The ability to dominate the game on both sides of the pool is what separated El Capitan High School’s Hope Stokes and Merced’s Abraham Santana from the packs.
Both players are lock-down defenders and can lead their team in scoring if needed.
That’s why Stokes and Santana were named the Central California Conference boys and girls water polo Most Valuable Players by the conference coaches. Blake Brigham of Atwater and Regina Navarro of Buhach Colony were named Goalies of the Year.
“He’s so versatile,” Merced coach Kit Grattan said about his star, Santana. “On offense and defense he’s so crucial to our team. He has more assists than everyone else. I think all the coaches in the league realize the talent that he has.”
Many times, the MVP goes to the best player on the best team. So it says a lot about what the coaches in the CCC thought of Santana to pick him as the top player from a third-place team.
Stokes has been the catalyst for the Gauchos during their 12-0 run to a CCC championship in their first season in the conference.
“Hope Stokes being named MVP is an honor for Hope and El Capitan,” Gauchos coach Kristie Dunham said. “It means a lot to receive a nod from all the coaches. Hope has done a lot for our success on defense and offense. Part of her success is due to the other outstanding players on our team. Metztli (Enriquez) and Madison (Nolen) have become dynamic players that cause a lot of problems for other teams. They both contribute a ton on defense and offense, creating shooting opportunities for themselves and other players. They also play tenacious defense.”
The Gauchos also landed two players on the first team, Enriquez and Nolen, and two on the second team in goalie Toni Perez and Alexandria Jasso.
“I believe that our undefeated season speaks to the quality of all of my players,” said Dunham, whose team earned the top seed in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs and will open Friday at home. “(Jasso) plays excellent center defense. Toni blocks important goals and makes great outlet passes. Marion Carpenter keeps defenses honest because she is going to counter and make you pay if you do not pay attention. Mackenzie Wenham plays outstanding team defense and offense.
“In my mind, any of my players could have been on first team; however, players from other teams also had outstanding seasons,” Dunham said.
Those players included first-team selections Callie Norton (Atwater), Gwynne McBride (Buhach Colony), Maddie Hall (Merced) and Karissa Roof (Turlock).
The second team was Pam Solano (Buhach Colony), Grace Mello (Golden Valley), Stephanie Hart (Merced), Sam Guerino (Pitman), Audrey Morgan (Pitman) and Allison Serratos (Turlock).
The all-CCC boys first-team selections included Atwater’s Connor Norton and Luke van Warmerdam, who helped lead the Falcons to an undefeated run to a conference championship. They were joined by Buhach Colony’s Luke Bird, El Capitan’s Evan Spiva, Golden Valley’s Tommy Hamilton and Turlock’s Mykel Garton.
The second-team picks were Elias Marquez (Atwater), Joe Bustabade (Buhach Colony), Garrett Thomas (El Capitan), Angus McLeod (Golden Valley), Nathan Latronica (Merced), Caden Jarvis (Pitman), Dylan Bernardi (Turlock) and Matthew Hesse (Turlock).