South Santa Cruz County had to say goodbye to a handful of talented and decorated stars at the conclusion of last spring, but the holdovers have unflinchingly stepped into their vacated shoes and provided plenty of excitement through the first month of the season.
Here is a look at the developing stars for each local team:
Seniors Hunter Matys and Indra Lyons have gotten off to strong starts following their breakout seasons last spring. That, third-year head coach Zach Hewett said, comes as no surprise.
“Both of them are special athletes,” Hewett said.
The Mariners’ early dominance of the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League has not been a surprise either. Thanks to its deep pool of athletes — roughly 80 boys and 40 girls — Aptos has cruised to blowout wins in its first three league meets against Santa Cruz, Scotts Valley and Harbor.
The boys will be heavily favored to win their fifth SCCAL team title in the last six years when league finals roll around in early May. The girls, however, will have a much tougher time in defending their title without standout distance runners Marea Zlatunich and Sofia Natividad — the former is now running at Cal Berkeley and the latter is at University of Chicago. San Lorenzo Valley and Soquel return several stars, and will be the Mariners’ top challengers.
Lyons, the back-to-back SCCAL 100-meter hurdles champion, will spearhead the Mariners’ league title defense by branching out from her primary event and running the 100 and 200. But after the dust settles at the SCCAL Championships, Lyons will be entirely focused on reaching the Central Coast Section Finals in the 100 hurdles. Breaking the school record in the event (14.87) is on her list of goals, too.
“I’m getting there,” said Lyons, who ran a personal best 15.59 — the sixth-fastest time in the CCS this spring — to open the season. “Slowly but surely.”
Lyons is one of only two returning league champions on the girls’ team. Junior Brynn Mitchell will defend her league titles in the long jump and triple jump, and is expected to challenge for a spot in the CCS Finals — her long jump season record (17-8) is third-best in the section and her triple jump (35-4) is fourth-best.
Seniors Haley Veldhuis (200, 400) and Peyton Masuen (shot put, discus) and junior Sydney Ghiglione (103-10) are expected to challenge for league titles, too. Freshmen Grace Perry and Elizabeth Churchill and sophomore Kaela A. Hemingway will lead the program into the future.
Like Lyons, Matys is also taking aim at the program record in his primary event: the 100. The wiry three-sport star (football, basketball, track) has twice come a few hundredths of a second to Jesse Samples’ mark of 11.0 during the first month of the season. The defending SCCAL 100 champion ran 11.05 a week ago, and 11.07 in mid-March.
“This is what I’ve been working for the entire offseason,” said Matys, who worked with Soquel coach Joe Noon after the end of last year to refine his start and form.
His top 100 time currently ranks sixth in the CCS, and his best long jump (22-4) ranks second.
Matys is the Mariners’ lone returning male SCCAL individual champion, but the team’s depth is as strong as ever. Senior Anthony Cardenas-Ramos (200) and juniors Xarius Joseph (110 hurdles) and Lytrell Francis (triple jump) currently hold the best SCCAL marks in their primary event, and seniors Eli Galster (pole vault) and Nathan Arellano (shot put, discus) are second in their events.
The Spartans are part of the gigantic 13-school Pacific Coast Athletic League Cypress division, which also features Anzar, Greenfield, Kirby, Marina, Monte Vista Christian, Oakwood, Pacific Collegiate, Pacific Grove, St. Francis, Stevenson, Trinity Christian and York.
Freshman distance runner Nellie Rubio-Pintor — a state qualifier in cross country — and sophomore thrower Maya Carrisales lead Ceiba’s roster of 40 athletes — 22 boys and 18 girls.
Sophomore middle distance runner Andrew Bachman is the Mustangs’ lone returning league champion — he won the 800 title in the Monterey Bay League Pacific division last spring — and currently ranks first in the 800 (2:04.71) in the PCAL-C.
Several other Mustangs have also established themselves as the top dogs in the division.
Junior David Wang, a runner-up in the 400 at last year’s MBL-P Finals, holds the division’s top 400 time (53.07). Fellow junior Anthony Shepherd has the division’s top shot put mark (36-3). And sophomore Daniel Castillo is ranked No. 1 in the triple jump (39-4) and No. 2 in the long jump (18-7.5).
On the girls’ side, senior Faith Jimenez has been the team’s Swiss army knife, competing in multiple events and holding a No. 2 ranking in the 100 hurdles (18.05), 300 hurdles (53.38) and triple jump (30-9.5).
Additionally, junior Sophie Bessa (100, 200), sophomores Viktoria Sundberg (shot put, discus), Kayleigh Bajarin (1,600) and Shayna Lebovitz (400, high jump) and freshman Jiselle Payne (100, 200) have all helped the Mustangs become the bully of the PCAL-C.
