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This is the first Zo’s Gold Mines for 2019.

Hopefully, everyone enjoyed their holidays plus enjoyed some of the key sports moments of 2018 — from the state basketball runs to local superstars continuing their rise in their profession.

But 2018 is now a memory.

Which teams or athletes could make a huge impact in the new year?

Here are some questions I have for 2019:

Who could win the Channel League this winter in the Lompoc Valley?

It’s been a rough start for most of the Lompoc Valley sports teams in the new league. Only Lompoc High football went through the league season unbeaten and that was during the fall sports campaign.

Now, two notable streaks from Cabrillo in boys and girls basketball could be in jeopardy: Their seasons of consecutive league titles. On the soccer field, all four Lompoc Valley teams have had their early struggles.

But one team that could emerge as the Channel League champion: The new Lompoc High girls wrestling team, currently 3-0 in league duals.

Which basketball teams could end up in Fresno’s Selland Arena for the CIF Central Section championships come March?

On the boys side, St. Joseph has been off and running with four wins over opponents from the San Joaquin Valley including traditional Fresno round ball kingpin Edison — an Edison team that’s in Division I of the Central Section, the Knights’ division.

With three players (Angel Ortiz, Kainoa Keuma and Steven Vasquez) all averaging double figures in scoring, plus a defense that surrendered an average of 55 points per game during their 12-2 start, the Knights are proving they’re capable of becoming the biggest threat to the San Joaquin Valley gauntlet of powers. One dream contest for Selland (where the section hosts the basketball championships): St. Joseph against state behemoth Clovis West.

For girls basketball, Righetti faces a tough challenge in DI with unbeaten San Luis Obispo and state runner-up Clovis West. But past Warrior teams have gotten hot once league and playoffs start.

Orcutt Academy, though, I would keep a very close eye on. The Spartans are right behind Tulare Union and Selma for the best record in D3. This year’s team is already shaping up to be the best one under head coach Tom Robb.

How will the track and field teams fare in the Channel League?

Lompoc took home the last Los Padres League title. Cabrillo and Santa Ynez have made its runs for league supremacy in the past.

It’ll be tough to surpass the Santa Barbara region of runners and throwers. But I would anticipate that the newcomers in the C.L. should still handle their own against the southern slate from S.B. County.

Lompoc is expected to bring back a deep group of male throwers including Jacob Nunez, Jovanny Lucatero and Juan DeLuna. Cabrillo has Jackson Anderson and Ty Hernandez hopping over hurdles once again and a deep pool of pole vaulters returning. The Pirates usually reload with long distance runners even with Emily Donahue having graduated and top thrower Sarah Perkins also off to college.

I won’t be shocked if the three newcomer programs in the C.L still produce numerous league champions this spring.

Could there be another state men’s basketball run for Hancock College?

Here’s what’s scary for opponents playing against AHC: Last year’s state team relied heavily on the scoring and facilitating of point guard Shane Carney — all 5-foot-9 of him.

But this year, AHC has up to four guys who can score past double digits.

And the Bulldogs have already won the L.A Southwest Tournament — beating teams by an average margin of 17 points.

Can Toa Taua avoid the sophomore jinx?

The Lompoc High grad proved he was ready for the Mountain West — and the Football Bowl Subdivision in general after a breakout freshman year.

As long as Taua stays healthy and continues to build on his speed, you could be looking at the MWC Most Valuable Player for 2019.

How will Caleb Thomas fare in the Big Easy?

New Orleans is certainly nothing like Santa Maria. But with Thomas’ size, physical attributes and his high-energy motor, he should provide a jolt of energy for the Tulane defensive line.

We’ll be looking forward to seeing the day he wears the “Turnover Beads” on the sidelines.

Lastly, who will be the next major recruit in this region?

From the Taua’s, to Lavon Coleman, to Fenton Will all the way to Caleb Thomas recently, we’ve seen our share of high-profile football prospects who take part in National Signing Day.

The aforementioned Nunez has generated plenty of football recruiting buzz already as an offensive lineman — with San Jose State offering him early and Power Five programs taking early interest. His teammate Leondre Coleman will likely hear his phone buzz with collegiate coaches on the other line plenty of times this spring.

St. Joseph could also have Devin Guggia as one who could get on several recruiting boards after a breakout junior season. I’ll also throw in Patrick Durham of Cabrillo, who has put together two strong varsity seasons and will be a senior this fall.

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Lorenzo J. Reyna covers sports for Lee Central Coast Newspapers, particularly in the Lompoc Valley region. He can be reached at lreyna@leecentralcoastnews.com

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