WATSONVILLE — Looking for the M.V.P. candidates of the Monterey Bay League Pacific division?
Two of them play in Watsonville.
Watsonville High senior point guard Savanah Quintana and Pajaro Valley High junior point guard Jayleen Solorzano have dazzled through the preseason and both have their squads poised to compete for the MBL-P title.
Quintana already has a triple-double under her belt and Solorzano has nearly a handful of 30-point performances through eight games.
With Quintana leading the way, Watsonville is off to its best start since the turn of the century at 7-2 and has won five straight. The Wildcatz’s two losses this season came when Quintana missed time with an illness.
Solorzano, meanwhile, has Pajaro Valley just six wins from the single-season program record of 11 at 5-3.
The two are no strangers to one another, having played on the same summer team during the offseason.
“She was balling,” Quintana said of Solorzano. “She’s quick, she can dribble and she can shoot. That’s a triple threat right there.”
Solorzano last season took a back seat to a handful of seniors under former head coach Casey Neligh, who is now the head coach at Salinas High. But this season first-year head coach Lupe Quintero is giving the pint-sized scorer full reign over the team.
“She’s pretty much my assistant coach and also my best player,” Quintero said. “There’s no limit to how good she can be.”
Quintero, a 2004 Aptos High graduate who was born and raised in Watsonville, was hired a day before the start of the winter season after Neligh’s replacement, Cory Chavez, stepped down a couple weeks after taking the job.
Quintero said the last month has been a whirlwind but an enjoyable one.
“They’re all good girls and they’ve all welcomed me in,” Quintero said.
Along with Solorzano, Pajaro Valley also returns senior guard Heidi Ibarra, junior guard Michelle Ibarra and senior forward Samantha Valdivia. The Grizzlies carry a pair of sophomores in Caitlan Paat and Alexandra Romero, who has impressed Quintero with her rebounding.
Quintana, however, might have a little more experience around her. Along with their star point guard, Watsonville returns all but one starter from last season’s 16-win team that finished tied for second in the MBL-P.
Do-it-all senior guard Evelyn Rios, 6-foot-2 senior center Julisa Vega and high-energy junior wing Ruby Galvan all carry over from last year’s starting five. The Wildcatz also return senior captain Jackie Barocio out on the wing and senior guards Maria Castillo and Janeth Salcedo are also back for their final season.
Second-year head coach Randy Braga, who won a trio of Central Coast Section titles at St. Francis earlier this decade, has a junior-heavy bench that features Jenny Vasquez, Aaliyah Johnson and Yvette Zamora.
Freshmen Adreina Lopez and Samantha Castro will also see playing time for Watsonville, which is hoping to not only win its first league title since the 2012-13 season but also qualify for the CCS playoffs after falling heartbreakingly close last season.
“It’s the same goal as usual — it’s CCS,” Quintana said. “We want to get our number on that [league champion] banner, too.”
Quintana has upped her efficiency as a scorer this season and has also improved her passing and defense over the summer. When she initiates the offense, Watsonville is in its element.
Rios, however, can also run some point and score with the best of them when she slashes to the rim.
“Last year, having CCS taken from us — not getting a chance — made us think that we can’t take anything for granted,” Rios said. “If we want it, we have to go and get it. We have to have the best record in league and show them that we belong there.”
The Wildcatz and Grizzlies will meet in the first week of the MBL-P season on Jan. 4.
That meeting at Pajaro Valley will serve as Watsonville’s league opener.
The Grizzlies, meanwhile, begin their league slate on Jan. 2 at Monterey High.
Alisal High, Christopher High, Alvarez High and Notre Dame-Salinas also play in the MBL-P.
Monte Vista Christian graduated the two-time league M.V.P. in Delaney Moore, who led the Mustangs in nearly every statistical category last season, but has replenished its roster with star freshman point guard Mackenzie Tellez.
Tellez, who poured in 32 points earlier in the season, leads a group of 12 featuring six returning players, including senior wings Mariah Gonzalez and Lauren De Los Santos — the lone seniors on the squad.
Sophomore wings Madison Hill and Angelina Cortes and freshman forward Aleah Rafat have also helped soften the blow of losing Moore, who now plays NCAA Division I basketball for Idaho State.
M.V.C. has finished within the top three of the MBL-G in each of the last four seasons.
This season the Mustangs are young but still project to be in the race for a CCS playoff spot in what should be a competitive league season.
Gilroy High, Salinas High and San Benito High will all try to knock off five-time defending champ North Salinas High, while North Monterey County High and Seaside High will try to prove themselves in their new division — both were moved up from the Pacific in the offseason.
N.M.C. is off to a hot 7-2 start behind high-scoring sophomore guard Rebecca Castro, freshman Mikayla Villanueva and powerful center Jocelyn Cazarez. The Condors have notched solid wins over Pacific Grove High, St. Francis High and Santa Cruz High, while also playing tough against North Salinas.