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NEW LEAGUES

VINE VALLEY LEAGUE

American Canyon

Casa Grande

Justin-Siena

Napa

Petaluma

Sonoma Valley

Vintage

NORTH BAY LEAGUE

Oak Division

Analy

Cardinal Newman

Maria Carrillo

Rancho Cotate

Ukiah

Windsor

Redwood Division

El Molino

Elsie Allen

Healdsburg

Montgomery

Piner

Santa Rosa

HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: WEEK 1

FRIDAY

(all kickoffs 7:30 p.m. unless noted) Cardinal Newman at Fortuna

Analy vs. Santa Rosa

Rancho Cotate vs. Sacramento

Casa Grande at Windsor

Montgomery vs. Petaluma

Ukiah vs. Willits

Sonoma Valley at Cloverdale

Healdsburg vs. Drake

Piner at Rodriguez

Kelseyville at Stellar Prep, 7 p.m.

SATURDAY

El Molino vs. St. Bernard, 2 p.m.

St. Helena at Arcata, 7 p.m.

After more than a year of discussions among high school coaches, athletic directors and principals, the new Sonoma County sports league alignments will make their debut season with football games Friday night.

Twelve teams from the new North Bay League’s Oak and Redwood divisions and three Sonoma County members of the newly formed Vine Valley League will open non-league play in nine games from Fairfield to Fortuna.

Most teams are familiar with their opening opponent, having played against each other in old configurations of the North Bay League or the now-defunct Sonoma County League. But come league play in a few weeks, some matchups will be brand new.

“It’s definitely a big change for us,” Analy coach James Foster said. “We have a completely different schedule, in terms of trying to win a league championship. It should be exciting.”

Early in 2017, three Napa County high schools — Napa, Vintage and American Canyon — asked the governing California Interscholastic Federation for permission to withdraw from the Sac-Joaquin Section and move to the North Coast Section, which includes Sonoma County schools and those farther north.

The Napa County schools said they wanted less travel time for their student-athletes but also more balanced competition.

Following multiple meetings, arguments and compromises, the NCS and CIF agreed, leading to a realignment that eliminated the SCL, created the new seven-team Vine Valley League and turned the NBL into a 12-team, two-division “super league.”

The biggest changes are for Petaluma, Casa Grande and Sonoma Valley, which moved to Vine Valley and will play against American Canyon, Justin-Siena, Napa and Vintage.

Alignments in the NBL will change by sport, designed to create competitive equity among large athletic powerhouse schools and generally smaller, less successful programs. The composition of the divisions, created after looking at the level of competition in individual sports over a five-year period, will be reconsidered every two years.

NBL commissioner Jan Smith Billing credited athletic directors with understanding other schools’ needs, not just their own.

“I met with all the fall-season coaches and they are also going into it with an open mind,” she said. “Some are very excited. Some are a little nervous about switching and playing other teams.

“I’m sure we’ll have glitches, but we’re giving it two years. We’re giving it a good shot.”

For the three teams headed to the Vine Valley League, it will mean a big change in travel. Petaluma football coach Rick Krist quipped that his team will no longer face heavy Highway 101 traffic, but Highway 37 slowdowns instead.

But he said he was generally pleased with the new league.

“When it first came out, I think there was a lot of community concern” about having to play the Napa schools, he said. “They are big schools. There’s a mismatch in some cases. In football, numbers mean a lot. Maybe not in baseball or basketball or noncontact sports. But it might when we are going to be facing teams with 50-60 kids on the sideline when we have 39.”

Then again, it may reduce blowout wins like Petaluma benefited from in the SCL last football season: 56-6 vs. Sonoma Valley, 50-19 vs. Piner, 56-21 vs. El Molino and 63-21 vs. Elsie Allen.

“It’s a huge challenge. Definitely, playing in the SCL there were times we had mismatched games. I don’t think that’s going to happen this year,” Krist said.

NEW LEAGUES

VINE VALLEY LEAGUE

American Canyon

Casa Grande

Justin-Siena

Napa

Petaluma

Sonoma Valley

Vintage

NORTH BAY LEAGUE

Oak Division

Analy

Cardinal Newman

Maria Carrillo

Rancho Cotate

Ukiah

Windsor

Redwood Division

El Molino

Elsie Allen

Healdsburg

Montgomery

Piner

Santa Rosa

HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: WEEK 1

FRIDAY

(all kickoffs 7:30 p.m. unless noted) Cardinal Newman at Fortuna

Analy vs. Santa Rosa

Rancho Cotate vs. Sacramento

Casa Grande at Windsor

Montgomery vs. Petaluma

Ukiah vs. Willits

Sonoma Valley at Cloverdale

Healdsburg vs. Drake

Piner at Rodriguez

Kelseyville at Stellar Prep, 7 p.m.

SATURDAY

El Molino vs. St. Bernard, 2 p.m.

St. Helena at Arcata, 7 p.m.

“This year we’re facing some of the best. They’re going to learn some things about themselves.”

Analy’s Foster said some of his players also are looking forward to a more challenging league. The Tigers went 5-0 last year in the SCL, a 48-32 win against Petaluma their only taxing contest.

“They see that some of the teams we play against are kind of the elite of the teams in this area,” he said. “They’re excited to play that competition. A lot of the teams in our league are teams we scheduled in the preseason before.

“But now the games will mean something.”

In addition to Analy, the Oak Division for football includes Cardinal Newman, Maria Carrillo, Rancho Cotate, Ukiah and Windsor. Last season, Cardinal Newman (5-0) and Rancho Cotate (4-1) dominated the NBL, while Analy (5-0) and Petaluma (4-1) ruled the SCL.

The Redwood Division includes Santa Rosa, Piner, Montgomery, Healdsburg, Elsie Allen and El Molino.

“We wanted to make it the best possible solution for the kids,” Smith Billing said, “so that the kids had a positive experience when they went out to compete, they had confidence that ‘We could maybe win this event,’ instead of ‘Yeah, we’re going to get slaughtered again.’”

Section officials encouraged schools to schedule non-league games with their historic rivals, too, to continue those long traditions.

Santa Rosa will travel to Petaluma to play the Trojans in The Big Game on Aug. 24. The oldest high school rivalry in Sonoma County dates to 1892, when Santa Rosa and Petaluma were the cities’ only public schools.

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 707-521-5470 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @loriacarter.

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