Aptos High senior Mikayla Santaella, who competed at a high level on the girls volleyball, wrestling and track and field teams, was named The Pajaronian Girls Athlete of the Year for the 2022-23 school year. (Mike Santaella/contributed)

The life of a high school student-athlete was something Aptos High senior Mikayla Santaella knew she was getting herself into as soon as she stepped foot onto the campus.

At times it almost felt like she was never home unless it was to do homework and get some much-needed sleep.

During her freshman year there were days Santaella arrived on campus at 7am and didn’t leave until after 9pm if a volleyball game was scheduled. On the weekends there were the times she woke up at 5am to compete in wrestling meets in the Bay Area. 

“My schedule was crazy but it felt normal the longer I played sports,” she said. “I was able to learn how to balance nights where I had lots of homework and also practice or competition.”

The first time Santaella juggled three sports was in eighth grade and at the time she didn’t really know what was going on in her hectic schedule. Yet, she eventually fell in love with the process of training and competing. 

Santaella’s mindset going into her senior year was to let go of any negative thoughts that would have set her back in the past and just enjoy every game, match and meet. 

“As an athlete, it’s really hard to completely ignore the voice in your head telling you there’s something you can’t accomplish,” she said. “But I feel like I overcame that and succeeded in placing well, and having a lot of fun competing my last year.”

The process truly paid off for Santaella in what turned out to be a superb fourth and final year sporting a midnight blue and white uniform. 

Her accomplishments on the volleyball court, wrestling mat and track and field made her one of the premier athletes in the area. As a result, she earned trips to the Central Coast Section postseason in all three sports.

Santaella also earned the right to be named The Pajaronian Girls Athlete of the Year for the 2022-23 school year. 

“This recognition means so much to me because it acknowledges all of the time and hard work I put into my sports,” she said.

Santaella said funny enough it was in junior high when she was promised her first smartphone by her mom but only if she joined a sports team. Her first choice was volleyball and quickly realized she loved the way she felt both mentally and physically after practice. 

From there she eventually found herself competing all-year long in volleyball, wrestling and track and field. 

“There is something so addicting about watching yourself grow as an athlete,” Santaella said. “I returned to the court, the mat and the field each season to work hard and get better.”

Santaella said the best part about it all was the unique friendships she developed with teammates and coaches over the past several years.

Santaella—a four year varsity player for the Mariners’ volleyball program—finished her 2022 campaign with 122 digs, 69 kills, 19 aces and four blocks.

One of her biggest moments came during a home match on Sept. 22 against Santa Cruz High. She finished with 22 digs, nine kills, a pair of aces and one block for the Mariners and she was named Player of the Match on the MaxPreps website. 

“I felt like I was on fire that game,” she said.

Santaella helped Aptos improve to a 12-14 overall record and it took fourth in the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League standings with a 6-6 record in league play. They also earned a trip to the CCS Division III quarterfinals. 

She finished with 45 kills, 11 aces, four blocks, 96 digs and 141 serve receptions in the 2022 season.

Aptos girls volleyball coach Hunter Zeng said in an email that Santaella demonstrated leadership and confidence on the court while being a multi-sport, year-round competitor. 

“I believe captains and coaches lead the team together and in my time working with Mikayla she was an advocate for her peers on multiple occasions,” Zeng said. “In my interactions with her she displayed resolve, maturity and high emotional intelligence. I know that her future is incredibly bright and it was a privilege coaching her.”

During her freshman year, Santaella had the opportunity to play on the 2019-20 varsity team that won the CIF State Girls Volleyball Division IV championship. 

“In the game against Santa Cruz I felt that I had played to that level and it made me appreciate all of the work I’d put into high school and club volleyball,” she said.

Santaella continued to grind in the winter by hitting the wrestling mat. She didn’t compete in any SCCAL matches but she was the runner-up in the 170-pound weight division league championship. 

She finished with an 11-9 overall record including fifth place finishes at both the Overfelt Lady Royal Tournament and Central Coast Section Masters Tournament.  

Aptos wrestling coach Rudy Guzman said Santaella is the type of athlete that makes everyone around her better and not just wrestling skills.

“[Santaella] always comes to practice with a positive attitude and a big smile,” he said. “She’s the hardest working athlete on the team. Always sets the tempo for everybody, a leader on and off the mat.” 

Santaella capped off her senior year with a remarkable season on the track and field team, winning the discus in the SCCAL finals with a throw of 95 feet, 5 inches and taking second in the shot put (27-11).

“[Santaella] has the skills to continue her athletic career and be successful whichever path she takes,” said Aptos throws coach Thad Moren in an email.

The two medals gave her three straight dating back to a second place finish in the shot put during the 2022 league finals. Santaella became the ninth girl in the track and field program’s history to qualify for the CCS finals in the shot put event.

Next up, she will attend UC Santa Barbara to study marine biology this upcoming fall. Her plan is to check out the club volleyball team or a possible return to beach volleyball. 

“No matter what though, I’m sure I’ll find a way back to these three sports that have captured my heart the past four years,” she said.

Honorable Mention

Ariana Covarrubias (Sr.), Monte Vista Christian

Karla Leyva (Sr.), Pajaro Valley

Aaliysah Gomez (Jr.), St. Francis

Katelynn Ruiz (So.), Watsonville

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A Watsonville native who has a passion for local sports and loves his community. A Watsonville High, Cabrillo College, San Jose State University and UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism alumnus, he primarily covers high school athletics, Cabrillo College athletics, various youth sports in the Pajaro Valley and the Santa Cruz Warriors. Juan is also a video game enthusiast, part-time chef (at home), explorer and a sports junkie. Coaches and athletic directors are encouraged to report scores HERE.


  1. I was a high school athlete, as well, but a long time ago. I am impressed by this young woman, as she sounds like quite the althlete and team player. Congratulations to you Mikayla! Keep up the good work and enjou Santa Barbara! Robin Medley

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