High School Sports

Mission Prep moving to Southern Section

Kevin Laird runs during Mission Prep’s game against Bakersfield Christian on Nov. 20.
Kevin Laird runs during Mission Prep’s game against Bakersfield Christian on Nov. 20. nlucero@thetribunenews.com

Mission Prep will move from the CIF-Central Section to the Southern Section in all sports for next year.

While the school has been accepted into the Southern Section, it will remain independent of any league.

Since 2006, the Royals had been freelancing in all sports but football, which they played in the East Sierra League.

Mission Prep applied for entry into the Los Padres League for all sports except football for the upcoming season, Royals athletic director John Krossa said, but the LPL voted to accept the school only if it would play football in the league, as well. The Royals’ goal, however, was instead to transition into the league in football over a span of four years.

While Mission Prep’s overall enrollment is considerably smaller than those of LPL counterparts — Morro Bay, Nipomo, Templeton, Santa Maria, Lompoc, Cabrillo and Santa Ynez — it has shown routine ability to compete with those schools in non-football sports that don’t require as many players to fill out rosters.

In football, the school’s comparable lack of depth made playing a full LPL schedule premature for the time being, Krossa said. Current LPL teams average nearly 40-player rosters in football, with about a dozen players weighing at least 200 pounds, while Mission Prep’s roster this past year was just under 25 players and included only two tipping the scales above 200 pounds.

“We were concerned about the health and safety of the boys in our program,” Krossa said.

In upcoming years, Mission Prep’s enrollment is expected to increase from just under 290 to about 320, which would conceivably translate into at least five more boys coming out for football, Krossa said — a growth that would then allow the program to require fewer players to play both offense and defense for virtually entire games.

Even in the short term, however, the school does plan on testing how it would fare against LPL opponents. Mission Prep has scheduled both Nipomo and Santa Maria in football for the upcoming season, Krossa said.

Making the transition

John Andree, the LPL secretary and head football coach and athletic director at Morro Bay, compared Mission Prep’s outlook for football to that of Templeton in 2005, when the Eagles were assigned to compete in the Southern Section for football, joining the LPL via the Central Section. Templeton, after initially being somewhat apprehensive about the move due to having the smallest public-school enrollment in the LPL, went on to find consistent success in football, going 25-17 over the past four years.

“We’d welcome Mission Prep with open arms,” Andree said. “I think they could be competitive in every sport.”

Mission Prep’s football program has grown sizably in recent years, moving up from the 8-man level after the 2004 season and playing a full schedule of home games on-campus for the first time at the 11-man level in 2008. The Royals went 17-6 over the past two years, reaching the Central Section Division V semifinals in 2008 and the quarterfinals in 2009. This past year, Mission Prep’s three regular-season losses came by an average of 12.3 points to top-five Southern Section Northeast Division programs Linfield Christian, Rio Hondo Prep and Chadwick, which went a combined 38-3.

Success in other sports

A handful of other Mission Prep teams have also had banner seasons this year.

The boys soccer program went 23-0 — with five of those wins coming over LPL teams — while claiming the Central Section Division V title. The girls soccer squad also reached its Division V final, while the boys basketball team advanced to its Division V championship game and the girls basketball team made it to its Division IV final.

“I think it’s a good fit for them,” St. Joseph boys basketball coach and athletic director Tom Mott said of the move. Mott served in both capacities at Mission Prep until 2006. “There are sports that go in cycles. There are some years where a school might be good in one sport and not so good in another. But obviously, that’s the way all schools around here are.”

Templeton boys basketball coach Fred Price agreed that the Royals will be competitive.

Price, who served as an assistant for four years with the Eagles before taking over as head coach in 2005, said he’s glad his program shifted from the Central Section, not only because it cut back on travel costs, but because it upped the profile of opponents and garnered the school more exposure.

“Obviously, there are much better teams in the Southern Section, top-to-bottom,” Price said.

Marcus des Plantes, the Royals’ girls soccer coach, said a major factor in the move was simply to indeed play at a higher level.

“In Division V in the Central Section, there were only 11 teams that came out for the postseason,” des Plantes said. “In the Southern Section, the bracket starts with 32 and it’s full. There are even wild-card games just to get into the 32. So there are teams left out that want to get in. That’s the kind of competition we’ll have for next year. I’m looking forward to that.”

A year ago, des Plantes’ team played Southern Section Division V champion Desert Christian in the first round of the regional playoffs, dropping a tight 2-1 decision.

“It showed us we could compete,” he said.

Several schools on the move Enhancing local rivalries is also among the reasons for the move.

This season, the boys basketball team played San Luis Obispo for just the second time in decades.

The LPL, which cut all freshmen sports heading into next year because of budget cuts and declining enrollments, will see a fair share of changes on its own heading into the upcoming year due to a re-leaguing cycle.

St. Joseph and Pioneer Valley will leave to join the PAC 7 in all sports, while Nipomo and Lompoc will move to the LPL in everything. Nipomo and Pioneer Valley had been in the PAC 7 in all sports but football, with Lompoc, on the other hand, competing in the LPL in everything outside of football.