By John O’NeillGarden Grove Journal
Every four years, the CIF-SS convenes a realignment committee comprised of representatives from a portion of its member high schools to make changes or non-changes concerning how its various leagues are structured.
In 2006, the most notable change was removing Pacifica from the Garden Grove League, (then a seven-team league) and inserting the Mariners into the Empire League (a five-member league) creating two even-numbered six-team leagues.
Factors of disparity among each league’s teams were also taken into consideration with football being at the forefront.
Schools that had continual success or domination of its league foes might move onto a more competitive situation, whereas schools that were consistently getting beaten by its familiar opponents might join those of equal strengths and issues.
However, this year, the committee has made some decisions that might be a little unsettling for several high school teams, students and their fans.
The GGL will remain steadfast with its usual, long-running lineup of members despite that Garden Grove, which was league co-champion in 2008, clearly dominated its football rivals last season going 5-0 (13-1 overall) and outscoring them by a combined 246-27 in one-on-one competition.
It’s a completely different story within the Empire League as Katella changed its residence to the Orange League while Loara shifted to the Golden West League. Replacing those usually troubled schools will be perennial football powers Western (eight Orange League titles since 2000) and Tustin, Century League champs the last two seasons, the Tillers are almost annually considered to be a CIF title threat.
“It’s definitely going to be more competitive,” Western Coach Toby Howell said. “I think the Orange League teams were getting tired of getting beat by us in football and Savanna in the other sports. They had to put a stop to it. I think it’s the best for all of us.”.
Adding to the fray and making it a seven-team congregation will be the Yorba Linda Mustangs who will field their varsity for the first time in the school’s young three-year history. Even though their oldest players are juniors this year, they won’t be taken lightly. Their coach, Jeff Bailey guided the El Dorado Golden Hawks to Century League titles (2005-07) and captured two state crowns in 2006 and 2007.
“Except for a few, there are a number of leagues that have seven teams,” Pacifica Coach Marcello Giuliano noted. “South (Orange) County has a two-tiered conference. I don’t know why. I wasn’t part of the league restructuring. I know that a lot of people aren’t happy with it. It’s weird. It’s just strange.”
Rounding out the Empire seven are Cypress (last year’s league champ at 5-0), Valencia and Kennedy. None of those teams will be considered an easy breather on the schedule. Tustin Coach Myron Miller added some more variables to the configuration, but agreed with the other coaches on one thing. They all welcome the challenge.
“We asked to be moved,” Miller admitted. “We expect good competition in this league. There has been a lot of movement in the leagues. I think it has a lot to do with demographics, transportation costs and trying to get competitive equality. I think Cypress is the favorite, Western is right there and Valencia should also be up this year.”
Miller is more than aware of the Western Pioneers. He knows that although the Tillers thrashed the Pioneers (2-8) last year 52-0 in an annual preseason match-up, it was anything but typical. And, don’t think that the Pioneers have forgotten that drubbing either.
“We’ve played Tustin in preseason for eight years now,” Howell said. “It’s been a good preseason rivalry, but now the games are going to mean a lot more. That 2-8 record was a good way to leave the Orange League. Maybe, the Empire League teams will underestimate us we’ll be able to surprise some people.”
Mariner coach Giuiano in his second year at the helm for Pacifica doesn’t seem too concerned by the addition of two of the county’s better programs.
“It’s going to make the (Empire) league one of the toughest in the county,” Giuliano said. “ We have coaches that are terrific with excellent competition. Who wouldn’t want their team to be tested during league,” he reasoned knowing that it’s sure to happen during the playoffs.