Basketball was the last sport to opt into the Peninsula Athletic League’s “power league” format, and now it’s the first sport to opt out.
Coaches at a spring meeting voted to realign the league along geographical boundaries, a move that renews traditional rivalries such as the popular annual Terra Nova/Half Moon Bay and Terra Nova/Oceana contests.
A decline in attendance since the PAL basketball leagues split into the Bay, Ocean and Lake divisions based on projected ability three years ago precipitated the realignment.
All league games will now be featured as part of popular “quads” with the frosh-soph and varsity boys and girls teams playing on the same day in the same venue.
Packed gyms are expected when Terra Nova plays host to Oceana on Jan. 15 and plays at Half Moon Bay three days later. The Tigers play at Oceana on Feb. 1 and then play host to Half Moon Bay on Feb. 7.
“We’re bringing back the rivalries,” Terra Nova coach Kenny Milch said. “I like it.”
An added benefit of the move is a reduction in travel costs.
The downside of the move in Milch’s view is that the annual PAL tournament will feature just eight teams instead of 16, with the top four teams from the North and South qualifying.
Terra Nova Athletic Director Bill Gray said the PAL could eventually move to scrap the Bay/Ocean/Lake divisions in other sports, but said that basketball was the best fit, noting crowds at many games were as low as 15 percent of what they were before 2009.
“There haven’t been any meaningful conversations to do that in any other sport,” Gray said.
The PAL is made up of 24 schools with17 basic members seven supplemental members competing in selected sports.
Terra Nova’s transfers:
Terra Nova faces an uphill battle going from the low-level Lake to a North Peninsula league featuring heavyweights El Camino, Half Moon Bay and Westmoor that Milch acknowledged might be the county’s three best public school teams.
But the addition of potential impact transfers Gabe Vargas (from Serra) and Javier Piccolotti (from St. Ignatius) figure to boost the Tigers chances.
Vargas, a 6-foot-1 sophomore guard, has already served notice. He’s the team’s second leading scorer averaging 9.7 points and was an all-tournament selection at last month’s Fremont-Sunnyvale tournament.
“He’s got good size for a point guard and he penetrates really well,” Milch said.
Vargas gives the Tigers a reliable point guard, allowing Milch to move senior Jaylend Jones to the shooting guard position. The move has already paid dividends, with Jones leading the team averaging 10.2 points.
“They’re a great (backcourt) tandem,” Milch said. “They work really well together.”
Piccolotti, a 6-1 junior guard, won’t be eligible to play until later this week under Central Coast Section transfer rules requiring him to sit the first 30 days of the season, but he impressed in summer league play and has been a steady presence in practices.
Piccolotti is expected to get significant playing time, Milch said, noting his combination of quickness, strength and shooting ability.
“He brings a lot to the table,” Milch said.
Piccolotti’s leadership could open the door to a bigger role, Milch said.
“He works hard every day in practice pushing teammates and he has a great attitude,” Milch said. “Even though he hasn’t played he’s always there at practice and he helps out at the games with either video or the scorebook. He’s just a great kid.”
The transfers augment a nucleus of five key returnees that includes returning starters Jones, Dominic De Souza, and David Smathers.
De Souza, a 6-7 center, has been out with a foot injury but is expected back later this week. He’s the team’s third leading scorer averaging 7.5 points and leads the team averaging 7.7 rebounds and three blocks.
Milch believes that his team on paper has the talent to challenge the league’s Big Three if his players can maintain intensity they’ve shown in spurts for longer periods.
“There’ s a lot of potential there,” he said.
After an 0-3 start, Terra Nova has won three consecutive games and five of its last six culminating with an impressive 48-38 nonleague win against Lynbrook on Saturday.
Milch acknowledged that his team still has a ways to go, noting that his team played some of its toughest opponents early on, but said his team has done a good job of cutting down on turnovers and has shown a propensity for finishing games strong.
Half Moon Bay won for the 10th time in 11 games to start the season on Saturday as a Cougars pulled off a narrow 37-36 nonleague victory over Menlo-Atherton.
The Cougars won without anyone reaching double figures in scoring.
Owen Putz and Tommy Nuno each scored eight points to lead the team and E.J. Madriaga added seven points.
Corey Cilia leads the Cougars averaging 15.5 points.