New section, new league. And, for some Santa Maria High School fall sports teams, new coaches.
Dylan Takanishi is one of the new Santa Maria coaches. His re-building boys water polo squad, along with the other Santa Maria fall sports teams, are gearing up for the fall season after the Saints moved from the CIF Southern Section to the Central Section and from the Los Padres League to the Central Section's Ocean League.
Takanishi is familiar with Central Section water polo. He played for Reedley High School and coached at Dinuba High for a year before coming to the Central Coast. Reedley and Dinuba are both Central Section members.
"It's kind of nice for us to be going to the Central Section, because I'm familiar with all the teams," said Takanishi.
Santa Maria's boys and girls water polo teams are in the Central Section's Division 1.
Takanishi said he started out in the Santa Maria water polo program as a volunteer coach during summer workouts.
However, Jay Troeger, who coached the boys and girls squads last year, will coach strictly the girls team this year. In the Central Section, the boys and girls water polo seasons each take place in the fall. In the Southern Section, the boys season is in the fall and the girls season is in the winter.
"It looks like I'm the boys varsity coach," said Takanishi. He is listed as such on Santa Maria's boys water polo schedule.
The Saints made it to the divisional semifinals in 2016 but were then hit hard by graduation and did not make the post-season last year. Takanishi welcomed back just one varsity regular from 2017, senior hole set player Aidan Lange.
"We have a younger team this year, but we definitely have talent and potential," said Lange. "My main focus this year is helping the younger guys."
Takanishi said his starting goalie this year will be senior Matthew Clayton and his starting hole defender will be senior Bryan Montanez. Both of them played on the junior varsity last year.
"The competition for the other starting spots is open," said Takanishi. "I think we'll have a total of 20 guys for our varsity and junior varsity programs. I'm looking to have 10 on each roster.
"I really don't want a lot of subs. I want everyone to play a lot. Everyone on offense is going to move around and play in multiple spots."
Clayton and Montanez both think they can readily adjust to varsity water polo, and Clayton said he thinks he won't have much trouble adjusting to faster, harder shots from varsity opponents.
They're also both optimistic about their team's prospects.
"I feel we can do much more in the league this year," Montanez said. Nipomo, Morro Bay, St. Joseph and Pioneer Valley will join Santa Maria in the Ocean League.
"If we work as a team, I think we can accomplish anything," said Clayton.
As for Takanishi, "I'm a new coach, and I'm excited to get started," he said.
Santa Maria's season opener is set for 4 p.m. Tuesday against Paso Robles at Santa Maria's Karl Bell Aquatic Center.
Girls water polo
The Saints struggled last year, but Troeger welcomed back several regulars, including junior set player Madi Arguijo, drivers Vanessa Garcia (senior) and Daisy Ortega (junior), junior utility player Danika DeLauer and another key position player, Diana Gomez.
"The scoring was pretty balanced last year, although our top scorer last year did graduate," said Troeger. He said at press time that the competition for the goalie position is open.
"I've got a good group. Lots of enthusiasm. They're working hard," said Troeger.
The Saints will open at home at 5 p.m. Thursday against Paso Robles.
Veteran coach Jay Cheney has five returning varsity players. They are seniors Marlene Reyes, Maritza Reyes, Breanna Nunez and Anahy Torres, and sophomore Kailani Balderama.
Nunez and Marlene and Maritza Reyes are four-year varsity players. Torres is set for her third year of varsity golf.
Cheney says he has several team members that have just been introduced to golf, including junior Karen Montoy and incoming freshmen Norah Reyes and Daniella Martinez.
"These girls came to most of the summer practices and participated in the First Tee golf camps at Santa Maria Country Club," said Cheney. "They'll have a big head start on the season.
"We have the potential to be very competitive with the other Ocean League teams. The girls have set a goal to have the most successful season ever for SMHS girls golf."
Pioneer Valley, St. Joseph, Orcutt Academy, Nipomo and Morro Bay will join Santa Maria in the Ocean League.
The Saints have often struggled against more experienced programs, but their fortunes have been on the rise lately. At press time, some of the Saints' schedule was still in flux. Their first set competition is the Santa Ynez Tourney which will take place Aug. 27.
No Central Section division has been listed for the girls golf team.
Boys cross country
The 2017 Los Padres League champions bid a fond farewell to Cesar Ayuso, the 2017 individual league champ. Ayuso graduated.
"He's a great kid. He did everything for us for two years," said Brian Wallace, the Santa Maria's boys cross country coach who is also the school's athletic director. "He got a nice academic scholarship to UC Santa Barbara."
Everyone else from that 2017 league championship team is back as the Saints prepare to enter the Ocean League. The varsity returnees are seniors John Barajas, Dennis Tello and Noel Santiago, junior Jedrick Callado and sophomore Yair Torres.
With such a seasoned core coming back, "I'm excited about the season," said Wallace.
Santa Maria's cross country teams are scheduled to run in just seven meets this year. Santa Maria's teams will debut Sept. 5 at the Lompoc Invitational at River Park in Lompoc.
The Saints are in the Central Section's Division 2.
Girls cross country
Steven Youngblood, a former veteran Pioneer Valley cross country coach, has come across town this year to coach the Santa Maria girls.
Luz Genaro, the Saints' No. 1 runner from last year, is back. So are fellow seniors Daisy Cristobal, Raquel Ortiz and Griselda Gomez.
Wallace, who oversaw the Santa Maria program last year, said Youngblood's top runner this year figures to be junior Doris Nogales. Nogales ran her freshman year then took her sophomore year off.
"She's much faster than she was her freshman year, and she had a great session at (the camp at) Tahoe," said Wallace.
Santa Maria's girls are set to join the boys at the Lompoc Invitational. The Saints are in Division 3.
Veteran coach Julianne Dolan has a quartet of senior singles players, Karyme Calderon, Jackie Solano and Selina Perez, back from last year, plus another 2017 regular, singles player Jessica Gil.
"Karyme will probably be our No. 1 singles player," said Dolan.
"I think the move to a new league was good for a program like ours," said Dolan. "I think we can have a good season."
Dolan said her team's Tuesday match against Righetti will likely be a scrimmage. That means, the Saints will likely open Thursday with a 3:30 p.m. Thursday match against St. Joseph at the Minami Center.
The Saints, who are in Division 3, will again play their home matches against the Minami Center. Templeton, Nipomo, Pioneer Valley, Morro Bay and Mission Prep will join Snat Maria in the Ocean League.
Stella Guild is set to start her first season as Santa Maria's coach. She played collegiately at Pepperdine.
Two regulars from 2017, senior outside hitter Alex Tapia and senior libero Angie De La Cruz, return. Guild said the competition for the other starting spots is wide open.
"Absolutely," she said when she was asked if she was excited about the upcoming season.
"I love the enthusiasm. Love these girls," she said.
Orcutt Academy, Morro Bay, Pioneer Valley, Nipomo and St. Joseph will join Santa Maria in the Ocean League. The Saints will open at home at 5 p.m. Thursday against Coast Union.
Santa Maria is in Division 3.