WATSONVILLE—The Pacific Coast Athletic League Cypress division will be full of local action with three teams from Watsonville batting against each other for league supremacy this season.
Last year’s runner up, Pajaro Valley High along with St. Francis High and Watsonville High—the newcomers to the division—are gearing up for a shot at competing for a league title.
The Grizzlies face off against familiar foes Soledad High, North Salinas High and Gilroy High in year two of the newly realigned division.
North Monterey County High, the defending league champ, and Stevenson School were both bumped up to the Mission division.
Pajaro Valley, St. Francis and Gilroy made the Central Coast Section playoffs last winter.
Here’s a breakdown of the three local teams competing in the PCAL-Cypress:
Last year, Pajaro Valley senior Christian Quintero was a force to be reckoned with in the Cypress division. He’s coming in this season as the reigning most valuable player of the division.
Quintero said this year’s squad has become a much tighter unit as teammates and as friends.
“We’re a lot closer but we still gotta come out and play like we usually play, like we know we know how to play,” Quintero said.
Quintero helped the Grizzlies finish with a 17-10 overall record and they were second in the PCAL-Cypress behind North Monterey County, which got bumped up to the Mission division.
Quintero averaged 24.6 points on 43.4 percent shooting from the floor in 10 league games played, according to the stats kept by MaxPreps. He also averaged 5.9 rebounds and 3.2 steals per league game.
Quintero led the Grizzlies to their first-ever Central Coast Section quarterfinal appearance by recording a career-high 46 points in a 75-67 win against host Mills in the Division III playoffs.
Quintero hopes to have a repeat performance and said he wants to go even further in the postseason.
“I’m trying to win it all,” he said. “I’m trying to go all the way…league and CCS. I know my team can do that but it’s all on our mindset.”
St. Francis is currently 7-0 in non-league play and recently won the Watsonville Wildcatz Tournament on Saturday.
The Sharks defeated Oakwood High, 59-54, in the championship game. They were led by senior Joey Garibay, who finished with 27 points.
Garibay said there are more players contributing early on this season and they have talent up and down the roster.
“We’ve had a lot of guy step up,” Garibay said. “We’re not experienced yet but we’re getting there.”
The Sharks finished their season with a 17-7 overall record and 6-4 in PCAL Mission division play. They also advanced to the CCS semifinals for the fourth straight season.
St. Francis lost guards E.J. Kelly and Andrew Seymour, who both earned a spot on the PCAL-Mission First Team.
Garibay said the coaching staff asked him to step up as a leader and as a scorer this season. So far, he’s been producing for the Sharks by averaging at least 20 points per game in the first seven games.
St. Francis head coach Duncan Edwards was promoted to take over the program during the offseason.
Edwards noted most of the players have little to no varsity experience. But he said they picked it up from the beginning of camp.
“We don’t have sophomore, juniors and seniors,” Edwards said. “We just have varsity players.”
Edwards, 75, sat on the sidelines for the past five years working alongside longtime coach Ed Kelly, who spent the past 14 years as the head coach.
In 14 seasons Kelly finished with a record of 356-203 and had more than 20 wins in the postseason.
Garibay said he believes working Kelly helped him tremendously. He mentioned going up against former teammate E.J. Kelly also got him get prepared for this season.
Other returners for the Sharks, including seniors Lawson Orradre, Dominic Anderson-Nakagawa and Dylan Kane have all been key contributors this season. Sophomore Noah Dowd has also been a big impact under the rim.
“We have a big rotation and everybody on our team can play, anyone can sub in at any point,” Kane said.
Kane said he hasn’t been part of a team with so much height and speed that can run down the court. He mentioned last season was one of the funnest he’s been a part of in a while but he wasn’t able to get on the court as much because of the seniors ahead of him.
“So coming in this year I got a chance to play more and I just want to have fun,” Kane said.
Watsonville missed the cut for the postseason despite finishing with a 16-8 overall record and going 7-3 in PCAL Santa Lucia division play last season.
The Wildcatz will be led by seniors Kobe Berry and Fabian Rodriguez along with junior Donovan Mendoza, a 6-foot-2 forward who should their biggest presence under the hoop.
Berry said they have a group of quick learners who have steadily improved as the season moves on.
“It’s just the unselfishness that each player has,” Berry said. “We’re all playing for each other and we’re playing as a team.”
Watsonville will be without Lucas Ruiz, who was named to the PCAL-Santa Lucia First Team. He led the Wildcatz in points (8.5), assists (1.9) and steals (1.8) per game, according to the stats kept by MaxPreps.
However, the Wildactz will have eight seniors returning to the team but they are still raw in some areas of the court.
Watsonville coach Marcus Northcutt is coming into his third season with the program. He said the team seems to be handling the process pretty well and he can see the light bulb go off.
“It’s been fun for coach (Mike) Blum and I because with the young guys you kind of go back to your grass roots and teach stuff from the beginning,” Northcutt said. “And to see them get it is rewarding.”
Northcutt said he believes the players are seeing the benefits on the court even though it’s still early in the season.
Mendoza said last year they had a foundation with the group of seniors in place. He said this year’s group has been about learning on the fly. He mentioned he’s been pushing the younger players to stay on top of everything.
“You got to stay on top of them because they have to leave the legacy when we’re gone,” Mendoza said.
Editor’s Note: This article will be published in the Dec. 20 edition of The Pajaronian.