Laguna Beach sports teams transition to Sunset League

Willie Rounaghi, Sports Editor

After 12 years in the Orange Coast League, the Breakers’ athletic program will transition to the Sunset League. The new league challenges many sports teams who traditionally swept through league games.
“There is a releagueing process that goes on amongst the whole county. Because Laguna won an average of about seven out of ten league championships in the Orange Coast League, the teams we were playing against didn’t want to play against us any more. Also, we needed to play against more competitive teams,” said athletic director Lance Neal.
The addition of Laguna Beach and Corona Del Mar to the Sunset League will make it an eight team conference split into two, four-team divisions. The conference will be split into a surf league (upper division) and wave league (lower division), meaning some of the sports could be going up against different teams in league play.
“Right now, all of our teams are in the lower divisions, except for girls and boys water polo,” said Neal.
A huge increase in opponents’ school size comes with this move. The schools in the Sunset League hold an average of 1,700 more students than Laguna Beach. A greater student body results in a larger talent pool of athletes for the teams.
“The competition in our league is going to increase dramatically. We have not had a competitive league game in girls water polo since we entered the Orange Coast league,” said girls water polo coach Ethan Damato.
Many feel it is too dramatic of a move, and there are more suitable choices for the sports programs. It will be really tough for new programs like wrestling that will be going up against squads that have been around for a long time.
“Honestly because of the differences in the school sizes, it is a little more challenging than I would have liked,” said Neal.
All sports teams besides football will be moving to the Sunset League. Sunset League football holds some of the premiere teams in the CIF Southern Section, causing Laguna Beach’s football team to move to the Golden West League, which has eight teams.
,“We actually got put in a different league for football because we couldn’t compete in that football league,” said Neal.
However, many programs that require a large number of athletes, such as baseball and soccer, will need to be competitive against the Sunset League’s much larger school populations.
“There are sports where you don’t need as many players to have a program — golf you only need six kids to go and cross country six kids run and score — are less affected than the bigger sports are,” said Neal.
The move will make it harder for sports to finish in the top two and be guaranteed a CIF berth with better competition. Although, this could positively affect teams’ strength of schedule, which can be helpful for rankings or to get an at-large bid into CIF, if they finish outside of the top two of their league. A tougher schedule will also help teams grow and gain experience against some of the top teams in CIF.
“The new league will make it much tougher to qualify for CIF, so any team that does qualify for CIF will be battle tested,” said girls soccer coach Benjamin Helm.
The move will prove challenging for all the Laguna Beach sports teams, some more than others, causing teams and players to grow and develop faster.
“Bring it on!” said tennis coach Rick Conkey.