Local high school coaches still don’t know whether the COVID-19-related school shutdowns translate to a break in their schedules or a sudden end to the 2020 spring season.
By the second week of April, the California Interscholastic Federation will have decided if there will be a season for teams to go back to. Until then, teams are left to contemplate what the shutdown means to them. Local school districts had suspended all on-campus programs until at least April 6, and on Wednesday, both Tracy Unified and Lammersville Unified school districts announced that the closure would be extended until after their spring breaks, with schools possibly reopening April 20.
Coaches responding to an email inquiry from the Tracy Press said they understand that social distancing is best for everyone, but coaches and players can’t help but be disappointed in possibly losing the rest of their spring season.
Justin Bigler, the new softball coach at Kimball High, said Jaguars might not get the chance to see how far their early momentum could have carried them this year.
The team went 4-2 in the first two weeks of the season, with their last game a 16-13 loss at Dougherty Valley in San Ramon on March 11. The team’s early success included a 6-4 come-from-behind win against Tracy High on March 4.
“The culture has changed there this season and the girls believe that they can compete and win every game,” Bigler said. “My heart aches for the all the seniors, but especially for Rylie Costa, who is a four-year varsity player. She and her teammates won’t have that chance to raise Kimball’s first softball banner up in the gym.”
Kimball senior Faith McCarrell was just starting her final season playing with the girls she has grown up with on local softball fields.
“Knowing that we might have played our last game together is upsetting. We weren’t ready to say a final goodbye to the fields we have been playing on since freshman year,” she said. “This year’s team was dedicated, determined and eager to play. Little did we know our season could be cut short.”
Kimball freshman Sophia Coronado said the Jaguars were looking forward to a chance to show the rest of the Valley Oak League how good their team is this year.
“To think that Dougherty Valley could’ve been the last game I played with our seniors is heart-breaking,” Coronado said. “I miss our practices together, the laughs we shared and all the funny jokes we would make to each other. I believe our team had so much potential but we can only come back stronger.”
The Kimball and Mountain House softball teams were due to begin league competition last week. The Tracy and West teams would have begun Tri-City Athletic League play next week.
Tracy High softball coach Paulette Keeney said that even the three-week break originally announced had resulted in the cancellation of the 17th annual Nor Cal Classic Tournament, scheduled for April 16-18, which Tracy High hosts every year and which drew 72 teams last year. Even if the season were to resume April 6, Keeney said TCAL teams would need to play makeup league games rather than play in a tournament.
“Right now, the players cannot even get together to practice or workout,” Keeney said. “It’s very frustrating, but everyone is in the same situation. These athletes have worked so hard for so long that it is a shame they will not be able to showcase their talents one last time before moving on to college.”
West High swim coach Pat Windschitl supports the shutdown, as hard as it might be on athletes.
“Sections, state, and even championships involve huge gatherings of teams, athletes, family, and friends from all over the valley and state. It wouldn’t be responsible at this point to allow for these events to happen, especially as we are likely to see the outbreak really start to impact people next week as many are ignoring the shelter in place requests,” he said.
He had expected 2020 to be his most memorable season in nine years of coaching at West. Two former Wolf Pack swimmers, Cassidy Waters and Nick Jamero, joined Windschitl as coaches this year, and the swimmers, including a couple of the Sac-Joaquin Section’s top contenders, were building toward a big finish.
“Tiny successes from previous seasons have accumulated and built towards this. Our girls program was looking to do something exceptional,” Windschitl said.
He cited seniors Caitlin O’Neill and Natalie Mangskau as the Wolf Pack’s top competitors and as team leaders. They also put their team spirit on display through a YouTube channel documenting time trials and the team’s first two meets.
“Natalie’s leadership and the team’s enthusiasm really shines through,” Windschitl said, adding that O’Neill is a swimmer he has coached for 13 years, including at West High and through the Ellis Aquatics program.
“Fortunately for her she will continue swimming at Fresno State in the fall. I hope my other seniors continue swimming wherever they go either at the collegiate level or club,” he said.
Tracy High’s swim team got a new start this year with Lauren Koury as the new coach. She said that the Bulldogs’ 77-member team is the largest in recent years. A three-week shutdown represents the majority of the Tri-City Athletic League season.
She has stayed in contact with the team through online media to make sure swimmers are continuing dry-land workouts during the down time in hopes of completing at least part of the season.
“Our high school swimmers, especially our seniors, will miss out on so much if our high school season ends up being canceled,” she said. “Sami Lieberg, Natalie Quan and Landon Marks are our three senior captains this year, four-year high school swimmers with a ton of potential and have been working hard each and every day at practice.
“Even though we would not have much of a season yet at least we would be able to finish out what we have started.”
Some local baseball teams, including Kimball and Mountain House, were to begin league play last week, while Tracy and West were to start their TCAL season next week.
West coach Dante Dell’Aringa said that if teams were to return April 6, it would cut into the first week of league play. But with no word yet from league officials and the California Interscholastic Federation set to decide the future of the season next week, he’s prepared for anything.
“I know that coaches are still keeping in touch with players and suggesting strategies to work on their skills at home,” he said. “I sent out a message to our players the other day that listed some simple exercises that we do regularly that don’t require any equipment or much space.
“The COVID-19 situation is changing every day so it’s important that our players make sure they are healthy first and foremost. At the same time, we want them prepared and healthy from a baseball perspective so they can come back and compete if and when we are given the green light to continue play.”
Mountain House coach Stephen Gatehouse also said that, for now, he wants to be prepared to resume play in April.
“Our school is very well-equipped to run distance learning, but it’s been really hard on my team,” he said, adding that each player, from freshmen to seniors, had been coping in their own way. “We are all just trying to make the best of it and stay in touch while we await word.”
Millennium High Athletic Director Stevi Balsamo said her school planned to be off until April 20, but she acknowledged that the situation changes daily.
“We would all love to get our kids back on the playing field, but as of this very moment we have no idea how realistic that is,” she said. “All of our athletes are missing out on something that means so much to many of them, but health will always be our primary concern. These are such uncharted waters that I feel everyone is doing their best just to figure out ‘What next?’”