The CIF Central Section has grown by three schools this week.
And, for those three schools, it feels like they're going home.
Santa Ynez, Lompoc and Cabrillo high schools are moving their entire athletic programs to the Central Section. Those three schools have spent their entirety competing in the CIF Southern Section.
The Pirates, Braves and Conquistadores are joining the Central Coast Athletic Association that is made up of nearly every school in the Santa Maria Valley and most high schools in San Luis Obispo County.
Those schools moved from the Southern Section to the Central Section four years ago and have been mostly content with the switch.
Now Santa Ynez, Lompoc and Cabrillo will rejoin the schools they used to share leagues with, whether it was the Northern League or the Los Padres League.
The move goes into effect once the coming 2022-23 school year begins.
The CCAA will be 16 schools strong. The member high schools will be Santa Ynez, Lompoc, Cabrillo, St. Joseph, Righetti, Orcutt Academy, Santa Maria, Pioneer Valley, Nipomo, Arroyo Grande, San Luis Obispo, Mission Prep, Morro Bay, Templeton, Atascadero and Paso Robles.
Valley Christian Academy is the lone Santa Maria school still in the CIF Southern Section.
The Central Section is composed of about 130 schools. The Southern Section, by far the state's largest, has about 600 schools.
Santa Ynez athletic director Ashley Coelho and Lompoc AD Claudia Terrones made the hours-long trip to Tulare for a CIF Central Section council meeting Tuesday morning. The schools were accepted into the Central Section with a 30-11 vote then.
Coelho and Terrones both felt their student-athletes will benefit from the change to the Central Section thanks to a more balanced competitive equity system.
Terrones said that Lompoc has won just three league championships in a combined 66 team seasons since moving to the Channel Leagues when the other area schools left for the Central Section three complete school years ago.
"We're excited about reuniting with the northern schools," Terrones said. "When we first put in the petition, the three areas we focused on were geography, population and competitive equity. And we really feel like we're getting all of those. My coaches were really excited about the opportunity to get back to where we were."
Coelho echoed the sentiment that Santa Ynez teams will enjoy more balanced competition with the switch.
"All of our Santa Ynez coaches feel pretty happy with the move," Coelho said. "Many of our coaches felt we missed out on the opportunity the first time around to join the schools north of us. In many ways, we feel like we're coming back home to join the rest of the family again. We think it'll be a very good home for us.
"We're really looking forward to not only competitive equity at the league level, but at the CIF level."
The CCAA has featured two leagues in all team sports: the Ocean League and the Mountain League. Typically, the top two teams in the Ocean League in a given sport in a given season have been moved up to the Mountain League the following season. The bottom two teams in the Mountain League typically drop down to the Ocean League, creating mostly competitive leagues.
The CIF Central Section playoff format features a similarly competitive structure. In the spring, four Mountain League girls basketball teams won CIF Central Section titles. Santa Maria's girls soccer team won a CIF title in the Central Section as well. Area swim teams have also been more competitive in the postseason, as have baseball and football teams.
The St. Joseph boys basketball team won the CIF Central Section Open Division title this spring.
One area of intrigue will be the Lompoc High football program that has been the area's most successful program over the years. The Braves have won five CIF titles in football while in the Southern Section, including back-to-back titles in 2010 and 2011. The Braves football team also has seven CIF runner-up finishes in football.
Lompoc's football team is playing in an odd Channel League this year with two Santa Barbara schools and three Oxnard schools. The Braves will likely be in a league with former longtime rivals like Arroyo Grande, St. Joseph and Paso Robles.
The Lompoc and Cabrillo girls basketball teams have also had success in the postseason, but have struggled since moving to the Channel League. Santa Ynez typically has strong tennis, baseball, softball, football and water polo teams that should thrive in the Central Section and CCAA.
Santa Ynez, Lompoc and Cabrillo playing against the Santa Barbara schools that are typically successful in the so-called country club sports like swimming, tennis, water polo and golf, has made for an odd fit in the Channel League.
