New leagues. New rivalries. New goals.
All but one local boys basketball team will get to unwrap a whole new set of challenges this winter, as six squads were placed into five tiered divisions of the Pacific Coast Athletic League — a 31-school super league made up of the previous members of the Monterey Bay League and Mission Trail Athletic League.
Monte Vista Christian, Pajaro Valley, North Monterey County and Ceiba College Prep will see several familiar faces when league play starts up in the new year, but Watsonville and St. Francis will be sailing through uncharted waters in their respective divisions.
Aptos may be the only local team that has maintained some semblance of homeostasis since the conclusion of last winter. The Mariners will still call the single-tiered Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League home, but they have gone through several internal adjustments over the summer, including a head coaching change and the graduation of four starters.
“I love our league, there’s a lot of great teams in it and I think we help each other get better,” said Aptos’ new head coach Brian Bowyer.
Here is a look at the seven local boys basketball teams:
Longtime head coach Joseph Smith, a 272-game winner and four-time league champion over his 14-season career, is gone, and so is a standout six-player seniors class, which included 6-foot-5 center/forward Blake Welle, high-scoring guard Rashaun Wooden and do-it-all wing Forrest Hays.
Six-foot-1 junior point guard Max Pepperdine is the lone returning starter for Bowyer. He is one of five seniors back from last year’s team, which placed third in the SCCAL and advanced to the Central Coast Section playoffs for the eighth straight season.
“It is what it is in high school — you lose guys every year,” Bowyer said. “The kids are still expecting to have a good year and so am I.”
Bowyer two seasons ago stepped in as the interim head coach when Smith took a leave of absence, but fell back to his role as an assistant coach when Smith returned last year. He was hired as the lead man when Smith decided to step away during the offseason. Since taking over, he’s made some changes in the Mariners’ offensive and defensive philosophies.
“It’s been a learning experience for these guys,” Bowyer said.
And the process will most likely continue deep into December, as a trio of returning seniors who are expected to be a big part of the rotation, Hunter Matys, Silvano Lopez and Shane Modena, will be making the transition from the school’s record-setting football team to the hardwood in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, senior wing Logan Feldbrugge and Pepperdine will be tasked with carrying the short-but-speedy Mariners through the early season peaks and valleys that come with the implementation of a new scheme.
“The new offensive scheme fits our team,” Pepperdine said. “Last year we were a lot bigger, a lot longer. This year, we’re smaller but we’re ready to run.”
Anthony Sanchez and Josh Barry complete the Mariners’ seven-player senior class.
Six-foot-3 junior Christian Humphreys and 6-foot-2 junior Abed Ayyad provide some size for Aptos in the front court, while 5-foot-10 sophomore JoJo Moreno helps set the tone on defense with his energy. All three helped last year’s Aptos junior varsity squad finish with a 17-7 record.
“I got the good nucleus of seniors and we’re sprinkling in a few juniors with them,” Bowyer said.
With St. Francis now in the PCAL, the Mariners are zeroing in on Santa Cruz as their top challenger for the SCCAL crown. The Cardinals won the league last season and graduated only one starter, SCCAL M.V.P. Max DeHart.
Deadeye shooters Robert Bishop and Zavier Hill-Kemp are back as well as rebounding machine Jeremiah Elmore.
Soquel, the fourth-place finisher last season, also figures to be a threat for the title with 6-foot-3 senior wings Zeke Thomas and Lincoln Cooley leading the way.
“I think our league is still going to be really competitive,” Pepperdine said. “It’s not just going to be two teams, that’s for sure.”
Ceiba is in its second varsity season.
Head coach Jonny Wahl leads the Spartans, which last season finished 0-12 while competing in the Coastal Athletic League against Gonzales, Marina, York, Anzar and P.C.S.
The Spartans are now in the PCAL Arroyo division and will again clash with Anzar, P.C.S. and York. They will also play against newcomers Pacific Point Christian, Kirby and Trinity Christian.
Jarrod Garcia was a bright spot for Ceiba last season and returns for his senior year. The 5-foot-11 point guard averaged 20 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.3 steals per game as a junior.
“He’s a terrific player and a good shooter,” Wahl said. “He’s definitely our leader.”
Senior Arturo Infante, a high-energy 5-foot-10 power forward, is the only other player that returns from last year’s team.
The Spartans are scheduled to play their first game of the season on Jan. 2 against Anzar.
The Mustangs will look very different on the court and on the sideline this winter.
Six-foot-9 center Lucas Schmidt is now playing NCAA Division I hoops at North Dakota, and point guard Miles Greene and wing Aidan Ezeji-Okoye are also gone along with four other seniors.
