Four of Palm Desert’s top student-athletes, all of whom still have their senior seasons to shine in this school year, signed their national letters of intent Wednesday afternoon in front of friends, family, teammates and an overflowing Aztec trophy case. All four have high hopes and chances to add to that case soon.
Two of them – water polo star Sarah Nichols and top wrestler Anthony Mantanona – helped secure team CIF titles for their respective squads a year ago and look to repeat this winter, while baseball teammates Jeremiah Estrada and Tony Boetto have their eyes set on similar hardware this spring.
Estrada, who’s one of the premiere pitching prospects in the country, has decided for quite some time that UCLA would be his future home. He verbally accepted a scholarship offer to become a Bruin as a sophomore while still at La Quinta, but the fact that he’s stuck with the team is a testament to the great relationship he’s developed with the program in the last two years, while so many future college student-athletes flip-flop on their commitments all the time.
“I’ve always loved this school. I just have always felt something at UCLA that felt like home to me,” he said. “You get see what real people they are without baseball when I went on my visit and had dinner with the coach. On the field, they’re all about baseball, but off the field, everyone is really sociable with great character.”
On the other end of the spectrum, Mantanona’s ride to Oklahoma has been much rockier. Before committing just a little over a week ago, the senior, who won both a CIF team and individual title as a junior, had his scholarship offer from Iowa State surprisingly taken out from under him after his visit to the University of Oklahoma.
With the stress, confusion and pressure of the college process, which Mantanona said hampered him at times last year, out of the way, he said he’s ready to pursue the final notch on his high school wish list: a state individual title.
“Ever since I was a kid, you dream about the chance to sign yourself away to a great university,” he said. “It just means now I’ve got to work harder, ’cause I’ve got a brand to support. I’m not only representing Palm Desert, but Oklahoma, and I’ve got to build my worth, but I’m excited and honored to be a part of this.”
After a team CIF title last winter in the pool, Nichols’ water polo career continued to look promising after advancing far into the cuts for the USA Youth National Team over the summer. After all that added attention and conversation with college coaches in the Olympic team pipeline, she picked UC Irvine.
“I realized I wanted to hopefully go there about a year ago. They have a great business school, which is what I want to major in, and their coach is phenomenal,” she said. “Dan Klatt is really cool, I really like him, and he’s an assistant on the Olympic women’s team that just won gold.”
Boetto, who helped take the Aztecs to the CIF-SS semifinals last spring along with Estrada, said his junior year, where he batted .206 with 13 hits in 29 games and recorded a .982 fielding average, helped him expand into the realm of garnering college attention.
The first team that reached out to him, though, was Santa Clara, and that’s where he continued to stay loyal, up until signing his official paper work on Tuesday.
“It was a big decision for me but they were so genuine with everything,” he said. “There was nothing about Santa Clara that I didn’t like. Everything they do there is top notch, and everyone I met was just the best.”