Cuesta College

Zabinsky among Cougars who sign with four-year schools

Cuesta College has built somewhat of a reputation for having students happen upon campus, try out new sports and have remarkable careers almost by surprise.

Not so with Miriam Zabinsky.

Cougars women’s basketball coach Ron Barba put on the full-court press to bring Zabinsky from San Diego after he found out she was interested in visiting San Luis Obispo.

Barba believed she could elevate the program to new heights, and Zabinsky did not disappoint after committing two years ago.

“When I finally received the phone call,” Barba said, “it was like, ‘Yay! We got her,’ and I think that was the start to something really special for the women’s basketball program. The last two years, we’ve gone 41-19. We finished second place both years.

“She has helped lay the groundwork for Cuesta College to be very athletic and competitive.”

Zabinsky was one of six Cougars athletes celebrating their scholarship agreements with four-year schools at a news conference on campus Thursday.

The sophomore guard signed with NCAA Division II Azusa Pacific. Men’s swimmer Georan Meendering signed with Pacific, women’s track and field heptathlete Riley Cooks with Long Beach State, women’s distance runner Lauren Silacci with Division II Metro State in Denver, men’s basketball center Mohamed Ali Ben Ammar with Division II Winona (Min.) State and softball pitcher Jeananne Ruck with NAIA Oklahoma City University.

Also an all-conference volleyball standout, Cooks only went out for track because it sounded better than a part-time job. Meendering was an all-state water polo player who turned out to be a much better swimmer once he concentrated on it.

Silacci graduated from Paso Robles High in 2006, and joined the Cuesta cross country team in 2012 with a half-marathon to her name in the meantime.

A former prep softball superstar, Ruck’s first attempt at a college career fizzled, and she spent 18 years away from the sport before being coaxed back to the field by Cougars head coach Sheila McQuire.

Cuesta helped all of the above find new or rediscover old callings, and the pairings led to something special.

While Zabinsky was a sought-after recruit, she also owes much of her development to her time in San Luis Obispo. In four seasons with Cuesta, Barba has established a knack for helping incoming players outperform the statistics they had in high school.

“He told me that when he was recruiting me,” Zabinsky said, “and I was like, OK. I felt like I scored a lot in high school.”

She scored even more for the Cougars.

Zabinsky came to Cuesta averaging 16.1 points and 4.7 rebounds per game in her two-year varsity career at Valley Center High in Northern San Diego County.

This past season, the two-time all-Western State Conference first-team selection averaged 18.5 points and ended with 838 points in her Cougars career, a program record.

Her two-year, 14-point scoring average is also a Cuesta record, and Zabinsky’s 556 points in 2013-14 and her scoring average as a sophomore are each third all-time at Cuesta. Her 76 steals last season rank third.

Zabinsky led the team in scoring, rebounds (6.9 per game), assists (3.1 per game), steals and field-goal and free-throw percentage.

It all led to her being recruited once more.

She was choosing between NAIA Fresno Pacific and Division II CSU Monterey Bay, which is coached by former Cal Poly assistant Kerri Nakamoto, when Azusa Pacific offered a scholarship that would land her closer to home.

She’s also choosing a quality program.

After moving up to Division II from NAIA in 2001, Asuza Pacific has maintained a secondary affiliation with the National Christian College Athletic Association, and the women’s basketball program finished third in the national NCCAA tournament this past season.

Zabinsky will be hard for Cuesta to replace, but she believes Barba when he says she helped him build a proper foundation.

“They have a good program built now,” Zabinksy said. “Over the past few years, coach Barba’s done a great job. It sounds like they’ve gotten some really good recruits in for next year. I think they’ll keep moving up and get better and better. They’re a team to look out for next year.”