Daily Journal Staff Report
The annual Valpo Bowl, the rivalry game between Menlo School and Sacred Heart Prep, could have a lot more riding on it this season as the two teams will battle for the Bay Division title this year for the first time since SHP entered the PAL.
Friday marked the first day of fall sports practice for high schools and you can expect to see some significant changes in the football standings in the Peninsula Athletic League this season.
The biggest changes occurred in the slotting of teams in the Bay, Ocean and Lake divisions. The Bay and Ocean swapped three teams, while the Ocean and Lake saw four teams switch divisions.
The biggest shakeup happened in the Bay Division. Menlo School, Sequoia and South City all moved up to the PAL’s most competitive division, joining stalwarts Menlo-Atherton, Sacred Heart Prep and Terra Nova.
Moving from the Bay to the Ocean are Aragon, for the second time in three years, along with Burlingame and Half Moon Bay.
Capuchino and San Mateo, which have spent the last several seasons in the Lake Division, move into the Ocean for 2013, while King’s Academy and Jefferson move down.
Sequoia’s promotion is the biggest move considering how far the Cherokees have come under the leadership of coach Rob Poulos, who took over the program prior to the 2009 season. The Cherokees have advanced to the Bay Division since the inception of the division in 1996. In 2008, Sequoia went 1-9 overall and 1-4 in PAL league play. Since Poulos arrived for the 2009 season, the Cherokees have compiled an overall record of 31-13 overall and 10-9 in PAL play, and made an appearance in the 2010 Central Coast Section Division II championship game.
“Be careful what we wish for. When I took over, [reaching the Bay Division] was one of the goals,” Poulos said. “That’s where you want to be. You want to be in the top division. We want to be moving up. I don’t know if we can stay up. We could get knocked right back down.”
Menlo and South City return to the Bay Division for the first time since 2008. Menlo has one of the most prolific offenses in the PAL, while the South City defense has been one of the nastiest units for several years. Both will be tested against the best the PAL has to offer.
“We wanted to be in the Bay. We were the first team to say we wanted to go up,” said South City coach Frank Moro, whose team captured the Ocean Division crown in 2012 with a perfect 5-0 record.
Despite taking a perceived step up in competition, Moro said he doesn’t expect much difference from last season as three teams from the Ocean moved up to the Bay.
“Really, the only two teams we haven’t played are Terra Nova and Sacred Heart Prep,” Moro said. “The Ocean was tough the last couple of years.”
Moro knows his defense will be tested a bit more as the Warriors will face the spread attacks of Menlo School, Sequoia and Terra Nova. But the Warriors beat two of those squads — Menlo and Sequoia — last year.
Despite the challenges, Moro vows teams will know they were in a battle when they face South City.
“We’re going to be a physical defense and we’re going to come after you,” Moro said. “We’re going to make it a football game.”
While Aragon is taking a step down for the second time in three years, Burlingame finds itself out of the Bay Division for the first time since 2009.
“On paper, we deserved to go down (to the Ocean),” Aragon coach Steve Sell told the Daily Journal in November.
Burlingame coach John Philipopoulos feels the same way as Sell.
“With the amount of kids we lost to graduation and with the inexperience we have up front, we felt it was an appropriate move for our program,” Philipopoulos said. “In the past, we wanted to play up in the Bay Division and we wanted that. I think this year … I felt it would be the best move for us competitively.
“It’s not that we can’t compete at that level, it’s just the price we pay to play at that level I’m questioning.”
San Mateo finds itself out of the Lake Division for the first time since 2010, when the Bearcats went 0-5 in Ocean Division play and 2-8 overall. Last season, the Bearcats finished in second place behind Lake champion Capuchino, which will join San Mateo in the Ocean this season.
The biggest difference between the Bay and Ocean — other than the physicalness of the divisions — is the allotment of CCS berths. A fourth-place finish in the Bay gets a team into the playoffs, while only the Ocean Division champion is guaranteed a spot in CCS.
“Even as an Ocean Division coach, I believe that is the correct distribution of the (CCS) berths,” Philipopoulos said. “The bottom line is the Bay Division is a tougher league. It’s more taxing in every way. The Bay should have more berths.”