To maintain a high level of play, a basketball team must constantly bring in new talent to improve the program. The UCSB women’s basketball team is no different.

To better the team for next year, the Gauchos have recruited one of its best classes in recent memory. Santa Barbara has already signed five players to national letters of intent, including four All-State performers. Four signees – Mia Fisher, Hillary Jager, Kristen Mann and Karena Bonds – are from California while the fifth, Brandy Richardson, is from Hawai’i.

“This is an excellent class of recruits,” UCSB Head Coach Mark French said before Santa Barbara had signed Bonds, in a press release Nov. 15. “It is one of the best ever in the history of our program. I assume this group will rank very high nationally as three of the four were very highly pursued by West Coast schools. My coaching staff did an excellent job and deserves a lot of praise.”

At the top of the class is Fisher, from Amador Valley High School in Pleasanton, Calif. The shooting guard averaged 27 points a game as a junior, and once poured in 49 points in one game. After her senior year, Fisher was named the Division II Player of the Year and first team All-State in California.

“In order to remain one of the top programs in the nation, we felt that we needed to upgrade our speed and quickness, and [Fisher] helps us with that tremendously,” French said.

Two other future Gauchos also made first team All-State in California. The first, Mann, is from Foothill High School in Santa Ana, where she averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds a game as a junior. The second is UCSB’s most recent signee Bonds. The 5’6″ point guard poured in 23.3 points, grabbed 8.0 rebounds and dished off 2.1 assists per game as a senior at Morro Bay High School. Bonds was also named Cal-Hi sports Player of the Year for Division IV.

Not receiving as much fanfare was the 6’2″ power forward, Jager. Although she averaged 16.7 points and 6.7 rebounds a game her junior season at Vista High School in San Diego, Jager was not as highly recruited as UCSB’s other California signees.

“Hillary didn’t play much club basketball. … We consider her the secret in the group,” French said in the press release. “She is a very physical power forward, with an emphasis on power.”

The Gauchos’ out-of-state recruit, Brandy Richardson, is the reigning Hawai’i State Player of the Year. The combination guard averaged 21 points and 16 rebounds a game for Kalaheo High School. Richardson has twice been named Hawai’i’s State Player of the Year twice by the Hawai’i Star-Bulletin.

In addition to the incoming recruits, UCSB is also expecting the return of freshman point guard Syretta Coleman, the Gauchos’ most heralded recruit last season. Coleman played in only two games last season before red-shirting because of a bacterial infection in her stomach.

Santa Barbara also returns three starters and three bench players from last year’s Big West Championship team, and UCSB is expected to be deeper than last season’s squad.

– Matt Heitner