Place a carpenter's level on this league and the bubble would rest squarely on center.
The evenness is a departure from a year ago when Tri-Valley teams had more ups and downs than a yo-yo. St. Bonaventure and Santa Ynez dominated at the expense of 4 horrendous teams. Only Oak Park was so-so.
St. Bonaventure lost 6 players, including league MVP Andy Wagoner, and Santa Ynez has been bumped up to the Frontier League. Meanwhile, Bishop Diego, Fillmore and Carpinteria are vastly improved. Only Moorpark might continue to struggle. And Oak Park is still so-so.
"Everybody is playing competitive nonleague schedules and should be playing well by the time league begins," St. Bonaventure Coach Marc Groff said.
Several teams have done face-lifts, including St. Bonaventure. Because of the departure of Wagoner, a 6-foot, 6-inch center who averaged 15 points, 10 rebounds and 4 blocked shots a game, the Seraphs have gone from an inside-oriented team to one that must shoot well from the perimeter.
"We've made 50 3-point shots in our first seven games, which is more than we made all last year," said Groff, whose team needed only the standard 2-point baskets to win the league title with a 12-0 record last year.
Breezing through league play undefeated is unlikely for any team this time around. Bishop Diego and Fillmore have played well in holiday tournaments, defeating larger schools. Carpinteria should be solid once its football players make the transition to the hardwood.
Oak Park was probably the favorite to win the league title until forward Richard Chavez was declared ineligible. The Southern Section ruled that Chavez, an all-league forward last season, has already used his 4 years of eligibility.
A look at each league team follows:
St. Bonaventure--The Seraphs have already lost more games than they did all last year when they were 21-3, but Groff is not ready to surrender the league crown. Rich Slyker, the team's top player, has missed several games with the flu.
"Once he's in the lineup we'll be a lot smoother," Groff said. "He's the steadying force."
Slyker, a senior, has moved from off-guard to point guard, where he will be expected to do the ball-handling and much of the shooting. Junior Kevin Zoll, another good outside shooter, is the off-guard.
Senior center Brian Bass (6-3) was a reserve last year but has averaged 11 points and 8 rebounds a game thus far. Cliff Feldheim, a good 3-point shooter, and Marvin Sagles are the other starters.
Fillmore--The Flashes have nowhere to go but up. After 8 years away from the job, Jim Fauver returns to coach the Flashes, who were winless in league play and 2-21 overall last season.
But Fillmore has already well exceeded last year's win total and could be in the hunt for the playoffs thanks to Randy Hunt, a 6-6, 265-pound center. Hunt is a senior transfer from New Hampshire and he gives Fillmore the largest player in the league. "He takes them from being a small team and makes it a giant team," Groff said.
Sophomore Mike Richardson also is 6-6, so the Flashes actually have something of a twin towers.
Tony Cervantes is only 5-8 but is an able point guard and Brad Edmonds and Robert Medina are experienced forwards.
Moorpark--The Musketeers (8-13, 4-8) could vie for a playoff berth if they keep the ball to themselves. They committed an average of 22 turnovers last season.
Five players return for Coach Rick Kent. Keith Orford, a 6-2 senior forward, is the lone returning starter, however. Orford was third on the team with a 10-point scoring average.
Point guard Scott Semer, forward Matt Cummings and off-guard Tyrone Camacho also return. Robert Hernandez, Jamie Kohls and Jeff Cox should contribute.
Oak Park--The loss of Chavez is compounded by the decision of returning guard Jess Garner to skip basketball and concentrate on getting a football scholarship. The Eagles were 12-12 last season and third in the league at 7-5.
Three starters are back, including 6-4 center Scott Zeigler. Guards Jason Stein and Mitch Harris were also last year's backcourt tandem and swingmen Brian Kane and Jason Patterson return.
Bishop Diego--Although the Cardinals won only 6 games last season, they have defeated Channel Islands, San Marcos and Saugus in the early going this year. "Bishop is the team to beat right now," Groff said.
Senior Mike Fink is the key Cardinal. The 6-3 center missed all of last season with an injury after playing extensively as a sophomore. All-League guard Chris Andersson is an excellent 3-point shooter who averaged 14 points last season.
Sophomore forward Dan Wolf and junior guard Aaron Baker have also played well this season.
Carpinteria--The Warriors were considered the league favorite before a game was played, but after a 1-8 start, some coaches are having second thoughts. However, there is an alibi for the horrible beginning--8 players did not join the team until 2 weeks ago because they played on Carpinteria's Division IX co-champion football team.
Once guard Jeff Meister finds his 3-point range, the Warriors should start winning. Carpinteria was 6-18 last season and 4-8 in league play.