Santa Barbara Basketball: Royals Ascend as Cardinals Fly

San Marcos and Bishop Diego Notch Big Seasons

#3 Ellie Monson led San Marcos with nine points and ferocious defense at the point of attack. | Credit: Gary Kim

When Tiffany Simms took over the San Marcos High girls’ basketball team prior to the 2020-21 season, it would have been hard to believe that just one year later, the program would experience a miraculous turnaround and find itself on the path to sustained success.

The Royals hadn’t won a playoff game since 2003, and despite marginal improvement in the years immediately preceding Simms’s arrival, they were still light years behind local powerhouse Santa Barbara High and struggled to keep up with Channel League rival Dos Pueblos.

In order to take the next step, Simms came to San Marcos with a plan, and it started with defense. The girls bought into a program identity that was built upon harassing opposing teams the entire game with effort, intensity, and intellect.

#5 Mia Martinez-Tomatis glides to the rim for a transition layup. | Credit: Gary Kim

Simms is a Santa Barbara High grad who played four years of varsity ball for current Santa Barbara High coach Andrew Butcher in the early ‘90s. Her team posted two victories over Santa Barbara in Channel League play. San Marcos had not defeated Santa Barbara since 2008 and had not swept the Dons Since the 2006-07 season.

The Royals went on to finish with a 22-7 record and advanced to the CIF-SS Division 3A semifinals, where they gave Oaks Christian a major scare, leading 29-22 at halftime before eventually losing 44-39. Going toe-to-toe with a top-flight private school program was a pipe dream before Simms’s arrival.

“I think that came from my defensive-minded attitude, and I don’t back down,” Simms said. “I tell them: When you play five together with aggressive defense, communication, and effort, no one can beat you. I don’t care if they are seven feet tall.”

The deep CIF run earned the Royals a spot in the CIF Division 4 state tournament bracket, and they responded with a 56-53 victory over Taft of Woodland Hills in the first round, which was another first for the team.

“I’m so proud of these girls and how they turned around this program,” Simms said following the narrow loss to Oaks Christian.

Looking ahead, the future is bright for San Marcos as the team will only lose two seniors to graduation and return four of five starters. A CIF championship and another state tournament berth could be in the cards, but first San Marcos will set its sights on the Channel League title, which Dos Pueblos claimed this season.

Mia Martinez-Tomatis (#5) surges past the Santa Clara defense. | Credit: Victor Bryant

Cardinals Fly High

Bishop Diego claimed CIF championships in boys’ basketball and girls’ soccer this winter. Both titles are the first in program history, which is an amazing accomplishment for an athletic department that is currently firing on all cylinders.

“The adversity we confronted — not practicing for three weeks in the middle of the season and losing our goalkeeper. This team has a lot of resilience,” said Bishop Diego girls’ soccer coach Pato Guerrero. “I’ve been coaching for a long time, and this is the first time that I’ve found a team that believes in each other like a family.”

Freshman Kayalily Penn emerged as the most prolific goal scorer in Santa Barbara County history this season as she led the Cardinals to a 6-5 victory over Thacher in the CIF-SS Division 7 championship game with six goals, including the game winner in overtime.

Bishop Diego celebrating its first CIF Southern Section boys’ basketball title in program history. | Credit: Victor Bryant

Penn’s 55 goals in 18 games this season is a county record that she will have three more opportunities to break in the coming years. She was named back-to-back S.B. Athletic Round Table girls’ athlete of the week. 

“I told them at the beginning of the season that we need to focus on one game at a time and not looking towards goals that are not reachable,” Guerrero said. “As soon as we saw the season start going our way, the girls started fighting for each other, playing for each other, and we started having success. That’s the reason we won the championship this year.”

Kai Morphy and Ty Williams have been the heart and soul of the Bishop Diego boys’ basketball program over the past three seasons. As sophomores, they led the Cardinals to the CIF-SS Division 5AA championship game only to lose on a buzzer-beater.

As seniors, they finished the job, defeating Dana Hills to claim the CIF-SS Division 3A title. Both players have left a legacy at Bishop Diego that will last forever.


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