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Sports Reporter

It’s been seven days into 2019 – and I’m already sensing culture changes for three girls basketball programs.

From Santa Maria’s north side to Old Town Orcutt, these were programs that once endured three or five-win seasons. But now – one team has stormed through their first five Ocean League games, one has matched its win total from last year and the final one has shattered the school record for most wins in a single season on the hardwood.

Here’s a closer look at some vastly changing programs with the basketball in tow:

Pioneer Valley

Last year: 3-22 overall, 0-14 in the PAC-8 League

This year: 11-7 overall, 5-0 in the Ocean League

In the last four seasons, Pioneer Valley girls basketball reached the plateau of 11 victories once. All other seasons saw the Panthers squeeze out just seven, five or three wins.

But this year’s Panthers team has already landed in the 11-win mark…with five of those victories Ocean League wins.

And they’ve engineered their turnaround in Mike Bloodworth’s second season as head coach.

How are the Panthers becoming an early player for the Ocean League title? Through 3-point shooting and three girls capable of scoring past double figures.

Both Ravynn Anielski and Chyanna Medina-Tell are averaging double figures according to Max Preps; the junior Anielski at 17.3 PPG and the freshman Medina-Tell at 12.1. Junior Aalyah Moreno has combined for 39 points in the last two wins for the Panthers: 22 against Visalia El Diamante and 17 versus Santa Maria.

And on Friday night, the Panthers take on Nipomo on the road in what could be the battle of Ocean League unbeatens.

Santa Maria

Last year: 7-14 overall, 1-13 in the Los Padres League

This year: 7-7 overall, 2-3 in the Ocean League

The Saints have won no more than seven games under head coach Jimmy Salutan.

Now, Santa Maria is a victory away from netting its most girls basketball wins under the fourth-year varsity head coach.

With the exception of the Santa Ynez (lost 63-39) and Nipomo (fell 56-33) contests, the Saints have kept things close against their opponents this winter – losing their other games by margins of 14 points or one.

There’s also this magic number involving the Saints: 50.

The Saints are 6-0 overall this season when they score past 50 points. Last year’s team reached that threshold four times.

Here’s what’s scary about future opponents for the Saints: Seven of their active players are non-seniors; meaning they’ll continue to have time to show growth on the basketball court. Two of their top scorers are sophomore Iceis McNutt and junior Sonia Slavikoa.

Lastly, the Saints are currently slotted at ninth overall in the Max Preps’ CIF Central Section Division II rankings behind fellow league opponents Nipomo and Pioneer Valley.

Orcutt Academy

Last year: 10-13 overall, 2-12 in the Los Padres League

This year: 13-5 overall, 2-2 in the Ocean League

The Spartans have had a steady rise under third-year head coach Tom Robb.

While last year’s team won 10 games, his first team managed a 5-17 mark in 2016-17. But this season, Robb has coached the Spartans into the school record books in their 10-year history – winning 13 regular season games.

Like the Saints, the Spartans go 11-deep on their roster and are heavy on underclassmen talent.

Juniors Vanessa Salazar and Mariah Lopez have already established themselves as captains. One of their leading scorers is freshman Giselle Calderon. Finally, the Spartans have won four games when they hold the opposition to 20 points or below – something that hasn’t happened since the 2011-12 season under-then head coach Danny Avila.

And despite the loss to Nipomo last Friday, Orcutt Academy still remained inside the top five (No. 4 overall) in the Max Preps CIF Central Section Division III rankings behind Tulare Union, Fresno Roosevelt and the division’s top ranked team Selma.

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Lorenzo J. Reyna covers sports for Lee Central Coast Newspapers, particularly in the Lompoc Valley. He can be reached at lreyna@leecentralcoastnews.com 

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