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Newport Harbor thrower Aidan Elbettar picks UCLA track and field on signing day

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Newport Harbor thrower Aidan Elbettar signed with the UCLA men’s track and field program on Wednesday.
(Scott Smeltzer / Staff Photographer)

The recruitment of the nation’s top high school returner in the boys’ discus throw reached its exciting conclusion on Wednesday night.

Newport Harbor senior Aidan Elbettar signed a national letter of intent to join the UCLA men’s track and field program, just in time to cap signing day.

“It was kind of like eight different categories, ranging from academics to how I feel about the school,” said Elbettar, who went on official visits to UCLA, USC, the University of Washington, Arizona and UC Irvine. “We kind of did it on a grade scale of [one through five] in each category, and we decided that UCLA had the best score overall, even though the other schools are extremely close. It was just a really close race.”

Elbettar was one of many local senior athletes signing or committing on the first day of the early signing period for college sports outside of football.

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Through his junior season, Elbettar boasts a career-best mark of 197 feet, four inches in the discus throw, which is the leading mark among all returning high school throwers.

Elbettar, the Daily Pilot Boys’ Track and Field Dream Team Athlete of the Year in 2019, had said in the summer that the ability of a college program to elevate his individual performance would play a role in his decision. He felt that Bruins coach John Frazier had assembled a group of throwers that could challenge him on a daily basis.

“That was one of the main things that I kind of want to have is other people to throw with that are shotput and discus throwers,” he added.

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Newport Harbor’s Makoto Kenney (UCLA), left, Ike Love (Stanford), Tommy Kennedy (Cal), Reed Stemler (USC) and Blake Jackson (USC) participate on signing day on Wednesday.
(Courtesy of Barry Love)

The Newport Harbor boys’ water polo team, which will be playing in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 title match on Saturday, had five members commit to a Division I school. They were Blake Jackson (USC), Tommy Kennedy (Cal), Makoto Kenney (UCLA), Ike Love (Stanford) and Reed Stemler (USC).

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“In water polo, the big four are USC, UCLA, Cal and Stanford,” Jackson said. “It’s really cool to have all five of us at the big four. I think that’s more special than just the Pac-12 alone.”

Some had to wait longer than others for this day to come. Pacifica Christian Orange County forward Judah Brown had verbally committed to the St. Mary’s College men’s basketball program since January.

“It’s just super exciting, honestly,” Brown said. “To see all the work pay off, the time spent in the gym, my family taking me different places, working out, going to the park, my brothers working out with me.

“It’s kind of satisfying that it does pay off. You know it’s not the end of the journey yet, but it’s like a landmark. When you hit it, it’s paying off, and you know it gives you that boost to keep going on the journey.”

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Pacifica Christian Orange County basketball player Judah Brown, left, and rower Dimitri Kallins share a fist bump after committing to colleges on Wednesday. Brown is going to St. Mary’s College and Kallins is headed to the University of Pennsylvania.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Dimitri Kallins will be joining the University of Pennsylvania men’s rowing program, which finished third in the Intercollegiate Rowing Assn. national championships last season.

Kallins began training out of Newport Sea Base in eighth grade, and he became the founder of the Tritons’ rowing team. He was Pacifica Christian’s Scholar Athlete of the Year as a junior, and he has a 4.8 grade-point average.

Costa Mesa held a ceremony at lunch time for girls’ volleyball player Malia Tufuga and boys’ swimmer Aidan Blair.

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Tufuga, a senior opposite, will follow in the footsteps of her brother, Mason, by playing volleyball at Stanford. She sported leis as a headdress and a necklace.

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Costa Mesa athletes Malia Tufuga, left, and Aidan Blair sign their national letters of intent on Wednesday. Tufuga will play women’s volleyball at Stanford and Blair will swim for the men’s team at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

“I love my Samoan part of me,” Tufuga said of her cultural display. “It’s the part of me that celebrates the little things like signing a piece of paper.

“It’s so much more than that. It’s signing my future [for] opportunities that others in my family didn’t get. I’m happy that I get to celebrate this day.”

Mustangs senior Aidan Blair signed with the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo men’s swimming program. He placed second in the 100-meter butterfly (49.57 seconds) and third in the 200 freestyle (1:40.80) in the Division 3 finals last season.

“It really came natural to me,” Blair said of picking up swimming. “I’ve been working as hard as I possibly could to work for this. The past four years, I’ve been gunning it. I’ve only been swimming. Swim and school, that’s basically been my life, and it’s really paid off.”

The Huntington Beach baseball and softball teams both advanced to the Division 1 semifinals last season. In baseball, the Oilers had Thomas Babineau (Cal State San Marcos), Jag Burden (Cal), Tyler Conant (Long Beach State), Brady Malpass (Azusa Pacific), Ryan Navarro (Cal State San Marcos) and Jake Vogel (UCLA) sign.

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Pitching ace Grace Uribe (Texas A&M) led the Oilers’ softball signees. She was joined by Ameryn Humble (Drexel University), Shelbi Ortiz (Utah) and Reanna Rudd (North Dakota State).

