San Luis Obispo High girls soccer coach John Clarke didn’t hesitate when asked if the PAC 7 was deeper at the top this season than it has been in recent years.
“For sure,” he said.
The past two seasons, the runner-up crowd followed a definitive leader of the pack. Last year, Arroyo Grande went 21-2-3, reaching the second round of the CIF-Southern Section Division III playoffs. Everyone else in the league had at least six losses. Two years ago, San Luis Obispo, led by Cal Poly signee Afton Thulin, won a school-record 27 games and lost just once, in the divisional quarterfinals. But again, the next-fewest total of losses was six.
This time, it has been a close call between Arroyo Grande (7-1-1) and San Luis Obispo (8-0-2). On Saturday, they met in the Premier Division championship at the prestigious 176-team Garces tournament in Bakersfield. After a 0-0 regulation tie, the Eagles — who opened the year ranked No. 9 in the Division III preseason poll — prevailed on penalty kicks.
Not to be outdone, Righetti (7-2) and Paso Robles (5-2-2) have also gotten off to quick starts, with Righetti topping Paso Robles 3-1 in the Garces Gold Division championship contest.
“To make it to the finals of the tournament (simultaneously) definitely shows the depth of the PAC 7 and the amount of good Central Coast teams in general,” Clarke said.
Arroyo Grande graduated eight players from last year, including leading goal scorer Karlee Owens, now running cross country at Arizona State.
“I basically wasn’t really sure what I was going to have,” Eagles coach Laurie Owens said of her returning group. “We’ve just kind of had to revamp and get our defense back and set up. At first we kind of struggled, but now we’re starting to feel more solid back there, and everything is coming together.”
The Eagles have given up just one goal this year, Dec. 3 to Santa Ynez in their only loss of the season. The adjustments of defenders Alex Anderson and Kayla DeBlauw have been instrumental to the early success, Owens said. Anderson was recently switched from the outside to the middle, while DeBlauw has played more on the perimeter of late.
A trio of junior midfielders in Kate Reinhardt, Jenna Harshbarger and Selene Diaz have also been consistent, while freshman forward Lupita Leon has offered a spark offensively, assisting Ashley Roese, Niesha Diaz and Gina Kope.
The faster Tigers, meanwhile, have been able to rely on a more veteran cast, as 16 of their 21 players are upperclassmen, with seniors Alessa Moscoso, Kiele Argente, Shannon Fontes and Laura Kraemer leading the way.
“They’ve grown as a group,” said Clarke, who credited much of their familiarity together to their yearly participation with local summer soccer clubs.
“They definitely know what it is to play varsity soccer. Our depth is making us right now, and we’re very excited about this group.”
The 45th annual Atascadero Christmas Tournament, the upcoming week’s only San Luis Obispo County-based prep basketball event, will be held at Ewing Gym at Atascadero High from Monday through Dec. 30.
Atascadero (7-3), Paso Robles (6-4), Templeton (3-4), Santa Maria (2-8), Pioneer Valley (1-9), Lompoc (0-8), Shafter (3-5) and Montclair (4-6) will compete. Paso Robles will take on Templeton at 5:45 p.m. Monday, with an Atascadero-Shafter matchup to follow at 7:30.
Each of the county teams has been led by high-scoring guards thus far, with Paso Robles’ Lonnie Watson leading the PAC 7 in scoring at 19.7 points per game, Templeton’s Jordan Hattar placing second in the Los Padres League at 17.3 and Atascadero’s Troy Norris, a junior, not far behind either of them at a team-best 14.9.