CCS qualifier Paola Jacobs is back for her junior year, and has picked up right where she left off. Currently, she holds the SCCAL’s second-best high jump (4-9), third-best shot put (27-4.5) and fifth-best discus toss (76-4).
Freshman Liana Kitchel (100, long jump) also bolsters Mt. Madonna, which features 20 athletes — nine boys and 11 girls.
The Condors were placed among the juggernauts of the PCAL in the Gabilan division, and have more than held their own through the first month of the season thanks to their depth — N.M.C. has more than 90 boys on its team and close to 70 girls.
Senior Konan Van Lear was the MBL-Gabilan champion in the discus last spring, and currently holds the PCAL-G’s second-best mark in the event (132-7) while also holding the top shot put (44-5).
Seniors Nayla Anastacio and Faith Mora and sophomore Lorraine Mankins have led the girls’ team. Anastacio has the division’s second-best leap in the long jump (15-9), Mora in ranked fifth in the 3,200 (12:09.7) and Mankins holds the second-best mark in the pole vault (8-0).
Junior Katelyn Strader won the MBL-P title in the high jump last season, and the Grizzlies’ star has been even more impressive this spring, as she holds the top discus mark (95-5) in the PCAL’s Mission division to go along with her second-best mark in the high jump (4-10).
“She was great for us last year, and she’s going to be great for us this year,” said longtime Pajaro Valley coach A.J. Avila, who carries 29 boys and 23 girls on his roster.
Senior Jayleen Solorzano and junior Alexandra “Chills” Romero — two members of last year’s record-setting 4x100 relay team — join Strader as standout returning athletes. Solorzano is the team’s top sprinter, and will try to make up for the loss of now-graduated Emma Arroyo and junior Caitlan Paat, who was lost to a knee injury.
On the boys’ side, senior Juan Lira, who holds the sixth-best mark in the PCAL-M in the 400 (53.47), has been a nice surprise for Pajaro Valley, which competes against Carmel, Gilroy, Gonzales, King City, Monterey, Santa Catalina, Seaside, Soledad and Watsonville in the league’s second toughest division.
The Sharks are no longer in the SCCAL, and several of their athletes have shone in the PCAL-C.
Senior sprinter Justin Parker — the SCCAL champ in the 200 last year — has sped to the PCAL-C’s top marks in the 100 (11.61) and 200 (24.27) this spring. Senior Vincent Wolfe has also impressed by recording the division’s third-best marks in the 110 hurdles (21.2) and 300 hurdles (50.29).
“This new league, we’re going to see a lot of new faces,” Parker said. “It’ll be fun.”
Graduation stripped coach Ramona Young of standout female athletes Chloe Deleissegues and Samantha Bellucci, a CCS qualifier in the triple jump and high jump last spring, and started the rebuilding process. But senior Janessa Yniguez (200, long jump, high jump) and juniors Angelika Castro (800, 1,600) and Camryn Ryan (3,200) have managed to keep the Sharks competitive.
Distance runner Daniela Salazar — a multi-time league champion, CCS qualifier and the school’s 800 record holder — is gone, but sophomore Layla Ruiz is back after a stellar freshman season.
The school’s record holder in the 3,200 and a CCS finalist in the event last spring, Ruiz has once again been a force in the distance races — she holds the sixth-fastest 3,200 time in CCS (11:26.32) this spring — as she streaks toward her goal of reseting the program records in the 800 and 1,600.
“I’m taking care of myself and I’m trying to do the right things this season,” Ruiz said. “The small things, like eating the right things, taking the good and accepting mistakes and moving on… After last year, I wanted to make sure I was really enjoying myself.”
Ruiz is Watsonville’s lone returning league champion — boy or girl — but coach Rob Cornett did return standout sophomore thrower Evenie Ramirez, and also received a boost from freshman middle distance runner Mayra Peralta-Celedon, who currently has the PCAL-M’s top time in the 400 (1:03.27).
Senior captain Jesse Mandujano leads the boys’ team, which has relied on its depth to compete in the new division. Mandujano has the PCAL-M’s third-best time in the 400 (52.61) and the fifth-best time in the 800 (2:07.48).
Seniors Daniel Knight (long jump, 2nd, 20-0.5), Rodrigo Hernandez (shot put, 3rd, 43-6.5) and Ricardo Alvarado (triple jump, 5th, 39-7) are also all ranked in the PCAL-M’s top five in their primary event.
Sophomores Jorge Guerrero and Jonathan Arroyo have also been stars in the hurdles and in the pole vault.
Editor's Note: This article will publish in the March 29 edition of the Register-Pajaronian.