WATSONVILLE — Often referred to as a magician by his teammates and opponents alike, St. Francis High senior point guard Sandor Rene Rodriguez was named the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League’s Most Valuable Player of the Year by the coaches from around the seven-team league.
A four-year varsity starter, Rodriguez could do it all for the Sharks: score, rebound, defend, pass and — his most impressive trait — control the pace of the game. The 5-foot-11 point guard was always in control of the multi-headed St. Francis offensive attack and made sure to keep everyone happy, while racking up the assists in leading players to easy buckets in the half court and transition.
“He’s a magician,” said St. Francis senior center Ruben Ibarra after the Central Coast Section Division V Championship game win against Woodside Priory. “The things he does with the ball are incredible.”
Said St. Francis senior guard Dominic Figueroa earlier this season: “You have to be ready for his passes because they’re lasers.”
A soccer player turned hooper, Rodriguez not only helped the Sharks win the SCCAL title for the first time since the 2009-10 season but went undefeated and also captured the league tournament title, too. It was just one of many accomplishments for St. Francis, which also won its second-ever CCS championship, first-ever California Interscholastic Federation NorCal title and finished runner-up in the CIF Division V Championship on Friday at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.
Of course, he didn’t do it alone.
The MVP award could have also landed in the hands of either of the Sharks’ star junior forwards Chase Watkins or Jason Gallo. Both were named to the five-man SCCAL First Team.
Watkins, a 6-foot-4 athletic freak, was St. Francis’ leading scorer this season and did it in a plethora of ways, throwing down dunks, hitting 3-pointers and driving to the hoop to score three points the old fashioned way.
Gallo, meanwhile, used his long 6-foot-5 frame to dominate the boards, earning St. Francis plenty second-chance buckets over the course of the season. But Gallo was also a tough defensive matchup thanks to his much-improved jumper that was solid at midrange and beyond the 3-point line.
Head coach Ed Kelly was also recognized by his peers, earning the Coach of the Year honor after becoming only the third coach from Santa Cruz County to lead a team to a CIF State final.
Rodriguez said Kelly’s fire for the game was infectious and that he helped make him into the player he is today.
“He brings us a scouting report, I’m trying to look up the other team’s stats to get ready for the game,” Rodriguez said earlier this season. “Little stuff that I would never do, that I’m doing constantly now and that I need to do before a game. It’s been an honor to play all four years with him. My IQ has improved so much. It’s truly a blessing.”
The Sharks duo of bigs joined San Lorenzo Valley High’s senior power forward Jackson Turner, Santa Cruz High’s junior point guard Max DeHart and Aptos High’s junior guard Rashaun Wooden on the SCCAL First Team.
Wooden was an ace scorer for the Mariners, who finished second in the SCCAL and made it to the league tournament semifinals. The 5-foot-11, 145-pound combo guard played much bigger than his frame, driving to the rim and finishing through traffic several times and also hitting the occasional 3-pointer when needed.
Fellow Mariner, junior forward Blake Welle, made the five-man second team along with St. Francis’ Ibarra, SLV’s senior guard Tanner Murray, Santa Cruz’s sophomore wing Robert Bishop and Harbor’s junior guard Duran Shipstead.
Three locals received honorable mention: Forrest Hays (Aptos), Joey Riccabona (Aptos) and Figueroa (St. Francis).