channel League can match.”

Lauren Suh leads the defense at the libero position. “Lauren brings strong determination and focus to the Dons backcourt,” said Gannon.

Dillan Bennett takes over the reins at his alma mater, Dos Pueblos. He says junior Danica Minnich can be added to the mix of all-league caliber outside hitters. Minnich played middle blocker last year.

Senior Cat Hogan provides steady passing at libero. “Her leadership is second-to-none, and her service-receive passing steadiness will be a key to our success this season, said Bennett, who added that Hogan is looking play at an Ivy League school next year.

The Chargers have an experienced setter in senior Audrey Baldwin. “As a senior captain, she is fired up to start the season and has made competing for a Channel League title a priority for our team,” said Bennett. Baldwin is being recruited by Emory Riddle (Ariz.) and the Air Force Academy.

Dave Goss takes over the volleyball program at Providence. The former San Marcos High star and Stanford All-American has two solid leaders in seniors Madison Niessen (setter/OH) and Katie Hodson (middle). Junior middle Natalie Torres adds to the attack and highly skilled freshman Keara Rutz figures to make an immediate impact for the Patriots.

8-MAN FOOTBALL

Cate features three standout returnees, led by All-CIF running back/defensive back Dean Smith. “He’s a tremendous leader who has grown up around our team, first helping us as a ball boy 11 years ago,” said coach Dave Soto.

Isaiah Washington is a shifty running back for Cate.

Isaiah Washington is a shifty running back for Cate.

Like Smith, Keller Mochel grew up at Cate — their families lived next door to each other. Mochel has improved his strength, and Soto is expecting big things from the senior defensive end and tight end. “He has All CIF-caliber talent and we expect him to achieve that level this year,” Soto said.

Senior Isaiah Washington is Cate’s elusive running back. “He is incredibly shifty out of the backfield and has great field vision,” said Soto. “We are lucky to have him.”

Senior Pierce O’Donnell, a powerful player who has been a starter all four years at Laguna Blanca, leads the Owls.

“Pierce is the vocal leader who has led the team with the most strength training hours on the team,” coach Shane Lopes said of the 5-10, 190-pound defensive end/tight end. O’Donnell is a three-sport athlete. “Pierce has great hands and a knack for finding the open field,” said Lopes.

Seniors Wakelin McNeel and Christian Fowler add size and strength to the lineup. The 6-foot, 190-pound McNeel rushed for two touchdowns in the Owls’ season-opening win. He played on the CIF finalist soccer team last spring.

A three-sport athlete, Fowler (6-0, 250) is the anchor on the offensive line and also plays linebacker.

GIRLS TENNIS

Sally Becker takes over the coaching duties at Santa Barbara High and she has a top player in senior Cade Sorenson. Newcomers expected to make an impact in the tradition-rich program include sophomore Eva Kershner and freshmen Claire Stotts and Claudia Brewer.

San Marcos has some talented young players in freshmen Yuka Perera and Kelly Coulson. Coach Fred Hartzman says Perera should be one of the top singles players in the Channel League. Seniors Renee Handley and Sarah Yang, a transfer from Massachusetts, give the Royals strength in doubles.

Senior Madison Cleek will play a major role in guiding several new players at Carpinteria High, said coach Charles Bryant.

KC Egger - Dos Pueblos Tennis

KC Egger is one of DP’s top players.

Dos Pueblos coach Anita Patton returns senior KC Egger and junior Katie Yang. They’ve been the team’s top two singles players and best doubles team. They won the Channel League doubles title in 2013 and reached the final last season.

CROSS COUNTRY

San Marcos junior Erica Schroeder aims to qualify for the State Meet on the trails. On the track, she won the CIF State 800 meters title last spring.

