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.
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.
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).
“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.”
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.
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.
“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.
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 High School Seniors Megan Peterson (Stanford), Kira Hoffman (UCI), and Maya Avital (Stanford) formally committed to their respective schools on National Letter of Intent signing day @CDMpride @pta_cdm @CDM_ATHLETICS @Stanfordh2opolo @UCIwwp #forverseaqueen pic.twitter.com/N0U3MX5nJ9— CDM Girls Water Polo (@cdmaquatics) November 14, 2019
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
Aidan Blair, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo men’s swimming
Malia Tufuga, Stanford women’s volleyball
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
Gannon Griffin, University of Puget Sound football
Troy Huber, Hardin-Simmons University baseball
Desiree Mendoza, UC Irvine women’s soccer
Congratulations to Abby Edwards(Central Michigan Soccer), Phoebe Minch (Westmont Volleyball), Sebastian Murillo(Long Beach St. Baseball) & Jake Brooks(UCLA Baseball) on signing day!! B4L!@DrMorganSmith @perryjameslusc @FVBaronBaseball @FVBaronFootball @HBUHSD@FVHSBsktBall pic.twitter.com/7Ng0Kv5nzD— FVHS Athletics (@FVHS_Athletics) November 13, 2019
Jake Brooks, UCLA baseball
Abby Edwards, Central Michigan women’s soccer
Phoebe Minch, Westmont College women’s volleyball
Sebastian Murillo, Long Beach State baseball
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
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
Congrats to Marina’s signees: Stuart Holton - Swim at UMBC, Rocco Peppi- Baseball at CSULB, Caden Kendle - Baseball at UC Irvine, Helen McMullin - Volleyball at Cal Poly Pomona. @JessieNicole218 @perryjameslusc @MarinaAquatics @MHSVikingNews @MHSBaseballHB pic.twitter.com/wkywKRMxKa— Michelle (@spencerteach) November 13, 2019
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
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
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.
Support our sports coverage by becoming a digital subscriber.