A move to the Central Section should certainly fix that.
"With just three league titles over the last three years, to us that's not competitive equity," Terrones said. "We're basically setting up our teams to fail. We preach about wins and losses not mattering, we just want our kids to give 100%, but it hasn't been competitive. When the northern schools moved, we no longer had that competitive equity."
Coelho said former Santa Maria High AD Brian Wallace, who now coaches at Lompoc High, was helpful in helping the schools start and ultimately complete this process. Anthony Morales, the AD at Pioneer Valley, was also instrumental in aiding the schools in their move, Coelho said.
"We've been working together on this for the last year," Coelho said. "All three of us, including Gary West at Cabrillo, are pretty happy. We're all on the same page that this was good for all three of our schools."
Santa Ynez had actually tried to leave the Channel League this school year, one year before its contract with the league expired. That move was ultimately blocked. Everything appears to have worked out and Santa Ynez is joining the Central Section with Lompoc and Cabrillo.
VOTE: Martinez, Maldonado, Miller, Placencia, Puga and Evans up for Player of the Week
Elias Martinez, Righetti WR/DBUpdated
Martinez helped Righetti nearly tie up Nipomo late in Friday's league game. He intercepted a pass near his own end one, then scored on a 57-yard touchdown catch-and-run that could've tied the game at 14, but the Warriors' extra point failed with about 90 seconds left in the game. Nipomo ended up returning the ensuing onside kick for a touchdown in the 21-13 win.
Elias Martinez, Righetti WR/DB: interception, 57-yard TD catch in loss to Nipomo.
Nelson Maldonado, Lompoc WR/DBUpdated
Maldonado has been strong for Lompoc all season, but the Lompoc sophomore had his best game of the year in a 44-38 loss to Santa Barbara. He caught three huge touchdown passes, including one that tied the game at 31 in the second half on a reverse pass. Maldonado is also a starter on defense.
Nelson Maldonado, Lompoc WR/DB: three TD catches in loss to Santa Barbara.
Chris Miller, St. Joseph WR/DBUpdated
Miller, a senior at St. Joseph, played in his second game of the season last week against Paso Robles, and made an impact, mostly playing on defense. The safety has helped captain the defense and makes big special teams plays.
He also got into the act on offense, hauling in a huge 20-yard touchdown on fourth down to give the Knights a 21-20 lead in a game they eventually lost 26-21. Miller also had a 50-yard kick return on the Knights' final possession, setting them up to go in for the go-ahead touchdown, though the drive eventually ended with an end zone interception.
Chris Miller, St. Joseph WR/DB: 20-yard TD catch, 50-yard kick return; 8 tackles, 2 TFL.
David Placencia, Santa Maria DB/QB/RBUpdated
Meanwhile at Santa Maria High, David Placencia has been a rock for the Saints, playing just about every position. Coach Albert Mendoza noted how he played every snap on offense and defense in the loss to San Luis Obispo. He had 14 tackles and a blocked punt on defense and has also played quarterback.
Santa Maria lost to San Luis Obispo 17-6.
David Placencia, Santa Maria DB/QB/RB: 10 carries, 45 yards; 14 tackles, blocked punt in loss to SLO.
Makai Puga, Arroyo Grande RBUpdated
Arroyo Grande's Makai Puga had 164 yards and three scores on only 10 carries in the Eagles' 34-7 rout of Pioneer Valley.
Makai Puga, Arroyo Grande RB: 10 carries, 164 yards, 3 TDs; 2 catches, 33 yards in win over Pioneer Valley.
Gabe Evans, Nipomo RB/LBUpdated
Gabe Evans was key in the Titans' win over Righetti. Evans ran 20 times for 85 yards and a pair of touchdowns while also making nine tackles on defense.
Gabe Evans, Nipomo RB/LB: 20 carries, 85 yards, 2 TDs; 9 total tackles, TFL, pass breakup, QB hurry in win over Righetti.