APTOS — Aptos graduated three individual Santa Cruz Coast Athletic League champions, but head coach Zach Hewett said his team has more than a handful of athletes ready to step in and help the Mariners return to the top of the league for the fourth time in five years.
Star sprinter Danner Pardue, the SCCAL champ in the 100- and 200-meters and a state meet qualifier last year, is now running at NCAA Division II Chico State, and pole vaulter Jon Gospodnetich and thrower Ethan Rasmussen also graduated from last year’s squad, which won the league title by 73 points over Santa Cruz.
With 110 athletes to choose from, the Mariners once again have plenty of depth, but also carry a few stars that will be in the mix to win league titles.
Junior Hunter Matys is back after taking fifth in the 100 at last year’s league finals, and is now primarily working as a sprinter. He spent time in the field events and in the hurdles last season, but Hewett said he’s quickly developed into the team’s top short-distance runner.
“You can’t replace Danner, he was automatic in the 100 and 200, but Hunter should be able to challenge at league finals,” Hewett said.
Senior Alex Austen made massive leaps over the final two weeks of last season, and is the Mariners’ top athlete of a strong and deep throwing crew, which also includes juniors Nathan Arellano and Ryan Bettencourt and senior Brandon Garrison. A surprise Central Coast Section finalist in the discus in 2017, Austen is primed to have a breakout year and possibly compete for a spot in the state meet.
“[Alex] is not just a big kid,” Hewett said. “He’s an incredible athlete for 6-foot-5, 320 pounds. We haven’t even begun to scratch the surface with him.”
In the field events, Aptos returns sophomore Vaughn Holland and senior Jordan Kadlecek. Holland was second in the long jump and fifth in the triple jump at last year’s league finals, while Kadlecek was fourth in the long jump and third in the triple jump.
Finally fully healthy, Kadlecek has looked like the frontrunner in both events, but Holland has steadily improved through the early season.
“They’re going to battle it out all year, and that’s the best case scenario for us,” Aptos head coach Zach Hewett.
Come league finals time, the duo’s brilliance will only help the Mariners, who also return 1,600 champ Jorge Benitez for his senior season.
Senior hurdler Owen Mastropierto is expected to challenge in both the 110 and 300 hurdles after taking third and second, respectively, in the events at last year’s league finals.
Sophomore Lytrell Francis, Hewett said, has a bright future and can do just about any event the Mariners ask him to.
Here is a look at the rest of the area’s track teams:
CEIBA COLLEGE PREP
The Spartans are in their first season as a program and carry 14 athletes.
Freshman Misael Tejada Partida, junior Jarrod Garcia and senior Manny Rodriguez lead Ceiba in its inaugural year.
MONTE VISTA CHRISTIAN
Mustangs are under new head coach Tony Williams, a former olympic middle distance runner who was last the head coach at Monterey High and an assistant with Monterey Peninsula College.
Competing in the Monterey Bay League Pacific division, M.V.C. has 26 athletes on its roster and returns its top sprinter, David Wang, and its best distance runner, Ivan Luna-Romo, for their senior years.
But aside from that pair, the Mustangs will have to replace plenty. Hurdler Jordan Marquez, throwers Chris Denning and John Alvarez and jumpers/sprinters Darren Selck, Mason Mazza, Holden Lukin and Nate Antepenko are all gone.
Senior Alex Moran, junior Lance Tarrazona and sophomore Anthony Shepard will all throw. Juniors Dan Brierley, Nick Bautista and Scott Tinsley, all of whom were standouts for the school’s football team, will compete in the sprints and jumps and help the 4×100.
The Hawks have seven athletes on their roster.
Juniors John Dias and Sage Turner, a pair of starters from the school’s powerhouse volleyball team, are the Hawks’ top athletes.
Senior Elias Moreno and junior Noah Kaplan will compete in just about every event for Mt. Madonna during its SCCAL season.
Coaches Gus Ibarra and Ricardo Mendoza have more than 100 athletes on the squad, meaning they will have plenty of firepower to compete in the MBL-Gabilan division.
As usual, the Condors have solid depth in the distance races. Junior Augustin Saldivar, a surprise at the end of last season, is back and N.M.C. also has juniors Rafael Tapia, Andrew Barnabe, Anthony Valdivia, Ricardo Rios and Eduardo Rios bolstering its lineup.
Seniors Isaiah Garcia, Cameron Reyes, Ricardo Guzman and Bryan Zamudio will all try to make up for the loss of Ryan Orlando, who qualified for the league’s master meet in both the high jump and triple jump last season.
Seniors Victory Martinez and Guy Gida are the team’s top throwers.
The Grizzlies are coming off one of their most successful seasons in recent memory, but graduated star sprinter Jose Sedano, who holds the program’s record in the 100.
Longtime head coach Andre Avila has 25 athletes on the team, which will compete in the MBL-Pacific division.
Senior Luis Leonor will set his sights on breaking the school record in the pole vault after tying it last season. He will also run the 800 and 1,600 once again.
Senior Irepan Romero is back in the circle after taking last season off, and has picked up right where he left off in both the shot put and discus.
Senior Humberto Reyes will join Leonor in the distance races.
Defending SCCAL shot put champ, Carson Cuzick, returns for the Sharks, who have 17 athletes to work with.
Cuzick last season became the program’s second-ever league champ.
St. Francis has a solid chance of producing more individual titles with Cuzick and junior sprinter Justin Parker back.
A standout on the football field and wrestling mat, Parker was the runner-up in the 100 and 200 at the SCCAL Finals a year ago.
With star distance runner Braxton Rico, a two-time CCS qualifier in the 800, now running at Notre Dame de Namur University, the Sharks will depend on junior E.J. Kelly and sophomore Paul Kane to pick up the slack.
Seniors Jason Gallo and James Young also return for their final seasons.
After starting the season with a triple jump just a couple of inches off the school record, senior Jose Villanueva is looking like Watsonville’s top athlete on a roster of 51.
A CCS qualifier a year ago, Villanueva is one of the Wildcatz’s few returning star athletes from last year’s team that finished second in the MBL-Pacific division.
Distance aces Isaac Ruiz and Raul Martinez are gone, while thrower Pedro Alcantara and jumper Marcos Fregoso also graduated.
Head coach Rob Cornett, however, has received a handful of nice surprises in juniors Ricardo Alvarado, Daniel Knight and Noel Vega. Alvarado is a good jumper who missed last season with injury. Knight, the younger brother of CCS qualifiers David and Brian, has the ability to run in any event. Vega, along with another handful of soccer players, has boosted Watsonville’s sprinting corps.
The Wildcatz do return senior thrower Rolando Llamas, and have junior Jesus Alvarez and sophomores Miguel Leon and Damian Rivas leading the distance crew.