Additionally, head coach Drew Snelgrove, a two-time section champion at Capital Christian in Sacramento and most recently an assistant at Valley Christian in San Jose, is in his first year at M.V.C., which has advanced to the CCS postseason in each of the last nine years.
Drew Snelgrove, left, is the new head coach at Monte Vista Christian, taking over a program that has made the CCS playoffs in each of the last nine seasons. — Tony Nunez/Register-Pajaronian
Forwards Andrew Lee (6-foot-6) and Mason Beske (6-4) lead a long and tall group — M.V.C. has nine players 6-1 and above — that is hoping to compete in one of the best divisions in the CCS: the PCAL-Gabilan.
Last year’s MBL-Gabilan champion Alisal, CCS Division III runner-up Monterey, Salinas and Palma all return to the top tier of the league, while Carmel — the MTAL champ last season — joins the juggernauts of the Tri-County.
Along with Lee, a senior, and Beske, a junior, the Mustangs will rely on 6-foot-2 sophomore point guard Armando Vasquez-Green to provide a scoring punch. Vasquez-Green is one of four sophomores on the team, which also features four juniors and five seniors.
N.M.C. took its lumps in the MBL-Gabilan last season, but coach Patrick Kilty’s Condors figure to compete for the league crown in the PCAL-Cypress this winter.
Pajaro Valley, Gilroy, North Salinas, Soledad and Stevenson will join N.M.C. in the division.
Senior do-it-all wing Dulian Morelos returns for his third year at the varsity level, as do senior guard Joseph Bertao and senior forward Isaiah Solorio.
Junior Brandon Ducusin is also expected to contribute solid minutes for the Condors, who stacked their schedule with several strong teams, including Monterey, Carmel and Soquel.
Pajaro Valley will see a few familiar foes in the PCAL-C. The Grizzlies have played Gilroy, N.M.C. and North Salinas in the MBL Pacific division in the past, and have met Soledad in the CCS playoffs in consecutive seasons.
Pajaro Valley doesn’t see why it can’t compete for the league title this winter, but head coach Andre Bailey admitted that his players have to make some big jumps in the weeks leading up to the new year.
“We’re not really on anybody’s radar,” said Bailey, who is now in his fourth season at the helm. “We have a player who is, but you stop him and what happens to the rest of the team? That’s my job to get the other guys ready to play basketball.”
The one player on people’s radar: Christian Quintero.
The junior point guard has been named the top player in his class in each of the last two seasons, and is coming off a season in which he averaged 21.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 2.4 steals per game.
The newest addition to his offensive repertoire?
“A jumper off the dribble, something different,” Quintero said. “I wanted to be able to create my own space, and bring a little bit more to the table.”
Quintero last year was able to dish scoring responsibilities to forward Tony Reyes and guard Ryan Magbag from time to time, but both of those volume scorers have since graduated — along with three other seniors.
The supplementary scoring duties will fall on the shoulders of junior guards Brian Chavez and Bryan Gallardo, whom both have worked on hitting open looks produced by Quintero’s drive-and-kick abilities. Senior Justin Rodriguez can also score the ball for the Grizzlies in the backcourt.
Six-foot-4 junior Esteban Fernandez and 6-foot-2 senior Carlos Rodriguez, who recently moved from Ensenada, Mexico to Watsonville, complete the Grizzlies’ starting five and give the team some size and toughness in the frontcourt.
“Carlos’s presence is going to give us some toughness in the post, but we’re never going to be tall,” Bailey said. “We have to take advantage of mismatches where we can find them. We have to play hard every possession, and if we create opportunities on defense, I think we’ll get opportunities to score down low on offense. We just can’t settle for 3s.”
Rodriguez is one of seven seniors. Only three — Juan Martinez, Justin Rodriguez and Juan Lira — played last season.
Perhaps no other team in the Pajaro Valley has gone through more changes than St. Francis.
The Sharks are no longer members of the SCCAL, and star forwards Chase Watkins and Jason Gallo, whom helped the team win league, section and regional titles two seasons ago, are gone.
“All good things must come to an end, obviously,” said St. Francis senior Andrew Seymour. “That just means we have to put in more work than we did the previous year.”
But not all is new for St. Francis, as longtime head coach Ed Kelly is still at the helm, and eight players return from last year’s squad for their senior seasons. Point guard E.J. Kelly (5-8) and wings Joseph Ramirez (6-0) and Seymour (5-8) are expected to return to the starting lineup, which is on the shorter side but plays with energy and shoots well from deep.
St. Francis senior guard Andrew Seymour, right, is one of the Sharks’ standouts this year. — Tony Nunez/Register-Pajaronian
“We’re going to lean heavily on the three of them because of their experience,” Ed Kelly said. “They’ve played in a lot of big games, and they’ve had success in a lot of games.”
