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2017: A year of firings, fire and challenge

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It is not news that the year that has reached the 2-minute warning was not the best in Petaluma sports history. From firings to just fire, it was a weird year. Even the good news had a strange twist.

There are many ways to do these year-end reviews. I have decided on the traditional Top-10 sports stories of the year.

In an ordinary year, the return of the Egg Bowl would be an obvious list topper, but 2017 was far from an ordinary year. Understand that the list is totally arbitrary. It was chosen by our sports department’s executive board consisting of Me, Myself and I.

1. Herzog leaving

There is probably nothing that would have shocked the Petaluma sports world more than to find out in January that popular Casa Grande football coach Trent Herzog would not be re-hired for the 2017-2018 season.

Officially, Herzog left by mutual agreement with the school. What it amounted to was a firing.

The exact reason for the coach’s exit was never explained, according to Herzog, not even to him.

Since being promoted to the head coaching position in 2009 from his longtime assistant role, Herzog’s teams compiled a 66-34 record. His Gauchos won two league titles, went undefeated in league twice and advanced to the playoffs every year.

Twelve former Gauchos have won major-college scholarships, including nine full-ride scholarships to Division I schools. A total of 26 former players under Herzog went on to play in college.

In early March, Denis Bunk, the Santa Rosa High School varsity head coach, was hired to replace Herzog. Brunk had taken the downtrodden Panthers to the North Coast Section playoffs in just two seasons at Santa Rosa.

Despite the furor created by Herzog’s departure, Brunk’s first season went fairly smooth. His Gauchos lost their first six games under Brunk’s guidance, then won four in a row, finishing 4-7, and not only making the North Coast Section playoffs, but beating Montgomery for a playoff win.

2. Fire season

The fires that ravaged Sonoma and Napa counties in October spared Petaluma, but their impact was still felt in the community, including the sports community. For almost two weeks, sporting events were canceled because of the fires and the unhealthy air they left hovering over Petaluma and every other Sonoma County community.

During the crisis, Petaluma athletes pitched in to help with services for evacuees. The Casa Grande High School campus was turned into an emergency shelter where athletes from both Petaluma and Casa Grande high schools helped in providing emergency food, shelter, clothing and more for fire victims from all over the county.

Petaluma school districts lost class days and sporting events because of poor air quality with both Petaluma and Casa Grande losing football games. Petaluma’s scheduled game against Healdsburg was not made up. Casa’s game against Montgomery was also canceled but, ironically, the Gauchos met, and defeated, the Vikings in the first round of the North Coast Section Division 2 playoffs.

3. Egg Bowl returns

After a six-year suspension following a contentious 2012 game, the Egg Bowl, the annual football rivalry between Petaluma and Casa Grande resumed.

The game was billed as a community game with an emphasis on uniting the two schools. The game plan was precisely followed, with players from both teams joining in community projects prior to the game.

The game also lived up to its billing on the field, with Petaluma winning a well-played thriller, 20-14, in a contest marked by good sportsmanship both on Casa’s turf and in the stands.

4. New Petaluma field

Work began on a $7 million project to bring a new football field and track to Petaluma High School. The facilities will be in the footprint of the old Steve Ellison Field. The stands will remain the same, but there will be a new, state-of-the-art synthetic turf on both the playing field and the track.

Work also should begin soon on the renovation of the Petaluma High School swimming pool.

5. Paul Maytorena retires

In a move that probably could have been anticipated, but was still a shock when it came, Casa Grande’s Paul Maytorena, one of the most successful high school baseball coaches ever in the Redwood Empire, stepped out of the Gaucho dugout.

Maytorena cited a new job to help support his two high-school age daughters as the reason for his difficult decision.

Maytorena’s record ranks with the best ever for a baseball coach in the North Bay. His teams won 406 games, while losing just 136, a winning percentage of .750. His teams won eight Sonoma County League championships and were runner-up five times. After moving to the NBL, his Gauchos won three championships and were runner-up once in five seasons. His teams have won six North Coast Section titles and finished runner-up four times.

Chad Fillinger, a former Casa Grande pitching standout who went on to play four years of professional baseball, was named to replace Maytorena.

6. St. Vincent shakeup

Gary Galloway, who coached football, basketball and baseball, and for more than three decades was the face of St. Vincent sports, was replaced as both football and baseball coach in a shakeup of the St. Vincent High athletic department.

Galloway’s leaving the football program was no surprise. He had been contemplating the move for several months.

The surprise was the veteran coach being replaced by new athletic director Stan Switala as baseball coach. Galloway was one of the most successful baseball coaches in the Redwood Empire during a nearly four-decade run that produced five NCS A titles and 21 NCL II titles. His teams were co-champions three times. He had a won-loss record of 579-224 with three ties for a winning percentage of .718.

Also caught up in the changes was veteran basketball coach Lance Phillips, who had led the St. Vincent basketball team to 14 successful seasons. He was replaced by junior varsity coach Jarred Pengel.

The changes at St. Vincent extended beyond sports with Pat Daly taking over as new principal, replacing John Walker.

7. League realignment

Under a league realignment approved by the North Coast Section, Petaluma and Casa Grande will no longer play traditional rivals like Montgomery, Santa Rosa and Analy, but they will once again face one another in league-counting games.

Under the new alignment, Petaluma and Casa Grande will be in a new league along with Sonoma Valley, American Canyon, Vintage, Napa and Justin-Siena.

Other Sonoma County schools — Analy, Cardinal Newman, El Molino, Elsie Allen, Healdsburg, Maria Carrillo, Montgomery, Piner, Rancho Cotate, Santa Rosa, Windsor — along with Ukiah, will be in the North Bay League.

That league will be divided into an NBL I and an NBL II, based on a school’s competitiveness. League level will vary from sport to sport.

8. Qualls drafted

Former Casa Grande football star Elijah Qualls continued his astonishing football career by being chosen in the sixth round of the National Football League draft by the Philadelphia Eagles.

Qualls played fullback and defensive line for Casa Grande before accepting a scholarship to play for the University of Washington.

The Eagles drafted the 6-foot, 2-inch, 293-pound Qualls to play defensive tackle.

9. SV perfect soccer season

There were many outstanding teams in 2017. The Casa Grande baseball team, the Petaluma football team, the Casa Grande boys lacrosse team, all three boys golf teams (Petaluma, Casa Grande and St. Vincent) and the Petaluma wrestling team all had super seasons.

Only the St. Vincent girls soccer team reached perfection.

St. Vincent won 16 straight regular-season matches, easily winning the North Central League II championship in the process.

They then kicked through three straight wins in the North Coast Section playoffs to grab the NCS pennant and finish off a 19-0 season.

10. Teeter dismissed

Kathryn Teeter was dismissed from her duties as Petaluma High School athletic director.

“I was told that I do 95 percent of my job at 100 percent, but that other 5 percent I don’t do well,” Teeter said.

According to Teeter, she was told that among the 5 percent deficiency was that she didn’t do enough PR for the school and enough to promote the school’s sports programs.

Petaluma High Principal David Stirrat said he could not discuss personnel issues, but did say, “We are looking at ways to enhance the athletic program at Petaluma High School. We need to make clear to the community the challenges and successes we have in athletics.”

(Those are my choices for the Top 10 Petaluma sports stories of 2017. Questions, comments, disagreements are encouraged. Contact John Jackson at johnie.jackson@arguscourier.com)