Righetti's girls water polo team made a bit of history last year.
The Warriors beat Morro Bay 10-4 at Pioneer Valley High School in the CIF Central Section Division 2 championship game, becoming the first Righetti girls water polo squad to win a CIF sectional divisional championship.
"The bulk of the team graduated," said Righetti girls coach Chris Yee. Among the graduated was goalkeeper Madi Cutliff who stopped just about everything Morro Bay tried after the Pirates took an early 3-1 lead.
Now, along with the other area fall sports teams, Yee's 2022 squad is prepping for a new season. "We're underdogs now, and it's refreshing," Yee said. "We had a great summer. The girls underwent tough training and bonded."
Yee is banking heavily on four seniors, whom he said will form part of the core of his team. They are attackers Faith Totorica and Jade Mayorga, defender Nayeli Lopez-Teran and goalkeeper Giana Tell. Totorica scored a goal in the Division 2 title game. Tell was Cutliff's back-up.
"I also expect Tessa Hidalgo and Emily Arellano to be impact players for us," said Yee. Hidalgo is a freshman. Arellano is a junior.
Santa Ynez joined Lompoc Valley counterparts Cabrillo and Lompoc in a move from the CIF Southern Section to the Central Section, effective at the start of this school year. Santa Ynez said goodbye to south Santa Barbara County aquatics powerhouses Dos Pueblos, San Marcos and Santa Barbara upon its departure from the Channel League.
Pirates coach Lisa Boyer is counting on senior returning set position player Sydney Gills to help Santa Ynez thrive in its new league. The Pirates were playoff regulars when they played in the Los Padres League as members of the Southern Section. They won a section divisional championship several years ago.
“She is one of our leading scorers,” Boyer said of Gills. The coach added, “We look forward to what this year will bring us in a new league.”
Meanwhile, veteran Santa Maria coach Josh Troeger, who has spent several years building a program, is counting on his core of seniors to help deliver a breakout season for the Saints.
Boys water polo
Righetti's 2021 squad fell on hard times after a run of post-season appearances, and multiple CIF Southern Section championships, under former coaches Rob Knight and Kyle Shaffer.
Nestor Nuñez, a former Righetti player, is the new coach. He's hoping for a swift turnaround. Nuñez is particularly counting on senior Seth Boyer, junior Dane McGuire and sophomore Dominic Sousa.
"Seth has brought excellent leadership to a relatively young team," said Nuñez. "He is eager to learn and has been expanding his game throughout the summer. I believe he will be an overlooked pleasant surprise against defenses."
McGuire is a junior and Righetti's returning goalkeeper.
"He has an infectious passion for the game," said Nuñez. "He has an excellent understanding of technical and tactical concepts.
"Dane will be the primary voice of our defense, and will give us a spark of energy with his ability to block the ball or intercept passes."
Nuñez said Souza "has made a commitment to develop his shooting ability throughout the offseason, along with his defensive play. That, along with his decision making, will propel him into the upper echelon of players on the Central Coast.”
Santa Maria has a new coach - Pioneer Valley alum Andrew Eisner.
Eisner is counting particularly heavily on two returnees, junior Santiago Garcia and senior Octavio Martinez.
“Santiago is one of my fastest, most dedicated guys,” said Eisner. “He has a hunger to improve and always leads by example.
“Octavio is a great teammate. He also works on the side to help his family, which says a lot about his character and team-oriented mentality.”
Santa Ynez had an impressive run of Los Padres League championships before leaving for the rugged Channel League after the LPL was broken up upon most area teams leaving the CIF Southern Section for the Central Section.
The Pirates’ annual appearances at the top of the league came to an end after they went up against the formidable southern Santa Barbara County Channel League squads, and their post-season prospects suffered as well.
When they were in the LPL, the Pirates made a habit of making deep post-season runs. Now, Santa Ynez has exited the Channel League after joining the Central Section effective the 2022-23 school year.
“We are excited to be in our new league this fall and have a strong, deep team, with several younger players,” said veteran Santa Ynez coach Jennifer Rasmussen.
Rasmussen is also counting on veteran starters such as senior Emma Sell and junior Marea Naretto. Both are third-year varsity players. Sophomore Natalie O’Shaughnessy is one of Rasmussen’s younger starters.
