SAMOHI — For the second consecutive year, Santa Monica High School’s girls’ basketball team has produced at least two players who have made verbal commitments to NCAA Division 1 schools, with a third still contemplating her options.
Senior forward Bianka Balthazar has decided to attend St. Mary’s College in the Bay Area. Senior point guard Kristina “KJ” Johnson has decided to play for University of the Pacific. The decisions are non-binding, but both players said they expect to honor their commitments come national signing day.
A third player, senior guard Moriah Faulk, hasn’t made a commitment yet, but Samohi Head Coach Marty Verdugo said she is choosing from a group that includes schools from the Pac-10 and Boston College. Notably, UCLA has shown interest. If she chooses to play in Westwood, Faulk would be reunited with Thea Lemberger, who helped lead the Vikings to the California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section Division 1A championship last season. It was the first in the sport in school history.
Samohi’s Lilly Feder was the second player from last season’s team who committed to a Division 1 school — UC San Diego.
“I couldn’t be more proud,” Verdugo said. “I had a feeling that this is going to be a special group of girls here.”
Johnson decided on the University of the Pacific after considering offers from Cal State Fullerton and the University of Texas, El Paso. She said that staying in California was a factor as was the prospect of early playing time.
“This decision takes stress off,” said the senior who will be called on to lead the Vikings on the floor this season. “Now I can just focus on this last year of high school.”
For Balthazar, the choice had as much to do with character as it did basketball.
“I just felt that they were very genuine,” Balthazar said. “I think I’ll have good relationships with the coaches.”
The increase in attention from college recruiters has followed the rise of the Samohi basketball program since Verdugo took over five seasons ago. While the attention is nice, Verdugo said it could be a disadvantage at times. He said that some players may be turned off by playing at Samohi because court time on such a competitive team may be scarce. He brushed that off, saying with a chuckle, “I don’t want those kind of players any way.”
But, overall, he feels that these commitments are a testament to what the program has developed during his tenure.
“In the long run, I think it will attract quality players,” Verdugo said. “It does put our program on the map.”