Out with the old — in with the new.
And so it was that, in the fall of 2018, the Santa Ynez High School Pirates said goodbye to the old Los Padres League and hello to the newly re-formed Channel League.
The move to the new league is the No. 1 local sports story of 2018, voted to the top spot by the sports staff at the Santa Ynez Valley News.
When the large Santa Maria and San Luis Obispo County high schools abandoned the California Interscholastic Federation’s Southern Section (CIF-SS) for the greener pastures of the CIF Central Section (CIF-CS), it marked the end of the Los Padres League.
Santa Ynez, along with Southern Section holdovers Lompoc and Cabrillo, had to find a new home.
They found it in the re-formed Channel League, joining league holdovers Santa Barbara, Dos Pueblos and San Marcos High Schools.
It also meant the Pirates faced the challenge of being the smallest school in their new league.
“We had favorable size against some of the schools to the north – schools like Templeton, Morro Bay, Nipomo and Orcutt Academy,” said Santa Ynez High School Athletic Director Cris Avery just before the school year began. “We have about 925 students at Santa Ynez High and some of the schools in our new league are pushing 2,000 students or more. Being the smallest school in the Channel league is definitely our biggest challenge. It may take us a couple years to adjust.”
The new alignment has some benefits.
Gone are the long drives for league games to places like Morro Bay and Templeton, which will save time and fuel, although those same schools can show up on the preseason schedules.
“We’ll have a shorter commute down to the Santa Barbara area for league games. That means our student-athletes will spend less time out of class,” said Avery. “But we had great relationships with those (old LPL) schools and we’d like to keep those relationships going so we’ll continue playing many of them in the preseason.”
Other significant benefits come at playoff time.
“We’ll be in a better position to compete in the playoffs because of the quality of opponents it took for us to beat just to get there,” said Avery. “But just getting to the playoffs will be a bigger challenge since every school in the league is bigger than Santa Ynez. We’re not going to make any excuses — we’re going to get there — but there will be a lot of bumps in the road along the way.”
Teams from two of the six fall sports made the Southern Section playoffs after their inaugural Channel League seasons — football and boys water polo — with a third, girls volleyball, getting oh-so-close.
Santa Ynez football (6-4 overall) finished in a three-way tie for second place in the league, matching Santa Barbara and Dos Pueblos with its 3-2 league record to earn a date with top ranked Covina Northview in the CIF-SS Division 7 playoffs (a 43-7 loss), after being bypassed the previous three years despite going 8-2, 8-2 and 7-3, respectively, during those seasons.
Santa Ynez boys water polo (16-13, 5-4 CL) also had a successful debut in the new league, finishing third in the regular season-ending Channel League tournament and, through of combination of regular season and league tournament points, fourth overall to earn a spot in the Division 5 playoffs, where they lost 17-12 to Glendale Hoover in the first round.
“It was a challenge for sure,” said head coach Jake Kalkowski after the league tournament. “Going from the LPL to here, every game felt like a CIF game for us. We needed our best on every single one in order to do well.”
The girls volleyball team came ever-so-close to making the Southern Section playoffs.
Santa Ynez finished its first Channel League girls volleyball season with a 5-5 league record which tied for third place with Santa Barbara.
That forced a playoff play-in game against Santa Barbara. When Santa Barbara won that match, it ended the Pirates’ playoff hopes.
The Pirates faced one other challenge before the new school year even began.
A massive school renovation project basically shut down the high school campus all summer, affecting most of the school’s athletic teams as work progressed through the summer and into the early part of the school year.
“The construction project had a major impact on our summer programs. Altogether, 15 of our 17 sports programs were affected,” said Avery. “Both of our gyms were shut down and we had limited use of our stadium.”
The project included the installation of new water lines, gas lines, roofs and air conditioning.
“There were a lot of trenches that were 10 feet deep so we had to shut down the campus not only so the work could get done but also for safety reasons,” said Avery just before school opened in August. “But it’s a good challenge because we’re doing amazing things with the infrastructure. The short term pain we’re experiencing will benefit the entire school in the long term.”