Pioneer Valley's cross country teams lost some of their best runners from last year but, coach Steven Youngblood said, the ol' cupboard isn't exactly bare.
For starters, "Andrea Pasillas was our No. 1 girls runner last year and she's back," Youngblood said. Pasillas is a senior.
Besides, "Sophia Tovar was hurt last year, she's healthy now and she's been doing great," Youngblood said. "She looks to be our No. 1 runner on the girls team."
Pioneer Valley's coach said junior Sergio Jaracuaro is the boys team's No. 1 runner at this point. The Panthers' No. 1 runner from last year graduated.
Still, "We're looking to move up a spot in the PAC 8 League standings," Youngblood said.
"Both the boys and the girls were sixth last year. If we can move up to fourth (and qualify automatically for the CIF Southern Section divisional preliminaries), that would be great. But I'll be happy if (both our teams) finish fifth."
Youngblood spoke as his squads, along with the rest of Pioneer Valley's fall sports teams, were gearing up for their respective 2017 campaigns.
"The boys lost three seniors, including their No. 1 runner, and the girls lost a lot," Youngblood acknowledged.
However, "Our roster is as big as it was last year, and we're going to grow," said Youngblood. The former Pioneer Valley boys cross country and distance anchor is entering his second year as the boys and girls head cross country coach at his alma mater.
Tovar said she has recovered from the achilles injury that plagued her last year.
"I'm showing that I'm over my injury," the senior said.
Tovar didn't come out for cross country until her junior year. "When I first started out, I hated distance running," she said. "Now, I like distance running a lot." Tovar ran the 1,600 and 3,200 meters in track last year.
Jaracuaro runs the 1,600 in track. He said he doesn't run cross country just to get in shape for track.
"I really like cross country," he said. "I like the variety."
Pasillas is a hurdler in track but, "I love cross country," she said. "I like the nature, the family feeling."
Letarian Brandon is a returning senior in the Pioneer Valley boys program. He is another one whose track events contrast sharply with cross country. Brandon is a sprinter in track.
"I agree with what (Pasillas said) about cross country, but I definitely prefer track," Brandon said. "It's what I'm better at."
At press time Youngblood said that, along with Jaracuaro, returnees Zac Castro and Kevin Gonzalez have likely locked down varsity spots. "The other four spots are wide open," he said.
Youngblood said Pasillas and the Tovar twins, Sophia and Angelique, will likely form the core of his girls varsity. The rest of the team's spots, he said, are open.
"A lot of the girls are new," Youngblood said.
Ross Rivera returns for his second year as Youngblood's assistant coach. Both teams will debut Sept. 2 at the Big Ditch Invitational in Arroyo Grande.
Going against PAC 8 League teams who have extensive club experience, the Panthers have struggled.
This year, "The girls really want to compete," said first-year coach Rick Faulk, who has moved over from the Pioneer Valley golf program to coach the boys and girls tennis squads.
"They put in a lot of work during the summer. They're excited for the (upcoming) season."
Faulk has a load of varsity returners. He said senior Erica Arredondo and junior Melanie Naraval are his top two singles players.
Most of the returnees are doubles players. They include seniors Czarlyn Camba, Arianna Scannani and Jaezel Garcellano and junior Sarah Nuno.
Faulk said junior Elizabeth Hernandez will likely be his No. 3 singles player. Hernandez is up from the junior varsity. Senior Clarieliesa Ocampo is another returner.
Pioneer Valley will host Santa Maria Aug. 29 at 3:30 p.m. to begin its 2017 season.
Former Pioneer Valley volleyball standout Nikki Doyle is heading into her fourth season as the Panthers' coach.
She has several returning players but only one senior, defensive specialist Brenda Linares.
Doyle has several returning juniors, including middle blocker Morgan Krause, libero Sasha Brafman and outside hitter Hannah LaCaste.
"I think we may be a little ahead of where we were at this time last year," Doyle said at press time. "We have a good core group coming back, so it's making the newbies push a little harder.
"We had a summer program. We got in the weight room."
The Panthers will open their season at Santa Ynez at 6 p.m. Thursday.
Boys water polo
Coach Paul DePaolo said the Panthers, who have won some pre-season games in recent years but struggled against the more established PAC 8 League programs, are in a re-building year.
"We have a lot of freshmen," said DePaulo. "We have a lot of new kids, and a lot of new interest in the program.
"We have three varsity returners from last year, Marcos Salazar, Larry Daniels and Alejandro Lara."
DePaolo said, "We're going to work on a lot of basics. This is the first time that there will be no seniors on the team."
Salazar and Daniels are both sophomore wing players. DePaolo said the Pioneer Valley coaching staff is training Lara, a junior, to be a goalkeeper.
DePaolo welcomed the addition of two new assistant coaches, Ryan Hill and Dennis Harpster.
"Ryan has coached at Cabrillo and Nipomo, and Dennis played water polo in the Bay Area, so they both have a lot of experience," said DePaolo.
The Pirates will start their season Aug. 30 with a 3:30 p.m. game at Carpinteria-based Cate.
Marcos Guzman will start his first season as the team's coach when the Panthers play Lompoc at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday at La Purisima.
Pioneer Valley's top two players from last year graduated. Senior Koryn Nodal is among four varsity returners.
"Koryn was our No. 3 player last year. She will be our No. 1 player this year," said Guzman. "The top two players from last year graduated."
The other varsity returnees are seniors Evelyn Cuevas and Brisa Bacalot, and sophomore Crystal Mendoza.
"We're going to have to figure out who will fill our other two varsity spots," said Guzman.