Former Empire prep hoops standouts lead Mendocino College


The most successful season ever for Mendocino College women’s basketball featured a decided Sonoma County flair.

Coached by Jody Steliga, a former Ukiah standout, Mendocino was among the Bay Valley Conference’s top teams. Leading the Eagles were all-conference selections Cara Watts, from Windsor High, and Haley Ryals, out of Santa Rosa High.

Mendocino won a school record 15 contests and capped the season with a pair of victories in the Bay Valley Conference tournament.

A strong shooting squad, Mendocino was second in the conference with 64 points a game and led in 3-point shooting. Also strong on defense, Mendocino led the conference in rebounds and blocked shots.

First-year guard Watts was a big addition for Mendocino. The All-Empire player out of Windsor led the Eagles with 16 points a game and pulled down nearly nine rebounds per contest.

“My goal was to come into Mendocino and contribute on and off the court as a well-rounded team player,” Watts said. “Earning first team all-conference was a cherry on top of an exciting, successful season.”

Getting her back for the coming season should make Mendocino tough again.

“Cara is an extremely coachable, goal-oriented player who sees beyond the practice, the game, and even Mendocino College to be her motivation and guide to her strong work ethic,” Steliga said.

Also earning all-conference honors was Ryals, from Santa Rosa High. Ryals blossomed as a basketball player during her two years at Mendocino.

Scoring 12 points a game, Ryals also averaged nearly 13 rebounds per contest — impressive double-double numbers. Showing her versatility, Ryals was third in the conference with four assists per game and led with nearly two blocks each night.

“I was very pleased with how well we finished this season and our improvement from my freshman season. As much as we worked hard we also had fun,” Ryals said.

Playing at a four-year college could be next for Ryals.

“Haley was a valuable contributor both years at Mendocino,” Steliga said. “She has the potential to move on to the next level for academics and basketball.”

The postseason honors included Bay Valley Conference Coach of the Year recognition for Steliga.

Completing her fifth season as Mendocino coach, Steliga earlier played for the Eagles. She was twice all-conference after a standout career at Ukiah.

Steliga finished with two stellar seasons for Concordia University, an NAIA program, where she was team captain and an academic All-American her senior year.