“It’s a good time for basketball in this area,” San Marcos boys basketball coach Jelani Hicks said in his presentation at Monday’s Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table Press Luncheon at Harry’s Plaza Cafe on Monday.
Hicks, who coached his Royals to a third straight Channel League title, lauded the girls basketball teams that were in attendance: Dos Pueblos won its first league title in school history with a 9-1 record and San Marcos finished second, one game back at 8-2.
He said he’s coached several of the girls from both programs in club basketball.
Hicks introduced senior guards Jaden Reyes and Shakir Ahmad as two players who have been instrumental in the Royals’ success during the compressed league season.
The team played four games in the first week back from the Santa Barbara Unified School District’s COVID-19 pause. It played three games the following week and closed out the regular season with another four-game week.
“It’s been a grind, but it’s been a testament to these guys’ leadership and training. They’re just prepared for it.
“They took a big concerted effort after last season to really lock in mentally and physically and give themselves the best chance to be a competitive team going into their senior year.
“They did a great job finishing out league 9-1 and winning a third league title in a row.”
Ahmad stepped up to the podium and publicly thanked his coach for their “long journey together.
“It’s been a pleasure playing under his leadership these last four years” he said. “He strengthened my mindset, molded me to be a better leader on the court. He looked out for me mentally and physically these last few years.
“He got the job my freshman year, and three league championships later, it’s been an honor playing for him.”
He also gave a shoutout to Tiffany Simms, who guided the Royals to a 3-0 record in the Santa Barbara Holiday Classic while coach Hicks was following COVID-19 protocols.
DOS PUEBLOS GIRLS BASKETBALL
It was a great news-bad news situation over the weekend for coach Phil Sherman and his team.
After completing a sweep of its four Channel League games during the final week of the regular season, the girls basketball team claimed the first league championship in school history.
“It was great winning the Channel League,” said Sherman. “We’ve got this sign in the lobby in the gym and there’s these little squares, and every time your team wins a championship, you get a number of the year in that square.
“All the sports at DP, those squares are filled up, but you look at girls basketball, it’s completely blank. So it was nice to get something in that square that says we won a league championship one time.
“It was awesome.”
Sherman noted that compressed league schedule was tough on the players and it took its toll on some.
Then he broke the bad news.
“We sustained couple of injures. One of our very best players found out she has a significant knee injury, and that has really saddened my day. I got to break the news to the girls.
“It’s really terrible.”
Sherman introduced two promising players for the Chargers, junior Mia Von Protz and sophomore Savannah Riley.
Von Protz, a center who has been a part-time starter, has made great progress since her freshman year.
“She has really helped us out,” said Sherman.
He called Riley “probably the hardest-working kid I’ve ever coached.”
He appreciates he work ethic and how she analyzes the game. She’s also a talented artist.
“For people like that, it’s just going to happened for them. Anybody that pays that close attention to detail and works that hard is gong to be a really good player,” he said.
SAN MARCOS GIRLS BASKETBALL
Coach Tiffany Sims likes how her team is playing as it enters the CIF playoffs.
“The girls are meshing really well,” she said. “The chemistry is good, so I see us going further than we did last year. Everybody’s healthy.”
She introduced senior Ariel Plourde, the Athlete of the Week, junior Michelle Arellanes and sophomore Ellie Monson.
She called Plourde, the team’s point guard, “the calming force” on offense.
Monson is the “defensive heart of our team” and Arellanes “is our offensive heart,” said Simms.
The Royals will enter the playoffs with an 18-5 record.
SAN MARCOS GIRLS WATER POLO
Assistant coach and former Royals water polo standout Brittany Prentice said the team is peaking at the right time as they enter the eight-team CIF-SS Open Division playoffs.
They open against No. 2 seed Laguna Beach on Thursday.
She introduced freshman Lucy Haaland-Ford and sophomore MaKenna Stretz, two young players who have made an impact.
“These are two players we’re excited about for our program’s future,” she said.
Prentice said Haaland-Ford often shows “a senior mentality” and a “championship mentality.”
At a recent game, the freshman asked if she could say something to the team, which had been playing down to the competition.
“I can see Lucy talking to our team,” said Prentice. “I don’t know what was said. At the end of the conversation, (the players) all looked at me and said, ‘OK, we’re ready to go.’
“They came out and played a really great second half.
“That’s a testament to Lucy’s leadership in the water.”
Stretz picked up water polo during the COVID-19 year of 2020.
“I’m so grateful that she decided to stick with a sport that’s really grueling,” said Prentice. “All training really paid off.