The Santa Ynez coach figures she will also get big contributions from Allie Liane and Brielle Saarloos, two seniors Rasmussen said will be in her starting eight.
The COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the Santa Maria program, and the Saints could only field a junior varsity team. This year, 25 players reported to new coach Jose Torres for pre-season workouts.
Girls cross country
Santa Maria is counting on a batch of newcomers to contribute after their seniors led the Saints to the 2021 CIF Central Section Division 4 championship.
Santa Maria’s top two runners from that team graduated. Three, Crystal Herrera, Annais Vega and Rocio Zamora, were underclassmen. They are seniors now.
The Saints edged runner-up Nipomo by two points for the Division 4 title. The Titans lost the individual runner-up, Iliana Murguia, to graduation.
The bulk of the team, however, returns. Coach Carlyn Hinds is counting on seniors Kate Barrett and Kayden Sanders, along with junior Regina Esparza and sophomore Sophia Esparza, to lead the Titans back to the state meet.
Orcutt Academy finished third at the 2021 Division 4 meet. All seven runners, including Peyton Mia who finished sixth individually as a freshman, were underclassmen.
The rest of the Spartans were underclassmen. They include current senior Devyn Kendrick, who was a standout for an Orcutt Academy girls basketball team that won a 2021 divisional championship, current sophomores Sofia Rubalcaba and Rylie Allen, and current seniors Elizabeth O’Leary, Megan Westfall and Danielle Sacks.
Senior co-captain Araceli Medina leads Pioneer Valley into the new season. Medina finished 74th out of 209 runners in her division at the state championships last year.
Another senior co-captain, Maritsa Carmona, along with fellow senior Makayla Gonzalez and sophomore newcomer Carolina Leon, figure to give Medina plenty of support.
“Carolina has a ton of potential,” said veteran PV coach Riccardo Magni. “Our girls team is going to be very good this year.”
Boys cross country
Santa Maria’s boys program is also banking on a batch of newcomers after a host of seniors on the 2021 team graduated.
Nipomo coach Carlyn Hinds’ squad lost just one runner, Jared Holland, to graduation.
“We’re particularly excited about returner Jordan Jones, who’s a junior, and newcomer Isaac Vasquez, who’s a sophomore,” said Hinds.
“Isaac is a newcomer to cross country, but he was strong in the middle distance events in track and field.”
Hannah Brooks and Lauren Jansen led Lompoc coach Casey Brooks’ squad to a second-place finish in the Channel League last year. They’re back.
Lompoc made an impressive run in its final year in a league that includes traditional area power San Marcos. Dos Pueblos runners have been a force as well.
Santa Maria senior Phoebe Becerra is a four-year varsity player and a team anchor. She is going after the first CIF tournament berth for a Santa Maria girls golfer in school history.
Pioneer Valley has four golfers back from the 2021 squad that parlayed a fourth-place league finish into a qualification for the CIF Central Section Division 3 Tournament.
Veteran Panthers coach Marcus Guzman said junior Marissa Dollinger and sophomore Moniah Marquez will duel for the top team spot. Dollinger finished fifth in the league tourney last year. Pioneer Valley seniors Jenny Curiel and Bella Zaragoza also return.
Guzman said the Panthers also have two promising newcomers, freshman Ashlee Ruiz and sophomore Sara Rodriguez. The team did lose two 2021 starters, Katrina Mata and Meghan Contreras. Mata finished among the top 10 golfers in the 2021 Division 3 tournament.
Santa Maria’s squad is counting on big things from two returning anchors, juniors Michelle Rodriguez and Maria Lua. Rodriguez is a setter. Lua is an outside hitter.
Pioneer Valley coach Johanna Perez is banking particularly heavily on two returning senior outside hitters, Consuelo Sanchez and Naomi Navarro.
“Consuelo is a hard worker and a go-getter who believes in teamwork,” said Perez.
“Naomi is driven. She is a role model for her teammates and strives for the best.”
Second-year Lompoc coach Esperanza Zepeda said that returning Braves senior Mirann Mangino is so adept at serving, spiking and blocking, “She can be placed anywhere on the court. She is bound to have a successful season this year.
“Mirann is very dedicated and is constantly working to Improve her game,” said Zepeda.