Dilemmas galore as California pushes back, combines boys, girls volleyball seasons

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CIF volleyball 7/24/2020
Kelly Belardi sets for Marymount in 2019 CIF playoffs/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

“I don’t know” was a common refrain from club and high school coaches alike after the California Interscholastic Federation’s announcement Monday regarding high school sports in the Golden State:


“The California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) has determined, in collaboration with

our 10 Sections, that education-based athletics for the 2020-2021 school year will begin with a modified season of sport schedule (see below for 2020-21 sports calendar). Our calendar reflects the season for each CIF sport and the last date for Section Championships and Regional/State Championships in those sports where a Regional/State Championship is currently offered. Following this announcement, each CIF Section Office will release their own calendar to reflect regular season starting and ending dates and Section playoffs. It is anticipated that most Section start dates will commence in December 2020 or January 2021.


“We are continuously monitoring the directives and guidelines released from the Governor’s Office, the California Department of Education, the California Department of Public Health, and local county health departments and agencies as these directives and guidelines are followed by our member schools/school districts with student health and safety at the forefront. As these guidelines change, CIF Sections may allow for athletic activity to potentially resume under the summer period rules of the local Section. Also, given this calendar change, the CIF has temporarily suspended Bylaws 600-605 (Outside Competition) in all sports for the 2020-21 school year.”


If you are looking for a rose-colored lens view, then the good news is if everything goes as planned we’ll indeed see California high school sports in 2020. Even if it’s only a few weeks before the calendar closes on the year. It’s still up to each section to decide what it wants to do.

The Southern Section — the largest of the 10 sections with over 500 schools — has released its sports schedule. While the start of football is pushed back to January, both girls and boys volleyball are set to begin in mid-December. Normally, girls play in the fall and boys in the spring, but this year the schedule has been condensed to two seasons — fall and spring. It’s likely other sections will follow with something similar. Here are the dates for volleyball in the Southern Section:

Boys
First Contest – Saturday, Dec. 12
Sit Out Period Eligible — Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021
Last League Contest — Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021
Last Allowable Contest — Saturday, Feb. 23, 2021
CIF Sectional Championships — Saturday, March 6, 2021
CIF Southern Regionals –March 15-20, 2021
Girls
First Contest — Saturday, Dec. 19
Sit Out Period Eligible — Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021
Last League Contest — Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021
Last Allowable Contest — Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021
CIF Sectional Championships — Friday-Saturday, March 12-13, 2021
CIF State Championship Finals — Friday-Saturday, March 19-20, 2021


The normal high school season for girls runs August to November, with club play beginning in January for both the Northern (NCVA) and Southern California Volleyball associations. We were unable to get responses from either, but coaches in each region did share insights.


In SoCal, it’s very likely the girls follow suit and join the boys in having a split club season. The boys club season begins in October and runs through January, then stops Febuary-May for the high school season before resuming for its last month in June. The plan for the girls this club season is to also start in October and play through November, stopping in December for the high school season to begin and the resume again in January, when there would be overlap with the high school season. It’s also likely there wouldn’t be any changes to the boys club schedule.


In NorCal, the circumstances are different and various options are still being explored. SoCal has two large indoor facilities in the American Sports Center (32 courts) and Momentous Volleyball Club (24 courts), plus enough clubs which own their own facilities, to accommodate the demand. NorCal mostly relies on convention center space and that creates another layer.


Omni volleyball director Gabe Leal said she emailed NCVA director Donna Donaghy, but “as of now she has no answers for us.


“She’s looking for options because up here we don’t have access to the facilities. We use convention centers to host tournaments. With boys and girls (high school) at the same time as club it’s difficult to find the facilities to do that. It’s a great question.”


Leal is the tournament director for the Stockton Classic, a high school event that attracts many of the top teams in NorCal. With the high school season being pushed back and now overlapping with club, available dates are limited but Leal is still planning on hosting the event. Meanwhile, tournaments like the Durango Fall Classic and the California Challenge have been rescheduled for 2021.


“I’m moving forward,” Leal said. “There are five weekends I’m looking at but there are a lot of moving parts right now.”


Answers were not expected to come the same week CIF made its decision. Leal is just one of the many club and high school coaches now scrambling for plans. And even if the questions go away, there’s always the lingering doubt that remains.