Schroeder will be joined by junior transfer Natalie McClure from Dos Pueblos (she won’t be eligible until October) and Lee Al-Atriqchi, a senior transfer from Massachusetts. Al-atriqchi has a 3200 best time of 11:09. They’ll be joined by a strong group of sophomores led by Mya Adornetto, Kendra Dayton, Kate Erickson and Kaela Cleary. Elsa Robertson and Emily Pearlman are solid juniors.

“Basically, we have 8-10 girls all capable of running sub 20:00 and 2-3 in the 17:45-19 minute range,” said assistant coach Tracy Jenkins.

Logan Briner, the Royals’ No. 1 runner last season, returns for his junior year. Juniors Phillip Naumann and Jerry Swider, seniors Keaton Shinn and Jacob Barrett and sophomore Jason Peterson will be counted on to score points.

Two-time CIF qualifier Ruth Hunter returns for her senior season at Santa Barbara. She’ll be joined by senior captains Isabella Garza and Alice Upton. They are aiming to get back to the CIF meet after qualifying as freshmen.

Senior captain William Walter and junior Jared Levy lead a veteran Dons boys varsity team.

Monica and Josh Christenson take over as coaches at Dos Pueblos. Their boys team has a pair of talented underclassmen in junior Hunter Clark and sophomore Josh McGregor. Clark won the Channel League 3200 last spring and McGregor was the frosh/soph champ in the event. The Chargers also return senior Nathan Alvarez.

Junior Christina Rice returns for the DP girls. She was the league runner-up in the varsity 3200.

GIRLS GOLF

Reigning Channel League champion Bella Vigna is only a sophomore at Dos Pueblos. In a recent practice at Glen Annie GC, she had a birdie putt lip out on the 9th hole that would have given her a 29.

Bella Vigna of Dos Pueblos is the reigning Channel League champion.

Bella Vigna of Dos Pueblos is the reigning Channel League champion.

The Chargers are fortunate to have two league champions on the squad. Senior Megan Caird won the individual title as a sophomore. A newcomer to keep an eye on is freshman Gabby Minier, the daughter of local pro Marc Minier.

Sophomore Mallory Sestak is off to a good start of the season for San Marcos. She finished second at the Channel League Championship last season. Junior MacKenzie McBride and Remi Ho are experienced players who consistently shoot low scores.

Carpinteria coach Steve Benzin is looking for big things from Yarely Aviles and Elizabeth Esquivel. They both earned second team all-league honors last season.

BOYS WATER POLO

San Marcos returns most of its team that won a share of the Channel League title. Senior captains George Kuesis and Jack Palmer are coming off first-team all-league seasons. Juniors Miles Cole, Spencer Wood and Jesse Morrison were second-team selections. Cole is currently playing for the USA Youth National Team at the Youth Pan Am Games in Jamaica.

Santa Barbara High's Sawyer Rhodes.

Santa Barbara High’s Sawyer Rhodes.

Santa Barbara has a trio of three-year varsity players in junior attacker Sawyer Rhodes, and junior defenders Chris Gaffney and Adam Gross. Rhodes was selected to be on the national youth team. The Dons have a solid goalie in two-year starter Justyn Barrios.

Dos Pueblos is in rebuilding mode after losing seven seniors. Quinn Peacock, a four-year varsity player and the team captain, leads the squad. “He has an incredibly high water polo IQ and has played almost 90 varsity games coming into his senior season,” says coach Chris Parrish. Peacock was a member of the Polo Pals club team that won the boys U18 title at the USA Water Polo Junior Olympics over the summer. “This only adds to his wealth of experience,” adds the coach.

Junior set Eric Thornburgh is a force for Carpinteria. He had four steals and scored three goals in a season-opening upset win over CIF Division 6 sixth-ranked Santa Ynez. Junior Malek Mehi is a good goal scorer.

Alex Brown is a leader for Cate. The senior was a Tri-Valley League second-team selection as a junior. Parker Mathews is back after a strong freshman season. Coach Maxwell Bergeson says sophomores Jake Dexter-Meldrum and Andre Pincot are up-and-coming players.

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