Forwards C.J. Gomez (6-2) and Jake Taylor (6-1) will join that trio in the starting five, while senior wing Bobby Rigor (6-1) and junior Lawson Orradre (6-2) will provide key minutes off the bench.
“We’re going to be a different team this year,” E.J. Kelly said. “We’re definitely going to need a lot of guys to play different positions, and step up and contribute on any given night.”
Especially when the Sharks begin PCAL Mission division action in the new year. They’ll face off against Christopher, Alvarez, San Benito, Pacific Grove and Seaside in the new division. Five of those teams made the CCS playoffs last winter, and the other — San Benito — spent last season in the MBL-Gabilan.
“We’re going to have to work this year, it’s not going to come easy,” Seymour said. “We have to take practice more serious. We have to take drills more serious. Teams are going to be bigger, and they’re going to be more physical. We’re going to have some mental toughness, and just play our game.”
The Wildcatz last winter were one of the worst basketball teams in California, finishing 1,267th out of 1,442 teams in MaxPreps’ state rankings following a 3-22 season.
This season, second-year head coach Marcus Northcutt — also the school’s athletic director — has Watsonville set up to be one of a challenger for the PCAL Santa Lucia division championship.
Watsonville returns seven from last year’s team, including senior captains Lucas Ruiz (5-11) and Daniel Knight (6-0), and all of them want to go from worst to first.
“It sounds pretty, it’s kind of what you’re supposed to say,” Northcutt said. “I’m glad they’re thinking that way because that culture of losing can become contagious. Last year, the guys would always play hard but in the back of their minds you could tell they were thinking, ‘we know what the ending is going to be.’ These guys, they’ve kind of got a little bit of swag about them.”
Senior forwards Michael Camargo (5-11) and Andres Gutierrez (6-0), junior guards Jonny Silapan (5-10) and Kobe Berry (6-0) and sophomore guard Isaac Fernandez (5-10) also return for Watsonville, which has already matched last year’s win total.
Watsonville senior guard Lucas Ruiz (11) is one of five seniors on this year’s basketball team. — Tony Nunez/Register-Pajaronian
The Wildcatz also received a boost from the addition of junior wing Fabian Rodriguez (5-10), a transfer from Pajaro Valley, and 6-foot-2 forward Donovan Mendoza, who is slowly working his way back from injury.
Mendoza is the tallest player on the team, meaning Watsonville will have to depend on its pressing defense to hang with taller teams.
The good news? Northcutt and assistant coach Mike Blum have been busy drilling down the scheme, which the former calls “controlled chaos.”
“The cool thing is that [the players are] responding,” Northcutt said. “They don’t care how much we get on them. They want more. They’re asking for more…We’re not there yet. I imagine it’ll turn into more wins. I don’t know how many, but I think we’ll be playing better basketball.”
In the PCAL-Santa Lucia Watsonville will face Gonzales, Greenfield, King City, Marina and Oakwood. Four of those five teams made the playoffs last winter, and all of them are at least a half-hour away.
The distance doesn’t have the Wildcatz worrying too much.
“I don’t really care who we play at this point,” Silapan said. “I just want to play. We’re here to prove something.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Christian Quintero (Jr.)
School >> Pajaro Valley
Position >> Point guard
Why he’ll be great >> Quintero has been named the top of his class in each of the last two seasons
Jonny Silapan (Jr.)
School >> Watsonville
Position >> Guard
Why he’ll be great >> An improved scorer who can also run the offense, Silapan does a bit of everything
Fabian Rodriguez (Jr.)
School >> Watsonville
Position >> Wing
Why he’ll be great >> A transfer from P.V., Rodriguez will be another solid scoring option for WHS
Max Pepperdine (Sr.)
School >> Aptos
Position >> Point guard
Why he’ll be great >> At 6-foot-1, Pepperdine is a long, athletic guard who can score and pass
Hunter Matys (Sr.)
School >> Aptos
Position >> Wing/forward
Why he’ll be great >> The 6-foot-1 wing will be asked to do more for a team in need of scoring
E.J. Kelly (Sr.)
School >> St. Francis
Position >> Point guard
Why he’ll be great >> Lone player remaining from NorCal title team, Kelly brings big-game experience
Andrew Seymour (Sr.)
School >> St. Francis
Position >> Guard/wing
Why he’ll be great >> Might be the most athletic wing in the PCAL-Mission this winter
Mason Beske (Jr.)
School >> M.V.C.
Position >> Forward
Why he’ll be great >> A 6-foot-4 big who provides energy and defense for the Mustangs
Andrew Lee (Sr.)
School >> M.V.C.
Position >> Center/Forward
Why he’ll be great >> At 6-foot-6, Lee is a rebounding machine who can pass and score on offense