Archbishop Mitty coach Bret Almazan-Cezar — who has been at the helm for 11 of the state-record 14 state championships the school owns in girls volleyball — called Leal to see if the Stockton Classic was still going to be played this season. Even with the optimism of returning to play, Almazan-Cezar said he remains aware that at any point a number of factors could shut down play for an unknown amount of time.


“There are so many things where someone could step in and shut it down,” he said. “Our district could tell us no or the county or the state or our Bishop. We are going to make decisions based on the safety of our kids and I think that’s the best thing.

“It’s so fluid right now. Things are changing daily. We are still waiting on a directive from our section. We are waiting for a directive from our league as well. I’m not even sure how to juggle high school and club at this point. We’ll make the decisions that are best for our kids but I can’t tell you what that looks like right now.”

Given that girls and boys high school seasons are normally separated it did catch some by surprise to see the two lumped together. Dan O’Dell — who took over the girls program at Mater Dei in 2013 and has guided the Monarchs to a record seven straight sectional championship appearances and titles in three of the past five seasons — wasn’t expecting to see the high school seasons run concurrently.


“I was a little surprised they did that,” said O’Dell, who is also the club director at Momentous. “Really, one of my first reactions was sympathy for the refs. It’s a logistical nightmare scheduling refs for both. We nearly run out of refs as it is during the girls season and now we have boys on top of it.”


While O’Dell joked about hoping to be able to see his family as he manages overlapping high school and club duties, he doesn’t coach the boys at Mater Dei so he won’t have it as tough as many others. At Huntington Beach, Craig Pazanti runs both the boys and girls programs for high school as well as two club teams at Pinnacle.


“There’s all this stuff happening at once,” said Pazanti, who coached the Oilers boys to a national-record winning streak of 121 matches from 2013-2016. “If I had 28 hours in the day and nine days a week, I might be able to make it all work.”


Pazanti is among the coaches who didn’t anticipate having the high school seasons at the same time. He also said “officials will be a big issue” because there is already a shortage during girls season. He also knows he not alone in the juggling act he faces.


“You have boys and girls volleyball together when I would say 50 percent of the coaches coach both,” Pazanti said. “I bet if CIF sent out a survey we would see that a high percentage coach both because they are different seasons. It’s difficult no matter how you look at it but I’m not sure it was the greatest solution.”


There have already been talks about scheduling the same schools together for both boys and girls for league matches, Pazanti said. For example, Huntington Beach would play Newport Harbor for both boys and girls and hold a doubleheader on the same day. Pazanti also said league coaches are looking ahead to balance with the club season.


One example comes with the SCVA Las Vegas Classic scheduled over President’s Day weekend in February. Pazanti is hoping the coaches will move up the last of the league matches so that league play finishes the week of the Las Vegas Classic. That would allow girls to finish out league and still travel for the club tournament. Then players could have week off from high school competition when they get back from Las Vegas before starting playoffs should their teams make it that far.


With all the volleyball at the same time, Pazanti is worried about overuse injuries. Playing both club and high school at the same time is possible this season because CIF made an exception for its outside competition bylaw. But if all that isn’t enough for someone like Pazanti to deal with, there’s one more item complicating matters more.


While CIF is allowing for outside competition this season, it didn’t make an exception its Sunday no-contact policy. Coaches are not allowed to be with their high school players on Sundays. It helps eliminate high schools from running Sunday practices disguised as club clinics. The direct impact for coaches like Almazan-Cezar, O’Dell, Pazanti and the rest who coach both high school and club is this. If any coach has a high school player or players on the club team they coach then they are not allowed to coach the club team on Sundays. Should they, that would violate the Sunday no-contact bylaw.


“At Momentous, we are used to practicing at the same time on the same days,” said O’Dell, who could lose Sunday as an option for his club practices. “Now we have to look at which days of the week can we practice. We’ll have to find out which girls have high school matches or when their high school practices are. We all are going to have to adapt.”


Can everyone get along?


That’s another unknown but communication and cooperation are going to be necessary moving forward should club and high school coaches want to avoid issues like overuse injuries or posturing between the two sides.


“The hope is high school coaches don’t say they are the first priority and you can’t miss anything for club, or club coaches say they are the first priority and you can’t miss anything for high school,” O’Dell said.

“It can’t become a battle between high school and club. It’ll be bad for both. We need to support and have an understanding of each other. When we get through high school, you’ll still have three months of club.”

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