Pack up the coolers and beach towels folks, summer is over.
Well, for most, it’s not. But in terms of those involved in high school athletics in Kern County, the school calendar and official preseason practice begins in earnest on Monday for fall sports, kicking off the start to the 2019-20 school year.
There is a lot of big-ticket items to look ahead to with plenty of big name football programs with new head coaches, a boys cross country team coming off a state title and plenty of talent to go around.
As the week begins, here is a list of five big things to look for in the opening weeks of preseason practice.
What to make of the SWYL with three new head football coaches
Normally, teams go through coaching changes because of rough times and less-than-stellar records in recent years. But in the Southwest Yosemite League, half of the six teams in the league are beginning practice on Monday with a new head coach. Now, this is 2019 and nobody should be fooled that these head coaches haven’t spent countless hours with the players. That’s simply not true. Between strength training, spring practice, trips to Hume Lake and the 7-on-7 circuit, there is a bond built long before fall camp begins. But let’s also be honest that this is where the best parts of the new coaching regime shine and those little wrinkles that haven’t been ironed out will come to light.
Garces and Bakersfield both have new head coaches because Paul Golla left the Drillers to take over as the new coach for the Rams. The gig at Garces came up because A.J. Gass chose to move his family back to Canada, where he played in the Canadian Football League for a decade, to be closer to his wife’s family. So, after 15 years, Golla goes from Driller blue to the dark green for Garces. It’s going to take some time to get used to that. Former Driller standout Michael Stewart takes over for BHS. The former Fresno State and NFL player is in his first head coaching gig and seems to have the attention of everyone on campus with his enthusiasm and strong roots to the campus.
Now comes the next four weeks to gear up for the start of the season for these two and Richard Starett at Centennial, who moved to Bakersfield from Texas to take over the Golden Hawks. Chad Brown stepped down after four years as Centennial coach. Starett’s coaching staff has created a Twitter account for the football program and the work the team has done in the weight room seems quite impressive.
All three seem to have their teams moving in the right direction and there will be a lot of chatter about all three with every win and loss this fall. It’s doubtful any of these three would be on the hot seat after just one season, but don’t think for a second that each one doesn't want to create a winning tradition right away.
What to make of the new divisional realignments for football teams
The Central Section created a massive change to divisional placements this summer with a lot of the discussion going directly to the football side of things. When the section welcomed in the central coastal schools in the last school year, four of them were placed in Division I. Only one, Arroyo Grande, remains. The rest — Santa Maria-St. Joseph, Paso Robles and Atascadero — have all been moved to D-II. What that does is change the balance back to D-II with 18 teams in the division that just two years ago had only eight teams in the usual 16-team playoff bracket.
Locally, Kennedy, a team that opened its program with 30 straight losses from 2009-11, has gone from D-VI to D-IV in just three years. The Thunderbirds won the D-V title last season, beating Shafter in the championship game. Kennedy also won two D-VI titles in 2014-15.
It will also be interesting to see what happens to Foothill and Mira Monte now that the two programs are in D-VI after moving down from D-V. Both head coaches return with Brandon Deckard in year No. 2 at Foothill and Christian Johnson also heading into his second season as Lions coach. Mira Monte hasn’t been in the playoffs since 2010 and Foothill’s drought goes back to 2011.
Big momentum for Ridgeview boys cross country
The good times kept on rolling right into the summertime for the Ridgeview boys cross country team with a new paint job on campus commemorating the team winning a state title. The Wolf Pack became the first program from the city of Bakersfield to win a CIF State cross country title. Last season, Ridgeview was a favorite to win the state D-III title throughout the season and did just that with a great showing from the top five runners. The Wolf Pack have been moved up to D-II in the Central Section, which means Ridgeview will also compete in D-II at the state meet in Fresno in November.
Ridgeview returns three big leaders back this fall, including All-Area first-team selections Alex Cuevas and Ased Adus. Cuevas won the D-III section title while Adus was third and junior Gerardo Moreno returns after finishing fourth in the section finals.
Ridgeview won the last two section titles in D-III and moving up to D-II presents a new challenge, but one that the program is up for. In terms of state, that conversation will have to wait a couple months to see how the rest of California stacks up.
Speaking of Ridgeview, is the football team a D-I sleeper?
To think for a team that played in six consecutive section titles, winning three, from 2011-16, that playing the underdog role is odd, but it’s true. Since Ridgeview moved up to D-I in 2017, the Wolf Pack have yet to get out of the first round of the playoffs. That came after an incredible run to the D-III title in 2012 and consecutive D-II titles and state playoff berths in 2014-15. With Rich Cornford taking over the program this fall for his good buddy Dennis Manning, there is a bit of a new-life boost that comes with change. And it doesn’t hurt that Ridgeview is loaded once again. But after two straight one-and-done playoff seasons, the next month is huge. Returning is quarterback Justin Hinzo. Skill position wise, juniors King Ellis, Zion Hall and Shawn Allen, alongside seniors Aliljah Alexander-Williams and Anthony Ramirez, all present a bevy of options offensively behind a seasoned line, led by Maximis Hidalgo. If there was a year for Ridgeview to add a D-I title game appearance to its resume, this could be the first. But it’s going to take time to get there. That’s what practice is for.
Is Liberty back for another go-round on the volleyball court?
For the third consecutive season, the Patriots will head into a new campaign after watching the BVarsity All-Area Player of the Year depart for a college program. First it was Brooklyn Cheney in 2016, who is at Westmont. Then Lauryn Burt won the award and is heading into her second season at UNLV. Then last year, Elise Ferreira was honored and is now a freshman at Oregon. Each year, the Patriots reloaded. In the four years since Amy Parker took over as head coach, the Patriots have gone 88-35 overall and 38-2 in SWYL play. The Patriots played in two consecutive D-I title games, beating Clovis West in 2016 and reached the semifinals the past two seasons in a very tough field. With just three seniors graduating from last season's team, the Patriots have a lot of talent returning. Senior Jalessa Caroccio is one of the top liberos in the region. Junior Brynna Slayton was a second-team All-Area selection last season at setter. Along with Kaiah Sentes, Bree Rodriguez, Reese Renz, Paige Camarillo and Sutton Coffey, all were starters or major contributors in 2018, seemingly setting Liberty up for another big season ahead.