Coaches watch their athletes grow, succeed

Phil Womble Award recipient Kelsey Drain, left, with Carpinteria soccer teammate Erin Derflinger, center, and head coach Lucy Carleton at Monday's Luncheon at Harry's.

Growing up before our eyes.

It was a day of reminiscing for a few coaches who were paying tribute to current and former athletes and other coaches present at Monday’s Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table Press Luncheon at Harry’s Plaza Cafe.

Carpinteria girls soccer coach Lucy Carleton fondly remembered when junior defender Kelsey Drain was playing on her youth soccer team.

“It’s been my pleasure to coach her since she’s this big,” Carleton said as she positioned her right hand about waist high, “and she used to give me hugs on my legs.”

Now, Drain is considered a “beast” for her toughness and all-around solid play for the Warriors on the soccer pitch.

“The girls mean this as a high compliment, that she is a force of nature,” Carleton explained. “She is someone to be reckoned with. Last year one of the seniors on the team, a very fine athlete herself, gave this sophomore the nickname ‘Ironwoman’ because she is just a tough-as-nails defender.

“Of course, as a coach I love the fact she has strength, speed, endurance and skills,” Carleton added. “What I appreciate the most about Kelsey is the reason she won this award, that she may be a beast on the field, but she is never beastly. She’s unfailingly polite. She is encouraging of her teammates. She always demonstrates good sportsmanship.”

Drain was the recipient of the Phil Womble Ethics in Sports Awards, which is presented to a high school junior athlete who exemplifies sportsmanship, leadership, great work ethic and great character.

The legendary Womble was on hand to see Drain accept the award.

“Her hard work and determination are infectious and she encourages everybody around her to be better,” presenter Dave Pintard said of Drain, who also runs cross country and competes on the track team.

Carleton noted that Drain is her fourth Womble Award-winning soccer player in the last five years.

“I’m honored that women of good moral character choose to play soccer at Carpinteria High School. It’s really impressive.”

Drain possesses an impressive 4.71 grade-point average and is the regional vice president of the Future Farmers of America.

She was joined at the luncheon by her family, parents Matt and Kim, and grandparents Jim and Jane.

Sal Rodriguez, a legendary figure in local basketball and the sports community as the longtime director of the Goleta Boys and Girls Club, also recalled a young kid he watched grow into successful adult.

The kid was Omel Nieves, who started playing basketball at the Boys & Girls Club, went on to play for the San Marcos Runnin’ Royals of 1981 and then played collegiately at SBCC and Fresno State before becoming an attorney.

Rodriguez, the boys basketball coach at Laguna Blanca, said Nieves called last week to tell him he was going to be inducted into the Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table Hall of Fame.

“He’s all excited,” Rodriguez said. “I want to thank you guys for that, because this guy is really excited. I knew him as a little kid, when he was 5-years old.”

Rodriguez’s memories of Nieves, gave Westmont coach John Moore reason to pause and reflect on how much Rodriguez has done for basketball in the community

“There’s no greater guy in terms of basketball in this town in the last 40 years than Sal Rodriguez,” Moore said. “Omel Nieves, Jon Korfas, Gerry Karczewski, my assistant coach Jeff Azain all started (playing basketball at the Boys & Girls Club) when they were about this high,” positioning his hand about waist high.

Those players were part of the Runnin’ Royals team that, 30 years ago, was undefeated all the way to the CIF 4-A Final and lost by three to Long Beach Poly.

UCSB men’s basketball: Assistant coach David Campbell said the Gauchos could use some “Womble magic” and hoped he could attend Thursday’s game against UC Irvine.

UCSB is coming off a win at UC Davis and and a last-second loss at Pacific.

“We’re a little disappointed because we thought we were in position to win two games to put us back into the upper echelon of the league. Without Jamie Serna and Kyle Boswell, it would be such a positive trip to win two games on arguably our toughest road trip of the year minus two starters.”

San Marcos girls water polo: Coach Chuckie Roth took a trip into the past when he talked about junior varsity player Alexah Hart.

“If you kind of wonder what it was like to be a high school athlete in the 60s and 70s, before club sports really emerged, I think of Alexah Hart’s story and I think that’s probably what being a high school athlete was like,” he said.

Hart was a freshman in Roth’s physical education class when she asked him if she could go out for the water polo team. She had no experience, but she persevered through 6 a.m. workouts and tough drills.

“She has overcome so many obstacles in her life to be here,” he said.

She made the varsity swim team and started playing club water polo in the summer. But pain in both shoulders forced her to stop both activities.

It got so bad, that, “the fall of her junior year she said she’d have to retire and be done completely,” Roth said. “This is a girl who just loved being in the water and loved being part of the team. I told her, ‘I want to keep you around everybody because you have such a great impact on people. What would you think about coming back and being our frosh goalie and help the freshmen out, so that they have a more positive experience?’

“She jumped in it with open arms and said, ‘I’m going to be the best goalie you can imagine,’ “ Roth said.

