SBHS signing day
Following social distancing protocol, seven Santa Barbara High student athletes signed their college letters of intent in a ceremony at Peabody Stadium. In the back row, from the left, are Juju Martinez do Amaral (UCSB women’s water polo), Jordan Hayes (UCSB men’s water polo), Oliver McGibben (Colorado, Colorado Springs baseball); front row: Jake Knecht (UC Davis football), Luke Wechsler (Cal Lutheran baseball), Athena Saragoza (St. Regis basketball) and Matt Suh (Princeton volleyball). (Barry Punzal / Noozhawk photo)

Heartbreak turned to joy for Santa Barbara High School’s Jake Knecht when he put his signature on a letter of intent to play football at UC Davis during a college signing day ceremony for Dons student athletes on Wednesday at Peabody Stadium.

Seven Dons signed to play and continue their education at the next level.

Juju Martinez do Amaral from the Santa Barbara girls water polo team and Jordan Hayes of the boys water polo squad will be taking their games across town to UCSB.

Volleyball standout Matt Suh is headed to the Ivy League to play at Princeton. Athena Saragoza is bound for Regis University in Denver to continue her basketball career.

From the baseball team, pitcher Luke Wechsler signed with Cal Lutheran, and outfielder Oliver McGibben with the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs.

Knecht, a standout wide receiver for the Dons, was a student athlete left without a college last December when the school he committed to attend, Azusa Pacific University, announced it was dropping its football program after 55 years of competition.

“I was fully committed there,” he said.

After the stunning announcement, Knecht said, “I was basically reaching out to any school I could get. And Davis was one who came to me.”

He said the school, the football program and coaching staff “checked all the boxes for me.”

“I’m very blessed to be going to a UC, and to have sports take me there, it’s awesome,” he said. “I’m super blessed and super happy about everything.”

Martinez do Amaral said the academics and the opportunity to play right away made UCSB the right choice.

“Getting playing time right away was a key factor,” she said. “At UCSB, I’m going to have more opportunities my freshman year.”

Martinez do Amaral is a crafty offensive player.

Hayes is a force in the water at both ends of the pool. He was key player on the 2019 CIF-SS Division 3 championship team, Santa Barbara’s first boys’ CIF title since 2006.

Hayes said UCSB was initially his first choice in schools, but admitted he had some second thoughts for a while.

“I kind of steered the opposite way a little bit, but ended up going back, which, is where I’m supposed to be,” Hayes said.

He added that he’s had a longtime relationship with coach Wolf Wigo and knows many of the Gaucho players.

“I’ve know Wolf probably 10 years, and a lot of my friends are on the team as well,” he said. “I think it’s a great environment.”

Saragoza, one of Santa Barbara’s all-time leading scorers, is thrilled to be going to Denver to play college basketball at Division 2 Regis University.

“My main goal was to get to Colorado,” she said. “I’m so happy I get to go to my dream school and continue the game I love.’

She said she didn’t really think about playing basketball in college until her sophomore year at Santa Barbara.

“As a sophomore, I thought I could actually get somewhere with this. Since then, I’ve worked hard and prepared myself for the possibility,” she said. “All the hard work is for that one goal of getting to the next level. I’m just glad it’s all paying off.”

Suh, an outstanding volleyball player and student, had several college offers.

“It was a really tough decision,” he said. “It was hard making that phone call telling (the other schools) that I chose Princeton.”

Now that that part of the process is over, “I’m very happy to be where I am right now,” he said.

Attending an Ivy League school was a goal.

“Absolutely,” he said. “Education has always been my top priority. The opportunity to play at such an amazing school and to pursue one of the best academic educations I could get is unbelievable.”

Also moving to the next level is Logan O’Keefe in track & field. He’s headed to Claremont McKenna College to throw the discus, shot put and hammer.

O’Keefe will continue a family legacy at Claremont. His grandfather played football for the Stags in 1952-53 and his father competed in football and track in 1985-89.

Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

— Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.