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Santa Maria Sun / Cover Story

The following article was posted on June 11th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 14 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 14, Issue 14

Their time to shine

Local athletes are college bound and ready to play


Earning an athletic scholarship to play in college is no easy feat, and it happens less than the average reader might think. According to the NCAA, only 2 percent of high school athletes will earn a scholarship to play in college.Earning an athletic scholarship to play in college is no easy feat, and it happens less than the average reader might think. According to the NCAA, only 2 percent of high school athletes will earn a scholarship to play in college.

This year on the Central Coast, a handful of elite athletes beat the odds and accepted scholarships. These kids have survived the breakdowns (both mental and physical) and the hours of practices, sacrificing free time and more to improve their game.

Role models in the classroom and the community, these athletes had to compete against thousands of others nationwide to achieve their dreams. Their dedication, athleticism, and determination earned them the chance to pursue their sport, further their education, and give them the best chances for success.

The Sun would love to include all local athletes who’ve received scholarship honors, but we had to narrow the featured selection down to seven players.

Still, we commend all of you for your efforts, attitudes, and abilities. Congratulations to the athletic class of 2013.


Staff Writer Kristina Sewell is proud of all local athletes. Contact her at



Brooke Butler

Brooke Butler

Brooke Butler is an athlete whose natural athleticism is strengthened by her intense passion for the game of volleyball. Her heart and determination—rare in young athletes—have brought her a scholarship to play volleyball at CSU San Marcos.

Born into a family that already eats, breathes, and plays the sport, Butler decided at a young age that she wanted to pursue volleyball in college.

“It didn’t hit me until recently [that] it has always been my dream,” said Butler, a recent graduate of Righetti High School.

Warriors coach Diana Strasbaugh mentored Butler for four years. She said what first stood out to her were the young athlete’s height and coachability, not to mention a love for volleyball and positive leadership skills.

“She was an important part of the team by just being on the court,” Strasbaugh said. “She encourages people to be the best they can.”

Butler finished her senior season with an average 4.8 kills per game and 15 to 25 points scored per match.

Part of Butler’s success can be attributed to her eagerness to learn new tricks of the game and to improve her skill.

“You have to set a bar and train constantly,” Butler said. “You have to take criticism and always want to get better.”

Butler said she decided to sign with CSU San Marcos because she made a connection with the coach. The school and the program are fairly new and will be moving to the NCAA during Butler’s sophomore year. According to Strasbaugh, the player wanted to be part of a new program.

Butler will be majoring in communications, and she eventually wants to work with children. As for her freshman season, she’s determined to see the court.

“I love being involved in every aspect of volleyball; it’s my passion,” she said. “I would play all day, every day, if I could.”


Case Bruton

Case Bruton

A recent graduate of St. Joseph High School, Case Bruton prides himself on his work ethic when it comes to basketball. Very soon, he’ll be taking that hardworking spirit to Concordia University in Southern California.

St. Joe’s athletic director and basketball coach Tom Mott worked with Bruton for three years. Mott said Bruton recognized his weaknesses and has worked diligently to turn them into strengths.

“What separates Case is his dedication,” Mott said. “He is committed to being an outstanding ball player. Nobody on the team worked harder.”

Bruton led the Knights in scoring this last season, averaging 21.1 points per game.

Concordia University—a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) powerhouse—worked for more than a year to recruit Bruton. Ultimately, the welcoming atmosphere and small school size helped the basketball player make his decision.

“The journey of looking for the right fit is over,” he said. “It’s an exciting feeling.”

A basketball player since age 6, Bruton said his mother has been a huge source of inspiration, as have Coach McCoy and Coach Mott, who taught him how to play hard and be accountable.

With plans to major in business, Bruton realizes it will take time to adjust to life at college—but he’ll continue to persevere.

“I have a chance to compete for a starting position,” he said. “I want to make an impact immediately.”


Kat Rocha

Kat Rocha

It wasn’t until the end of Kat Rocha’s senior soccer season at Santa Ynez High School that she realized she wasn’t ready to let go of her sport.

Playing in a family whose sport is soccer, Rocha grew up around the turf; she started playing club ball at age 8. Now graduation has come and gone, and Rocha will soon join former local soccer stars Sierra Duarte and Taylor Will at Cal Lutheran University.

“Cal Lu wasn’t on my radar until the coach contacted me,” Rocha said. “I went and visited; I loved the school, team, and coach.”

Santa Ynez soccer coach Rob Cantrell has worked with Rocha all four years. He said what makes the kicker unique is her fiery passion for the sport and her composure as a player.

“She is a very technical, all-around solid player,” Cantrell said. “She was a marked player by other teams, and we will miss her presence on the field.”

He said Rocha, who scored 17 goals and 12 assists this season, will add depth to any spot on the field.

Rocha said high school soccer has made her more competitive and appreciative of her school and community. She said her time playing the game, her skill level, and her never-give-up attitude have made her successful.

“It’s important to keep a positive outlook no matter what and [to] be an example,” she said. “Play your game.”

Rocha, who hasn’t yet decided on a major, is thrilled by this new opportunity, although she feels nervous—in a good way.

“I get to go to a good school to play soccer,” she said. “Life couldn’t be better.”


Luke Wilson

Luke Wilson

This has been a banner year for former Righetti High School wrestler Luke Wilson.

The quietly competitive Wilson is a two-time All-American for high school wrestling. Earlier in the spring, he took third at the Senior Nationals at Virginia Beach and won the California State Championship for the 152-pound weight class. These are just some of his accomplishments while at Righetti.

