Calexico High School senior Aaron Tabarez drives in for a layup during a game against Imperial earlier this season at Varner Gym in Calexico. The Bulldogs are one of the favorites to win the IVL title as league play opens next week. | CAMILO GARCIA JR. FILE PHOTO
CALEXICO — With the new makeup of the Imperial Valley League and the Desert League, the two teams at the top of the IVL standings are still expected to be Calexico and Central Union High.
Competitive equality has made its way to the Imperial Valley with the IVL boys teams consisting of Calexico, Central Union, Brawley Union, Holtville and Southwest. The DL teams are Vincent Memorial Catholic, Palo Verde Valley of Blythe, Calipatria and Imperial.
The IVL is made up of the five top-ranked teams according to the CIF-San Diego Section preseason rankings, and the DL made up of the bottom four ranked teams.
IVL play is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 11 when Brawley visits Varner Gym to take on Calexico, while Holtville visits Central at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 11, and Southwest waits until 7 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 14, to open league play in Calexico.
Let’s take a look at the IVL teams and what can be expected this season.
The Bulldogs (7-4 this season) were hit hard by the COVID-shortened spring season when they only had three games prior to halting the season due to COVID. They were given a berth in the CIF-SDS Division III playoffs and reached the quarterfinals before falling to Hoover High of San Diego.
Now Calexico finds itself in Division II, just two years after winning the Division IV championship in 2020.
The Bulldogs have a slew of experience in seniors Aaron Tabarez and Julian Beltran, juniors Andres Tabarez and Aidan Carrasco, plus Vincent Memorial junior transfer Landon Blaisdell who helped the Scots reach the Division V championship game in June. Throw in senior captain Christian Bravo and the Bulldogs are loaded for the IVL season.
The Spartans (3-3 this season) were co-champs of the IVL in the 2021 spring season along with Holtville but the loss of senior Jordan Reed means 21 points per game will be missing from the Central lineup.
Senior Jacob Tovar is back for the Spartans after averaging 10.5 points per game last season and sophomore Seth Johnson is also back after averaging 8.6 points per game as a freshman.
Freshman Jared Martin is expected to be a big contributor to the Spartans’ lineup and look for junior Skylar Cook to add strength to the team on the backboard.
When the playoffs roll around, Central will be competing in the CIF-SDS Division III.
The Vikings (2-5 this season) had a strong spring 2021 season, finishing as co-champs along with Central. But the graduation of nine seniors, including five who made significant contributions to the team, have left Holtville struggling during the early portion of the season.
Now in CIF-SDS Division III, the Vikings will need big performances from senior Dorian Maize, who has yet to play this season due to a leg injury, and junior Angel Perez if they hope to compete for a league crown.
Holtville’s 11th-year coach Tony Ramos has yet to make his season debut on the sideline this season as he is dealing with a leg injury as well.
The Wildcats (4-11 this season) are off to a slow start under first-year coach Raul Navarro. Brawley has struggled to score points lately, being held to 31 points or less in its last four games during a tournament in the Coachella Valley.
Two of the Wildcats’ four wins this season have come at the expense of Vincent Memorial Catholic and Calipatria while one of their closer losses was to IVL foe Southwest, 47-44, back on Dec. 10.
For the playoffs, Brawley will be competing in CIF-SDS Division IV.
The Eagles (4-5 this season) have four more games before opening the IVL season at Calexico. Southwest has been up and down this season, never winning or losing more than two games in a row.
Four games in seven days will tell a lot about the Eagles as they host Southwest San Diego on Wednesday, Jan. 5, followed by a home game against Rancho Mirage on Friday, Jan. 7. They will then travel to Ramona on Saturday, Jan. 8, followed by a trip to Hilltop in Chula Vista on Tuesday, Jan. 11.
Southwest will compete in Division IV when the playoffs roll around in February.