Edison also had several softball players sign, including pitcher Talia Hannappel (New Mexico) and first baseman Hailie Benko (West Texas A&M).

Fountain Valley outside hitter Phoebe Minch signed with the Westmont College women’s volleyball program. This season, she led the Barons to the Division 3 quarterfinals.

Below is the list of local athletes who signed or committed on Wednesday:

CORONA DEL MAR

Maya Avital, Stanford women’s water polo

Kira Hoffman, UC Irvine women’s water polo

Megan Peterson, Stanford women’s water polo

Tanner Pulice, UCLA men’s water polo

COSTA MESA

Aidan Blair, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo men’s swimming

Malia Tufuga, Stanford women’s volleyball

EDISON

Hailie Benko, West Texas A&M softball

Zoe Coggins, Dominican University of California women’s tennis

Kate DeMars, Pace University field hockey

Julia Douglass, Westcliff University softball

Talia Hannappel, University of New Mexico softball

Alyssa Reynolds, Syracuse softball

ESTANCIA

Gannon Griffin, University of Puget Sound football

Troy Huber, Hardin-Simmons University baseball

Desiree Mendoza, UC Irvine women’s soccer

FOUNTAIN VALLEY

Jake Brooks, UCLA baseball

Abby Edwards, Central Michigan women’s soccer

Phoebe Minch, Westmont College women’s volleyball

Sebastian Murillo, Long Beach State baseball

HUNTINGTON BEACH

Thomas Babineau, Cal State San Marcos baseball

Vanessa Betancourt, UC Riverside women’s golf

Jag Burden, Cal baseball

Mia Christensen, UC Riverside women’s volleyball

Niko Colburn, George Mason University men’s volleyball

Tyler Conant, Long Beach State baseball

Cooper Haddad, Long Beach State men’s water polo

Xolani Hodel, Stanford women’s beach volleyball

Ameryn Humble, Drexel University softball

Brody MacDonald, Aurora University men’s lacrosse

Brady Malpass, Azusa Pacific University baseball

Ryan Navarro, Cal State San Marcos baseball

Shelbi Ortiz, Utah softball

Jacob Pyle, UC Irvine men’s water polo

Noah Robin, Long Beach State men’s volleyball

Reanna Rudd, North Dakota State softball

Jayden Ruth, University of San Diego men’s swimming and diving

Grace Uribe, Texas A&M softball

Jake Vogel, UCLA baseball

LAGUNA BEACH

Toby Bumgardner, Cal Baptist University men’s water polo

Caden Capobianco, Navy men’s water polo

Aidan Booth, Claremont McKenna baseball

Peri Brennan, UCLA women’s beach volleyball

Hallie Carballo, USC women’s beach volleyball

Kendall Fraser, Colorado College women’s volleyball

Cambria Hall, Arizona State women’s beach volleyball

Aidan Kidd, New Jersey Institute of Technology baseball

Piper Naess, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo women’s beach volleyball

Gabriella Pachl, UC San Diego women’s tennis

Haley Parness, Chapman University women’s water polo

Soren Patchell, UC Irvine women’s volleyball

Blake Pivaroff, Arizona State baseball

Andrew Reavis, UC Santa Barbara men’s volleyball

Jayd Sprague, University of San Francisco women’s soccer

Reilyn Turner, UCLA women’s soccer

Morgan Van Alphen, UCLA women’s water polo

MARINA

Stuart Holton, University of Maryland Baltimore County men’s swimming

Caden Kendle, UC Irvine baseball

Rocco Peppi, Long Beach State baseball

Helen McMullin, Cal Poly Pomona women’s volleyball

NEWPORT HARBOR

Emily Cantu, UC Santa Barbara women’s water polo

Aidan Elbettar, UCLA men’s track and field

Aidan Goltz, Bryant University men’s lacrosse

Blake Jackson, USC men’s water polo

Tommy Kennedy, Cal men’s water polo

Makoto Kenney, UCLA men’s water polo

Ike Love, Stanford men’s water polo

Nicole Laz, University of Houston women’s soccer

Skylynn Rodriguez, Long Beach State women’s soccer

Ashley Salem, UC Davis women’s water polo

Reed Stemler, USC men’s water polo

Carly Yasko, Columbia University women’s swimming

PACIFICA CHRISTIAN ORANGE COUNTY

Judah Brown, St. Mary’s College men’s basketball

Dimitri Kallins, University of Pennsylvania men’s rowing

Brooklyn Motske, Vanguard women’s soccer

SAGE HILL

Jennifer Cai, Northwestern women’s golf

Alana Karro, Southern Methodist University women’s soccer

Ashley Park, Texas women’s golf

Staff writer Matt Szabo contributed to this report.

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Updates:
11:45 PM, Nov. 13, 2019: This article was updated with with a comment from Newport Harbor water polo player Blake Jackson.

This article was originally published on Nov. 13 at 10:08 p.m.

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