Women Rock at Wrestling, Water Polo, and More

Santa Barbara Celebrates the 33rd National Girls and Women in Sports Day

Abbi Hill (14), Dos Pueblos High’s UCLA-bound water polo player, takes a shot with Corona del Mar defender Sophie Warren (11) confronting her in the CIF playoffs. Dos Pueblos had five wrestlers compete in the CIF girls’ regionals, including Julisa Leyva Diaz and Paola De La Cruz.

Paul Wellman

Abbi Hill (14), Dos Pueblos High’s UCLA-bound water polo player, takes a shot with Corona del Mar defender Sophie Warren (11) confronting her in the CIF playoffs. Dos Pueblos had five wrestlers compete in the CIF girls’ regionals, including Julisa Leyva Diaz and Paola De La Cruz.

The 33rd National Girls and Women in Sports Day was celebrated by the Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table at a special luncheon on Monday. It was attended by scores of female athletes who show up every day to participate in sports.

Consider last Thursday, for instance.

3:30 p.m., Dos Pueblos High’s Sovine Gym: The walls in the wrestling room are adorned with the names of DP boys who have won CIF Masters and State championships, reflecting the decades-long dominance of the Chargers in prep wrestling. This year, their practices had a different look. Working out alongside the boys was the first DP girls' wrestling team.

“It sounded cool, but I didn’t know what I was getting into,” said senior Julisa Leyva Diaz, who was a swimmer and runner before she entered the world of unarmed combat. “It can be intimidating to work out with all the guys here. At the beginning of season, I didn’t think I could do this. But I proved myself wrong. Now we’re going to CIF.”

Diaz is one of five Chargers who won titles at the first Channel League girls’ championships. She faced Lompoc’s Jasmine Hernandez, who had pinned her in a dual meet earlier in the season, in the 150-pound match. The DP senior got the pin this time.

“I didn’t let my anxiety and fear get the best of me,” Diaz said. “It felt really good.” She hopes to see the girls' team grow in the future — with eight wrestlers, it needs to fill six more weight classes. “It builds confidence, self-respect, dignity, being on time, being accountable,” she said.

“I get stressed a lot, and I thought wrestling would help me, and it really did,” said Paola De La Cruz, a junior who won the league title at 170 pounds. She feels a sisterhood with her teammates. “Knowing they have the same passion I do, we have a connection,” she said. “They help you build up your courage.”

Anthony Califano, director of the DP wrestling program, recruited UCSB sophomore Arianna McDonald to help coach the girls. McDonald took up the sport four years ago at Chino Hills High and competes for the Gaucho wrestling club.

“There’s such a sense of community in wrestling,” McDonald said. “You depend on people around you to make you a better wrestler, keep you safe, and care about each other. You spend a lot of time together that’s like suffering, and that really makes a bond.”

Also winning league championships were DP’s Isabel Uyesaka (106 pounds), Jessica Urzua (118), and Angeles Silva (189); Santa Barbara High’s Al’asha Aparicio (111); and San Marcos’s Sasha Mitsuk (160).

At the CIF Southern Section regionals in Camarillo last Saturday, De La Cruz, Diaz, Silva, and Aparicio all finished in the top six, and they will advance to a state meet qualifier in Corona this weekend.

5:30 p.m., Elings Aquatic Center: The CIF Southern Section Division 1 girls’ water polo playoffs start at a high level and soar from there. Only eight teams fill the bracket, each of them capable of going all the way. As Channel League champion, Dos Pueblos played host to Corona del Mar in the first round.

The Chargers had rounded into form with two of their top players, Sophie Leggett and Abbi Hill, coming back from injuries. “One had reconstructive shoulder surgery; the other was bitten in the face by a dog,” DP coach Connor Levoff said. “They’re all warriors.” Theirs is a physical sport, often verging on wrestling in the pool.

Corona del Mar took an early lead, 3-1, but a long strike by Leggett ignited a four-goal outburst that put Dos Pueblos ahead, 5-3, early in the third quarter. Then the well went dry. The Sea Queens, harassing the Charger shooters and getting great saves from their goalie, did not allow another score. The visitors came away with a 7-5 victory.

San Marcos, the defending Division 1 champion, also lost at Santa Ana Foothill, 5-4, leaving four Orange County powers in the semifinals. It seems all the more remarkable that the Royals and Chargers were the finalists a year ago. Now they are headed into the consolation round (exclusive to Division 1), a somewhat disappointing outcome.

7 p.m., the Thunderdome: UCSB women’s basketball has fallen on hard times since the Gauchos stormed to nine straight Big West championships from 1997 to 2005, drawing thousands to their home games. They took a 4-16 record into Thursday’s game against first-place UC Davis, and only 211 diehard fans were in attendance.

The Gauchos had been competitive in most of their conference games, but not this night. The visiting Aggies had many of the same players that UCSB upset in the 2017 conference tournament, and they played with a vengeance, posting a 70-44 victory.

Danae Miller, a sophomore point guard, said the Gauchos were not giving up. They were outscored by just seven points in the second half.

“We’re young [only one senior on the roster], and we’re trying to get it right,” said Miller, who keeps her motor running while averaging close to 40 minutes a game. “Losing is a learning experience. You’ve got to be tough.”

The Gaucho women surprised everybody — except perhaps themselves — two days later, when they pulled out a 61-60 win over Cal State Northridge after trailing 60-54 with less than a minute remaining. Coco Miller and Danae Miller hit back-to-back three-pointers — the latter after a steal by Coco — and Bri Anugwom, fouled on a drive, hit one of two free throws for the winning point.

CSUN’s Channon Fluker, the two-time Big West player of the year, displayed her usual dominance (23 points, 16 rebounds), but she was unable to get three shots to drop in the frantic final seconds.