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New section, new league, new challenge.

And, for the most part, a new team. Fifth-year Santa Maria boys basketball coach Dave Yamate seems to welcome all of that as his team embarks on its inaugural CIF Central Section campaign.

"Five of the eight teams in my tournament (that Santa Maria is hosting in December) are in the Central Section, so we might see some of those teams down the road," in the playoffs, Yamate said.

Playoffs figure to be a certainty for the Saints, who are in the Central Section's Division II. Unlike the Southern Section, any Central Section team that does not win a league championship can petition to get into the post-season. There are 17 Division II boys teams, and 16 divisional playoff spots available..

"Also, since we're in the Central Section now, more teams might want to come out here," Yamate said.

"In all my years of coaching (seven years at Morro Bay before coming to Santa Maria), I've always been in the Southern Section. This is something new, but I'm embracing the challenge."

The Saints are facing a particularly stiff challenge after losing their top three scorers, including most of their other players, from the 2017-18 team that lost in overtime in the Southern Section Division 5AAA semifinals.

"We did lose a lot of guys from that team that made a semifinal run, but I'm counting a lot on the three players we have back from that team," said Yamate.

Senior guard Thomas Segel is one of the three returnees. He led the Santa Maria scoring with 18 points as the Saints won 64-29 at Cambria-based Coast Union in their 2018-19 season opener.

"Thomas is a three-year varsity player, and we're counting on him for a lot of leadership," said Yamate.

Segel averaged 19.5 points per game and 4 three-pointers during Morro Bay’s Holiday Invitational Tournament last week.

Two more guards (as usual, the Saints' roster is top-heavy with guards), Sylvester Espinoza and Genaro Morales, return from the 2017-18 squad.

Varsity newcomer Jonathan Garcilazo popped in four 3-pointers in the Saints' win at Coast Union.

"He was the top scorer on our JV team last year," said Yamate. Garcilazo is a junior.

Another varsity newcomer, Rolando Pina, is one of the two players the Saints have who is not listed as a guard.

"Rolando is a 6-foot-6 sophomore, and he had 11 rebounds," in the win at Coast Union, said Yamate.

Yamate's teams customarily shoot, and make, a lot of 3-point shots. The Saints lost their top 3-point shooter, Joey Nevarez, who was the team's leading scorer in 2017-18, to graduation. Nonetheless, Santa Maria made 10 treys at Coast Union.

"Three-point shooting is one of the things we really drill the kids on, and we'll be counting on the '3' a lot again," said Yamate. "Even the younger kids, we really work on 3-point shooting with them."

Segel was fourth on the team in made 3-point shots last season and won Northern Santa Barbara County Athletic Round Table Athlete of the Week honors on Monday for his performance at the HIT in Morro Bay.

Yamate said the Saints will play typical Saints basketball. They will press on defense up and down the floor. They will shoot a lot of 3-point shots. They will play (very) up-tempo on offense. And all 10 players will be in the rotation.

The Saints subbed a lot during the course of game action last year, and this season figures to be no different.

"I'm just taking things as they come," said Yamate.

"We have 11 sophomores on the junior varsity, and I'm looking forward to grooming those young guys."

The Saints will join former fellow Los Padres League members Morro Bay, Nipomo, Templeton and Orcutt Academy, along with former PAC 8 League member Atascadero, in the inaugural, six-team Ocean League.

"It's going to be different, having six league teams instead of eight," said Yamate.

However, "That will mean more pre-season games and more time to get ready for league play."

Santa Maria will host Templeton Jan. 4 at 6:45 p.m. in its Ocean League opener. The Saints host Paso Robles Friday night at 6:30 p.m. in a non-league game.

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Sports Reporter