Everything was going fine until Hart suffered a dislocated finger while making a save during a game in late December. She was devastated.

“I just want to be in the water. I just want to play. I just want to be part of the team. I don’t want this to be over; I can’t let this stop me,” she cried to Roth.

It didn’t.

Last week, Hart received some good news. A player quit the junior varsity team and Roth moved her up to be the JV goalie.

“This is a 5-foot-4 young lady who doesn’t have the body of a goalie, but she has the heart of a lion. She’s just doing an amazing job.

“She may not be a varsity athlete right now, but she would be if it wasn’t for her shoulders. She’s doing everything possible to make herself the best she can possibly be.

“To me, that’s what high school athletics has got to be about, to give a kid a chance and see what the kid does with it and run with it.”

Roth said he is looking for a big game from co-captain Rose Koper when the Royals play Ventura on Tuesday.

He recalled Koper being downcast after she misfired on 12 shots, including one at the end of the game, during a one-goal loss at Ventura during her sophomore year.

“I told her of all the kids I had out there, I had just as much confidence in her as anybody else,” Roth said. “I could have called timeout when she had the ball in her hands. I chose not to because ‘I believe in you.’

“I tell that story to remind her of how far she and the team have come. I think she’s going to have a really big game tomorrow and do great things. I just want to reiterate how much confidence I have in what you do.”

Santa Barbara water polo: Coach Mark Walsh said the future of the program is bright with sophomore sisters Madeline and Sophie Trabucco.

Madeline Trabucco played huge in the cage in a 6-5 loss at No. 1 and top-ranked Dos Pueblos last week. She made 16 saves in the game.

“She was pelted by shots all game long. She allowed only six goals to help keep us in the game,” said Walsh.

The coach said Sophie is one of the team’s best defenders and has one of the best shots.

Walsh announced that this weekend Santa Barbara and Dos Pueblos are co-hosting the 12th annual girls water polo Tournament of Champions, featuring many of the top teams in California. Dos Pueblos is the defending champion and No. 1 seed.

San Marcos boys basketball: Head coach Jarrod Bradley marveled at how Athlete of the Week Christian Mkpado has improved his game.

“He’s big and strong, but his improvement the past year has been tremendous,” said Bradley.

Mkpado leads the Royals in scoring (14 ppg), free throw attempts and makes, and taking charges.

Bradley introduced assistant coach Oliver Wheeler and credits him with helping the Royals improve in the mental aspect of the game.

“He’s been instrumental in many players growing up in Santa Barbara, like Shantay Legans and Roberto Nelson. He’s the best psychological coach I know in Santa Barbara. He understands how to help players develop their strengths, improve their weaknesses, but, more importantly, get mentally ready to play.”

Dos Pueblos girls basketball: Amber Stevens found herself in a different position than she was used to at the press luncheon, speaking at the podium. Stevens, a standout player at Dos Pueblos and Westmont College, is the assistant girls coach at DP.

“This is really, really weird to be up here as a coach than a player,” she said.

The Chargers (14-4, 0-1) have a big Channel League game at Santa Barbara on Tuesday.

Santa Barbara High girls basketball: After coming from behind to post a rare win at Buena, Dons coach Andrew Butcher said people asked him if they expected to win. “We all said no.” That was followed by, ‘Did you think you could win?’ We all lied and said yes.”

Butcher said his team learned three things after the Buena win: “If you play the game correctly in whatever sport you play, you can compete with anyone.

“We also learned if you play the game correctly and beat a good team, maybe the next few games you won’t really show up because you think you’re pretty good.

“And, we also learned (a tip on keeping focus), if you wrap underwrap around your thigh, it’s the same diameter as your head and it makes a perfect headband.”

Butcher also noted that freshman Desirea Coleman is player to watch in the future.

Westmont women’s basketball: Coach Kristen Moore didn’t hide who she was rooting for in Monday night’s BCS national championship football game as she wore an Oregon Ducks T-shirt.

“I’m not getting on the Oregon bandwagon,” she said. “I played there and coached there.”

Westmont men’s basketball: In addition to praising Rodriguez, coach John Moore recognized Ron Mulder as one of the most influential basketball people in the community.

He said Mulder holds the distinction of having the best winning percentage (54-18, .763) of any coach in Westmont history, including legendary Chet Kammerer, who was Moore’s coach.

“I strive to be the coach that Chet and Ron were,” said Moore.

Mulder is the grandfather of Mkpado the male athlete of the week.

Santa Barbara Foresters: Dave Pintard, the brother of Foresters coach Bill Pintard, announced that the team was adding three players into its Hall of Fame at a special fundraising dinner on Jan. 28 at the Cabrillo Arts Center.

Kevin Frandsen (San Diego Padres), James Shields (Tampa Bay Rays) and local dentist, former player and major team supporter Vaughn Wipf are the inductees. They will be honored at the event.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia will be the evening’s the keynote speaker.

Proceeds from the event go toward paying for improvements at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium at UCSB.

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