The workload will be doubled for those high school coaches who coach both the girls and boys teams in water polo and indoor volleyball.
That’s because the modified 2020-21 sports calendar released Monday by the CIF-Southern Section has all water polo and volleyball being played in the same season.
Boys and girls volleyball begin Dec. 12 and Dec. 19, respectively; boys water polo will commence on Dec. 21 and girls water polo on Dec. 28. In normal conditions, girls volleyball and boys water polo are played in the fall, girls water polo in the winter and boys volleyball in the spring.
But amid the COVID-19 pandemic, traditional school life and schedules have been turned upside down.
The usual three seasons of sports have been condensed to two. The CIF-SS devised that plan because it would give athletic teams a nearly full schedule of competition in a shortened time frame. Instead of starting in August, the fall season will begin in December and run through March; the spring season will start in late February and finish in late June.
The changes were made with the hope that coronavirus cases will decline dramatically, that county health departments will allow high schools to reopen and that school districts will give the green light to conduct athletic competitions.
If schools are able to return to a sense of normalcy, coaches like Mark Walsh of Santa Barbara High water polo, Bryan Snyder of Dos Pueblos water polo, Jason Donnelly of Laguna Blanca volleyball and Dillan Bennett of Bishop Diego volleyball will be spending a lot more time on the pool deck and in the gym.
“Coaching both teams in the same season for this one season will be a challenge for sure,” said Walsh, who has coached the SBHS boys and girls water polo programs since 1997 and has won a total of 14 CIF titles, including a boys title last fall. “I am hoping to have boys and girls doubleheaders so I can coach both teams, back to back. On non-game days, I will just have to be on the deck longer. We have been off the deck for so long now, they might have a hard time taking me off the deck. I’ll be so excited to be around the kids again, helping them improve in the game they love.”
Snyder said: “Coaching both teams at DP will certainly present a challenge this year, but I am confident that our coaching staff will get creative in our practice and game schedules, so that both teams get all the attention they need. The way that 2020 has gone thus far, I consider it just another challenge and I know we are up for the task.”
Donnelly, who also serves as the athletic director at Laguna Blanca and has coached the girls volleyball program to two CIF titles and a regional final, said things have been hectic since the modified sports calendar was released.
“My hope is to find a way to continue to coach both teams,” he said. “We will look at ways to try and make that work, both with our league and non-league schedules.
Bishop Diego and Laguna Blanca volleyball coaches Dillan Bennett and Jason Donnelly will be pulling double duty in the fall season of the modified CIF-SS sports calendar. (Noozhawk file photo)
“I was a little surprised they put both volleyball seasons together, as I know I’m not the only one trying to figure this issue out. I think with some creative thinking it’s possible, but there’s a lot of work to be done between now and then.”
Bennett said the energy and extra work that will be required to coach two teams in the same season bring back memories when he coached a middle school team, a beach team, a varsity boys team and a high-level club team during the same season.
“While the news sounds like a lot to handle for one person, I think my staff and I at Bishop Diego have more than enough time to prepare for all three seasons, boys, girls and sand volleyball, in 2021,” he said. “I actually think the overlapped season is great for our school. To have the volleyball teams practicing together, competing together, and making playoff runs at the same time, I think the energy that we create on our campus will match or exceed what we were able to create last year.
“I think this is a great opportunity to showcase both programs in the same season, and show our volleyball program off to the community.”
Scheduling will be key for the coaches.
“Some schools might want to play their boys games on Mondays and Wednesdays and the girls on Tuesdays and Thursdays. If that is the case, I’ll coach the games and my assistant would run practices,” Walsh said. “It is not an ideal situation, but neither is our world right now.”
Snyder said he’s making new schedules for both the boys and girls.
“I have talked with a lot of coaches for both seasons already about reserving games with them and, after I get our league schedules, we should be able to figure out new dates that work with those other coaches. One change we will need to make for both teams is to limit our travel time as much as possible so that both teams are able to get all the contests they need in the shortened season.”
Bennett said the girls 2020 volleyball schedule that he completed in March is now at the bottom of his paper shredder.
“I was so excited for our competitive schedule this season with the girls, with over 25 contests scheduled,” he said. “Much like everyone’s lives during this pandemic, all plans have to be flexible. This will be a season of flexibility, to say the least.”
Donnelly said he is starting his schedule from scratch.
“I think we will start with what happens with the Tri-County Athletic Association and go from there,” he said. “We had our first of many meetings (Tuesday) morning to figure out how this will all work. The ultimate goal will be to find a way to get our student-athletes safely back to their respective playing fields.”
Other local coaches who will be handling boys and girls teams in the same sport in the fall include Carpinteria’s Dino Garcia in volleyball and Sergio Castaneda in water polo. In the spring, coaches for boys and girls tennis and golf will run into similar issues as their seasons run concurrently.
Bennett said the TCAA will look at a couple of options to try to help the volleyball coaches who coach both programs.
“I favor the option that leagues such as the Pacific View League are planning to follow that match the Canadian Intercollegiate model, with boys and girls varsity matches taking place back-to-back,” he said. “If we can make that accommodation in a year, that multiple levels will be hard to field in the same sport, I believe all coaches who coach both will be in a better position to offer the most time to both programs.”
In a sport like water polo, where tournaments make up the bulk of team schedules, Walsh isn’t sure at this time if Santa Barbara will be traveling to multi-day events in Orange County or hosting tournaments.
“We would love to be able to host our high-level boys and girls tourneys again this year,” he said. “We would love to go to OC and play in the high-level tourneys we have always played in, but there is so much unknown about travel and overnight trips.
“One interesting thing is the North sections and Southern sections for girls have never played in the same season. So, we could play some girls teams we have never played before.”
In addition to redoing schedules to make things workable, the combining of the boys and girls volleyball and water polo seasons figures to pose problems in scheduling officials.
“Officiating will be a big topic of discussion for all sports that require them,” Donnelly said. “We were already short officials in volleyball, so I imagine that (the new schedule) is going to create some interesting scenarios in trying to make it all work.”
On the issue of CIF allowing student athletes to play club sports during the high school season, Donnelly said his hope is “coaches on both sides will work together for the benefit of our student-athletes.”
Bennett said: “While we have many club athletes across our sports at Bishop, I feel confident our student-athletes will make decisions that are best for them and their teammates.”
For boys volleyball in 2020-21, there is an overlap with football, and that could greatly impact the progrrams at smaller schools like Bishop Diego, Laguna Blanca, Cate and Carpinteria.
“I can’t be specific as to how many players we will lose due to the overlap,” said Bennett, who had several football players on his team last spring. “Of all the pieces that fell into place on Monday with the announcement, the most disappointing realization was that it would be very likely we won’t get to build off the progress we made last spring with our football/volleyball players.
“Are we a better team with the dual-sport athletes? Yes. But I also feel very confident we will be successful with the athletes we have that aren’t faced with the tough decision to decide.”