As Pandemic Wanes, Playoffs Return

Santa Barbara Athletes Can Again Compete for Southern Section Championships

Credit: Courtesy

The gradual return of Santa Barbara high school sports has served as a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, and the athletes who participate in many of the winter and spring contests took another step towards normalcy when the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) announced the return of section playoffs this week.

Athletes in baseball, softball, boys’/girls’ basketball, boys’/girls’ lacrosse, boys’/girls’ tennis, boys’ volleyball, and boys’/girls’ dual-meet wrestling will have the chance to compete for Southern Section championships, an opportunity that was ripped away from spring sports last year at the onset of the pandemic.

Unfortunately, fall sports such as boys’/girls’ cross country, boys’/girls’ water polo, and football have completed their abbreviated spring season and will not have the opportunity to compete in the playoffs.

“We moved up three divisions, but it’s better to have [playoffs] than not to have them,” said Bishop Diego High girls’ basketball coach Jeff Burich, whose team reached the CIF-SS Division 5A finals last season. “It kind of gives you that extra motivation for the season, so I’m happy about it.”

Bishop Diego competed in CIF championship games on February 29 of 2020, and just 12 days later, all nonessential travel and events were canceled for Santa Barbara county schools.

With league competition now underway in many sports, the incentive to climb the standings and earn a playoff berth is a special opportunity for young athletes who have endured waves of disappointment this past year.

“I’m excited. I think we have a chance to make the playoffs, but nothing is guaranteed,” said Santa Barbara High boys’ basketball coach Corey Adam after a recent loss to St. Joseph. “We’re going to get better, and I think the playoffs are an attainable goal for us.”

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Spring Football Wraps Up

There will be no playoffs for high school football this season, but the overwhelming sentiment coming from players and coaches is that they are grateful that they were able to play at all.

“I couldn’t ask for a better game to leave on,” said Santa Barbara High quarterback Deacon Hill following the Dons’ 19-9 loss to Lompoc. “I’ve been riding with these boys since I was in 5th grade. I think we’re finally starting to change the program around here, and I’ve left my mark.”

The future is indeed bright for Santa Barbara as the Dons return all five offensive linemen and two of its top backs from the spring season in freshman Koa Herrera and sophomore Nathan Barrios. The receiving core, which took its lumps this year while gaining experience, is loaded with returners, including Miguel Unzueta, Trent Williams, and Clifford Matthews.

The clear standout among the local football teams this season was Bishop Diego, who went 5-0 to claim the Camino League Championship.

The Cardinals defeated four Ventura County teams, including St. Bonaventure, Camarillo, Simi Valley, and Newbury Park in addition to a win over the defending CIF State Division 3A state champions Bakersfield Christian.

A blend of talented young players and a determined senior class came together to make the most of the unusual season.

“I think the undefeated season is a testament to the perseverance of our kids and the level of desire that they had,” said Bishop Diego coach Tom Crawford. “In the end, this was about rewarding the kids for their commitment over the past 13 months, and they rose to the standards of performance of the solid Bishop teams we’ve had in the past.”

A dominant offensive line that consisted of Parker Maho, Logan Maho, Jayden Martinez-Stiles, Semisi Falemaka, Jordon[CQ] Tagaloa, and tight end Ben Ortiz paved the way for talented ball carriers such as Marcus Chan and Qu’ran Gosset in what became a dominant rushing attack as the season progressed.

On defense, Buddy Melgoza was the ultimate ball hawk in the secondary and finished with five interceptions in the five games. Seniors Ben Boeddeker and Luke Knightley were also strong contributors on defense.

The Dos Pueblos High football team ended its season with a 34-24 victory over rival San Marcos in the annual “Battle for the Goodland.” Senior captain Daniel Santacruz earned the Jeff Hesselmeyer MVP Award for his contributions at linebacker and running back, which included a touchdown run.

Sophomore running back Nathan Bojorquez was also able to assert himself offensively and scored two touchdowns. “It was really nice for him to be able to establish himself and basically have a junior season as a sophomore,” said Dos Pueblos coach Doug Caines. “The reality is we have 6-9 sophomores playing and starting, so all of those kids getting that experience will pay dividends, not just next year, but in their senior years when they will have had three years of varsity experience going into league.”

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