Although Wilson spoke with both North Dakota and Michigan State, he wanted to stay close to home for college. He signed with the Mustangs at Cal Poly, where he plans to major in history.

Righetti wrestling coach and former Warrior wrestler Andrew Domingues worked with Wilson for three years.

“He was always committed, dedicated, and disciplined,” Domingues said. “His work ethic contributed to his progression as a wrestler.”

Domingues added that Righetti will miss the hard-working example Wilson set in the wrestling room.

The young wrestler said he’s trying to not get “too big headed” and is focusing on the next goal. He will most likely wear a red shirt his freshman year.

“Cal Poly is close to home, and it’s a great school; they had a good rebuilding year,” Wilson said. “I am going in there with the attitude that I need to compete for a spot next year.”


Tianna Pasko

Tianna Pasko

Looking back on it, Tianna Pasko said her older sister, Talia, inspired her to pursue diving. Talia had scoliosis and underwent a major surgery, but she continued to dive for her high school team.

An admitted perfectionist who adopted her sister’s never-give-up attitude, Pasko caught the attention of the dive coaches at Cal Lutheran University and will be joining them in the fall on scholarship.

“When I thought about not doing sports after high school, it felt weird,” Pasko said. “I am amazed that I can continue.”

The former Orcutt Academy student started out as a gymnast and discovered diving while playing around on a diving board at a family pool.

“I definitely love the thrill, and I’m not afraid of heights,” Pasko said.

But she said pursuing a career in dive took some work because her high school didn’t have a team. She took the idea to her athletic director and eventually gained district approval to start one. Pasko was the only diver her first year, but managed to net a third-place title at the Division 4 CIF championship. She became an integral part in founding the dive team at Orcutt Academy.

“I had to get my techniques down,” she said. “I started with no experience, but I definitely improved a lot.”

Fast-forward two years, and the team grew to seven girls and one boy (a majority of whom Pasko recruited herself). According to Pasko, all of the divers qualified for CIF, and the team took a second-place spot. Pasko is the first Orcutt Academy student to receive a CIF medal.

Mother and coach Alicia Pasko has coached her daughter since age 3.

“I’ve seen her grow in maturity and suddenly saw her blossom,” Coach Pasko said. “She is 100 percent competitive and very supportive of her team.”

In addition to being a stellar athlete, Pasko was actively involved in her school’s Associated Student Body and acted as a captain for both the cheerleading and dive teams. She plans to major in psychology at Cal Lutheran.

“My ambitions and competitive edge set me apart from other athletes,” Pasko said. “I’m a perfectionist; with dive you have one shot to get it right, but it’s worth it in the end.”


Courtney Cuzick

Courtney Cuzick

Former Nipomo pitcher Courtney Cuzick might not be your typical tall, lanky hurler. But what she lacks in size she makes up for in unparalleled work ethic and knowing exactly what she needs to do to perform the way she wants.

Cuzick finished her senior season with a second round CIF appearance and a 0.85 earned run average. She also helped lead the Titans to the best league record in school history while averaging a strikeout per inning.

Cuzick will head east in the fall to play at University of Pennsylvania, where she plans to major in business with a concentration in sports marketing.

“They started looking at me fall of junior year and were my top choice in the recruiting process,” she said.

Cuzick decided she wanted to play in college in seventh grade and began playing club ball. Her pitching coach, Bill Hobbs, has worked with Cuzick since she was 13. The pitcher said she’s grateful to Hobbs for always pushing her and for teaching her about the game.

Nipomo varsity coach Matt Paradis worked with Cuzick all four years of high school. Paradis said he feels fortunate to have worked with her on the field and in the classroom.

“She realized she was at a disadvantage because of her size,” Paradis said. “She committed herself to an outrageous work load and worked on her game 24/7.”

According to Paradis, Cuzick puts a wicked spin on her pitches and has an incredible ability to change speeds with at least a 20 mph difference between her fastball and changeup. Cuzick said her go-to pitch is her curve.

“High school softball has helped me get smarter with how I face batters,” Cuzick said. “I keep going; never give up. Go after every batter no matter what the score is.”


Dane Underwood

Honorable mention: Dane Underwood

Dane Underwood is saying goodbye to the Santa Ynez Valley and preparing for his freshmen year at the Ivy League’s Yale University.

A football player who had to be convinced to try throwing for the track team, Underwood discovered a new talent. With a personal record of 53 feet and 4 inches in shot put and 168 feet and 6 inches in discus, the 6-foot-5, 215-pound thrower gained attention and recruitment offers from Brown, University of Chicago, and UC Santa Barbara.

Underwood didn’t want to stay in California for college, and with Yale as his top choice, his stellar academics warranted him admission to the school.

As for throwing in college, nothing is for sure yet; Underwood admits he had to make a tough choice, but he opted for academics.

“I’ve been in contact with the track coach at Yale,” Underwood said. “I have always been interested in competing as a decathlete—nothing is for certain.”

Track coach Ken Gruendyke worked with Underwood for four years at Santa Ynez. The veteran coach said Underwood has made tremendous strides in working hard.

“He is one of the best athletes I’ve been associated with at the high school,” Gruendyke said. “He really thinks and listens to coaches and works at it until he gets it right.”

Articulate and polite, Underwood said he’s put a lot more effort into track and has gotten visible results. The thrower is grateful for the coaches at his school.

“One of the more important lessons I’ve learned is to be confident,” he said. “It’s definitely helped me branch out as a person.”

Underwood currently hasn’t declared a major, but he’s leaning toward English or social sciences. 


Staff Writer Kristina Sewell is proud of all local athletes. Contact her at

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