The Northern Santa Barbara County Athletic Round Table announced its male and female Athlete of the Year and Scholar Athletes of the Year at its annual banquet Wednesday night in Santa Maria.
Athlete of the Year winners hailed from Santa Maria and Righetti High Schools and the Scholar-Athlete recipients either maintained a 4.6 grade point average at Santa Ynez or earned 16 varsity letters at Lompoc High.
Blake Truhitte of Santa Maria took male Athlete of the Year honors while Zane Sheckherd of Righetti took home the top female honor at the Elks Lodge in an event that honored the top area athletes of this past sports season and awarded the top scholar athletes.
Dustin Gregg of Santa Ynez won the male Scholar Athlete of the Year award while Danielle Morgan of Lompoc was named the female Scholar Athlete of the Year.
Truhitte starred in three different sports on South Broadway in Santa Maria; football, basketball and baseball.
But this season was, arguably, his breakout year — guiding the Saints football team to the CIF Southern Section Division 12 title game and leading SMHS basketball to a deep playoff run on the basketball court, falling in the semifinal round of the Division 5AAA postseason.
“I’m truly honored to be selected,” Truhitte said. “I’ve worked hard all my life. My parents have also worked hard for me. I just feel honored to be recognized. It’s been a great year. I’ll be able to look back on this for the rest of my life.”
Truhitte won’t travel far for college. He plans to attend Hancock College this coming fall and is currently considering continuing his football career.
Sheckherd dominated in volleyball and basketball at RHS. But it was on the basketball court where Sheckherd helped turn the Warriors into a perennial CIF-SS title game and state playoff contender — emerging as a top sharp-shooting option for Warriors head coach Desiree Hitch.
And Sheckherd won the award on a night when she shared the stage with a former RHS standout who was inducted into the NSBCART Hall of Fame; Kristina Santiago Bennett.
“It feels amazing and I feel blessed to have received it (the female Athlete of the Year award),” Sheckerd said.
The future Sonoma State basketball student-athlete admitted she thought her chances of winning the award would be slim.
“I honestly thought it would go someplace else knowing that’s my luck with everything. I was in shock, but every happy,” Sheckherd said.
The night began with thunderous applause for the Hall of Fame inductees, as Santiago Bennett was honored along with current Hancock College women’s basketball head coach Cary Nerelli and the late Joni Gray — who was the main architect behind creating the Round Table to honor top area athletes.
Santiago Bennett, who is now the director of basketball operations at Cal Poly, was inducted by her former high school head coach Harold Oliveira — who once had to game plan against Nerelli’s Morro Bay teams.
Santiago Bennett called her induction an honor, saying “I was surprised. I used to love going to the Round Table in high school.”
The former Mustang star added she was equally honored to be inducted with Nerelli and Gray, calling it “such an honor. I didn’t think it was possible to be on the same level as Cary. He’s a phenomenal person.”
Nerelli was inducted by AHC athletic director Kim Ensing. Nerelli shared to the crowd how coaching up his nephew at the young age of 15 parlayed into his start with coaching.
“I went to my nephew’s Little League game. I’m standing on the sidelines and I noticed that every time the pitcher threw the ball, he threw an uppercut. When he got his second strikeout, I called him to the side and told him ‘Just keep your hands up a little bit, watch the ball hit the bat,’ something like that. But then he got up to bat two more times (that game) and hit two home runs,” Nerelli shared, which drew some laughs. “And the smile on his face got me into coaching. He made me feel warm that day and now when I work with kids, that’s how I feel.”
Emcee Steve Lavagnino had the honor of inducting his longtime friend Gray into the Hall of Fame, sharing stories on how Gray was a cheerleader at heart and an ardent supporter of area athletes. Gray’s daughter and husband accepted the Hall of Fame induction on her behalf.
There was also something brand new at this year’s banquet that Lavagnino unveiled; The first-ever Joni Gray 'Heart and Soul' Scholarship award. Casey Blout of Lompoc High won this year’s award. Blout overcame the loss of his father five years ago to star on the soccer field for the Braves while maintaining a 4.5 GPA.
“This is a real honor,” said Blout, who will soon attend UCLA.
He wasn’t the only winner from LHS. Morgan — who competed in girls golf, basketball, track and field and swimming during her time at LHS — earned the female Scholar Athlete award.
“It’s so awesome, being able to be a part of such an amazing atmosphere with fellow student-athletes and coming together to honor all of us — it’s so awesome,” said Morgan, who will now attend Gonzaga University and enter its Pre-Law program.
Gregg, the male scholar athlete winner, is currently leading the Pirates baseball team into the playoffs. Gregg additionally dominated at quarterback for the Pirate football team and plans to attend Point Loma Nazarene University this fall.