“She’s a left-handed attacker, which is really valuable in water polo. She plays like she’s played her whole life, even though it’s been only couple of years.”
SAN MARCOS GIRLS SOCCER
Assistant coach Miguel Vences brought goalkeeper Anna Kirk, center back Courtney Kelly and defensive midfielder Leilani Venegas.
Kirk has been the starting goalkeeper since her sophomore year and was a key part of the Royals’ run to the CIF-SS Division 5 title last season. She had 11 shutouts.
She’s posted eight shutouts this season.
“She always shows up prepared to put in her best performance,” said Vences
Kelly has comeback from an injury and is playing well.
“She was our team DJ at the start of the season,” said Vences. “Once she came into play 10-15 minutes, those minutes meant the world to her. She’d fight for the team and put her body on the line, so Anna wouldn’t have to take the shots.”
Venegas waited for her moment to get a starting spot. And once she got on the field, there was no turning back, said Vences.
He noted that Venegas has added scoring to her game.
CARPINTERIA GIRLS SOCCER
Assistant coach Lucy Carleton praised the play of junior Sophia Mora and senior Jacque Aguirre.
“Both girls play primarily midfield,” said Carleton.
The girls helped the Warriors earn two wins during a challenging four-game week last week.
“I see improvement going forward,” said Carleton.
CARPINTERIA GIRLS WATER POLO
The Warriors drew Santa Ynez in the first-round of the CIF-SS Division 4 playoffs on Tuesday at the Carpinteria Community Pool. They suffered two one-goal losses to the Pirates in the regular season.
“It’s our time to turn the tables,” he said.
He introduced two of his three left-handed shooters on the team, seniors Brianna Rodriguez and Jocelyn Peña.
Otsuki said Rodriguez makes it clear to her teammates when she wants the ball in the set position.
“She’s notorious for being vocal. There’s a lot of splashing and a lot of calling for the ball,” he said. “She’s very good at the position and I value her ability to mentor the younger kids. She’s like a player-coach.”
He asked Peña, recognized as a tenacious defender, to add some scoring to her game “and she has answered that request time and time again.”
The Warriors are 16-5 on the season and champions of the Citrus Coast League with a perfect 8-0 record.
SAN MARCOS BOYS SOCCER
Coach Paul McLean introduced the offensive and defensive standouts of the Royals, junior forward Luke Sheffey and junior center back Justin Hess.
Sheffey scored the game-winning goal against Santa Barbara that gave the Royals their second straight Channel League title on Friday night.
“The best part of the story is the game (before) against Santa Ynez he had a chanced to score and didn’t,” said McLean. “So, it was such beautiful moment to see him show up on Friday night ready for his opportunity and get the chance and score that goal.”
Hess is a big reason the Royals posted six shutouts this season and allowed only five goals, two of which were own goals and another coming when Hess didn’t play.
“Our game is a very strong defensive game. Justin and Ronin (Suzuki) just lead the way for us,” said McLean
The coach remembers the expression on Hess’ face when he arrived for the second game against Santa Barbara, a game the Royals had to win to take the title.
They won 1-0.
“When I saw Justin at pregame, I thought somebody had passed away,” recalled McLean. “His face was one I hadn’t seen before. I then watched him play and realized, ‘Oh, that’s what that face is.’
“He was determined to win that game. If you saw any of the highlights, you’d see Justin’s head rising above all the other players on the field and knocking balls away, chance after chance.
“He just did a fantastic job.”
DOS PUEBLOS BASEBALL
Spring sports start this weekend, and Dos Pueblos baseball coach George Hedricks is excited about his team this season.
“We have 12 seniors this year,” he said. “It’s a great foundation for our team leadership-wise.”
He brought senior standouts Kellan Montgomery and Jordan Rico.
“They were both significant impact players for us last year, They bring a lot to the table for us this year.”
Montgomery is moving from being the primary catcher to third base, outfield and “still continue to be a big impact on the mound as a right-handed pitcher.”
He’ll also provide a potent bat in the middle of the batting order.
The left-handed Rico will pitch and play the challenging right-field position at DP.
“We have a notorious right field. You have a sunset that’s pretty much in the right fielder’s face the whole game,” Hedricks described. “Jordan has navigated that position extremely well and it’s a very important role to have him there.”
The coach added that Rico also will get a significant amount innings on the mound.
The Chargers open on Saturday by hosting Crespi as part of the Easton Tournament. They then travel to Notre Dame-Sherman Oaks on Tuesday.