There has been a changing of the guard in the Peninsula Athletic League’s girls’ soccer division alignment, which culminated in the Carlmont program being moved from the Bay Division into the Ocean Division for the first time since the PAL came into its current existence.

It was a confluence of events that saw Carlmont — a two-time Central Coast Section champion that won eight straight PAL Bay Division title from 2000 to 2007 and who won a division title as recently as the 2019-20 season — moved from one of the Central Coast Section’s top divisions into an Ocean Division that, while still featuring solid competition, is a step below that of the Bay.

“(The news) not only shocked me, but irritated me,” said Carlmont head coach John Wilkinson.

Not surprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic played a role in the reshuffling of the PAL’s top two divisions. At the beginning of the 2021 COVID-impacted spring season, the general consensus was everyone was just happy to be back on the field playing and the PAL’s original plan was to not keep standings or official results. At the same time, it was agreed that there would be no shuffling of the Bay and Ocean divisions based on the results from the spring season.

Both those ideas went out the window once the Central Coast Section decided to host its postseason soccer tournament. In addition, the PAL’s three-division structure needed to be tweaked to come into compliance for making the Lake Division an official “league” and then give teams from that division an opportunity to qualify for the CCS playoffs.

The breakdown of the PAL from this past spring features seven Bay teams, six Ocean teams and four Lake teams. A division needs a minimum of five teams to be recognized as a “league.”

“We were given a mandate to go to 6-6-5 … by the PAL [Board of Managers],” said PAL chair Melissa Schmidt, Sequoia girls’ coach.

That presented a dilemma. Aragon, which had run roughshod over Ocean Division competition during the spring, had to move up to the Bay Division this season. That would have given the Bay eight teams, meaning two would have had to move back into the Ocean Division — San Mateo was moved from the Ocean to the Lake Division give that division five teams.

At the postseason coaches meeting, Schmidt said it was voted that the bottom two teams from the Bay Division would move to the Ocean to give both divisions six teams.

Carlmont and Capuchino were the bottom two teams.

Schmidt said Capuchino, which had spent the last several years playing in the Ocean, wanted to move into the Ocean. Carlmont, on the other hand, was not too keen with the decision.

It was one made without Wilkinson, who could not attend the meeting.

“We went into last season saying, ‘Look. This is for the kids. This isn’t for league finishes. This isn’t for CCS playoffs.’ A lot of coaches took that to heart in the way we played our kids and set our teams. … I don’t think there was an expectation of moving teams up and down (between the Bay and Ocean),” Schmidt said. “Then everything flipped. We went to the playoffs and all that.

“I understand why we had to do what we had to do at the end-of-year meeting. I also understand why it was a tough pill to swallow.”

Wilkinson also understands the decision by the Board of Managers to have the proper alignment to best provide opportunities for players and teams, but he thinks it could have been done better.

“I understand they want to have a certain number of teams in the league. However, competitive balance should be a priority,” Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson said if he had known there would be relegations and promotions within the PAL, he would played the spring season completely different.

“I used last season as an extended tryout and everything was in preparation for this season,” Wilkinson said. “There was also a concern of overuse of players because of simultaneous club play. We kept that in mind. We practiced only once a week (as a Carlmont team).”

Now, Wilkinson said his team is loaded for the 2021-22 season and was looking forward to going against some of the best competition in the CCS playing against Bay Division teams. He said he had a lot more solid commitments from club players this season than in the spring.

“I’m going to have a really strong team this year. We’ll be adding three or four starters we didn’t have last year,” Wilkinson said, adding he has about 11 players who are finishing up their club commitments in the next couple of weeks.

But Wilkinson said their addition will only strength the team.

“I think we’ll be fine without them (for the next couple of weeks),” Wilkinson said. “We’re that deep.”

Unfortunately, there may be similar results to the spring season, when Aragon, who was clearly a Bay Division-caliber team, outscored its Ocean Division opponents 69-1. Wilkinson is afraid there could be similar results this season with his team.

“Nobody wins in that situation. It really is unfortunate and that is a concern of mine,” Wilkinson said.

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