FULL CIRCLE: Ybarra returns after leading Centennial to 2003, 2004 state titles

Centennial teacher Steve Ybarra is returning as the school’s boys and girls track coach next school year. He coached the 2003, above, and 2004 boys teams to 4A state titles, the only two boys track championships in school history. Ybarra is in the lower left corner of this photo from his collection. [Courtesy Steve Ybarra]

Richard Smith
West Valley Preps

Steve Ybarra knew he would coach track again at Centennial, but the opportunity arrived even earlier than he might have expected.

Less than a month after the school year ended he was back in the saddle of the program he led to state titles in 2003 and 2004. Not that he was taking a breather.

Since he arrived on campus around the turn of the century, Ybarra has always coached some group of Coyotes. He spent 2018-19 as a first-year girls cross country coach and dabbled as a softball coach, after spending three years as the girls soccer head coach.

“I’ve always wanted to get back into track,” Ybarra said. “Coaching was not in the plans with the other staff. Coach Kaye asked if I could help by coaching the freshman softball team.”

But shortly after the spring season, it was clear coach Simone Terry was not coming back.

She led the program for the past three seasons.

“Coach Terry gave our student athletes an opportunity to compete and experience success and we are grateful to coach for her dedication to Centennial track and field. We wish her continued success in her future goals,” Centennial athletic director Peter Jelovic stated in an email.

Ybarra did not work as an assistant during the last three years. But he was not completely out of the loop.

His son, Connor has been on the team for two years, so Ybarra attended meets when possible. Connor Ybarra will be a junior in the fall.

“I’m very familiar with the crew and looking forward to working with them,” Ybarra said.

He inherits a promising roster, led by senior-to-be Rylee Perkins. She claimed Division II state titles in the long jump and triple jump.

Classmate Brendon James placed third in the javelin, while juniors-to-be Beatriz Razon and Kiya Pogue placed fourth in the girls javelin and 100-meter hurdles respectively.

“I’m going to be a little spoiled on both sides with the talent coming back,” Ybarra said.

Now the charge is climbing back up the Division II ranks on the boys side. Centennial’s boys placed fifth in 2018 but dropped to 14th this spring.

Nearly the reverse happened for the girls team, as the Coyotes jumped from 12th in 2018 to fourth in 2019.

Jelovic said the school’s goal is to field a competitive girls and boys team that attract student-athletes to attend Centennial High School.

“The athletic department believes that we can continue to build upon the great athletic tradition at Centennial High School. Many of our teams compete at a very high level throughout the state and we feel that our track and field program can compete for championships at the Division II level,” Jelovic stated.

To that end, Ybarra said he recently had a long conversation with assistant Brad Wharton about working with track-only athletes — particularly on jumping and hurdling techniques — during fall while Ybarra is leading cross country.

Wharton also leads the Coyotes’ successful multi-event program, though Terry’s background as a certified International Association of Athletics Federations Level V coach includes a heavy emphasis on the decathlon and heptathlon.

Ybarra said he does not want to cut back on the multi-event program, which produced a state champion in the graduated Joshua Neumann and a third-place heptathlete in Razon. However, he wants to place more emphasis on the multis athletes placing in individual events.

The returning coach also said this time around, the balance will be better than it was when he coached his two favorite sports.

“It was always tough to coach track right after coaching soccer,” Ybarra said. “That break helps even though it’s not very long.”

The 1992 Cactus High School alum has always bounced between track and soccer, first as a player and then as a coach.

He started his college career on the University of Arizona cross country and track teams, but felt the tug of soccer. Ybarra switched sports, playing soccer at Yavapai College in Prescott and then the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.

“Coach Ybarra had success as the head coach at Centennial and we are thankful that he has chosen to return. He has recruited a dedicated and knowledgeable staff that will build upon the great track and field tradition at Centennial High School,” Jelovic stated. “We feel that Coach Ybarra will transition easily into his new role. He was a head coach previously, he currently is a staff member on campus, and he has recruited staff members to be a part of his coaching staff. Steve has been on our campus since 2000 and has contributed as a coach in many different roles.”

Steve Ybarra has returned as the Centennial track and field coach. [Courtesy Centennial Athletics]

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