Although it’s four months removed from the holiday season, the past few weeks are reminiscent of a special time of year for Cougars’ boys varsity basketball coach John Parsons.
“Coming into the gym is like Christmas morning for him,” said junior forward Owen Wooliever.
The boys and girls basketball teams have been practicing in the Half Moon Bay High School gym for about four weeks, only able to scrimmage for the past three. For months, the only practice the basketball teams could do was one person to a hoop, no contact allowed. Now, a once-simple scrimmage feels like a dramatic achievement.
“That was huge for the kids,” Parsons said. “I can see a night-and-day difference for their morale. We did what we could outside, but it’s not the same.”
“It helps you mentally because you know you’re taking the steps to eventually play,” girls varsity head coach Antonio Veloso said of the scrimmages.
Both teams, which get tested weekly at the Ted Adcock Community Center, are hoping to start their season against Woodside High School at the Cabrillo Event Center this week. The boys begin at 7 p.m. on Thursday. The girls go at 6:30 p.m. on Friday. That is, if Woodside athletic officials are able to cement plans for their own testing regimen by then.
Though having players in the gym is a familiar sight to the coaches, the schedule itself is anything but. The Central Coast Section hasn’t officially canceled playoffs for so-called Season 2 sports, but Veloso isn’t holding out hope for them. Both teams are hoping to get 20 games this year between 12 league and eight nonleague matchups.
While outdoor prep sports could compete starting in mid-February, indoor sports didn’t get the green light until March 4, when a settlement between the state of California and return-to-play advocates made it possible for youth sports to be played in counties with an adjusted case rate below 14 per 100,000 residents. The county’s current rate is 2 cases per 100,000.
“Even if we’re able to play, we don’t know who we can play,” Parsons said.
Even though the Cougars may be ready to go, other school districts hold teams back. Parsons said the Peninsula Athletic League schedule is still fluid as some schools won’t play until San Mateo County reaches the yellow tier, which means a positive daily case rate of less than 1 per 100,000 residents. So, the Cougars won’t play teams in San Mateo Union School District, which includes Burlingame, Hillsdale, San Mateo and Aragon high schools.
Meanwhile, other schools, like Westmoor and Terra Nova, aren’t even able to practice in gyms yet. Because some school districts in the PAL can’t adhere to safety protocols, like weekly testing, the Cougars will play more private schools like Menlo School and Sacred Heart Preparatory.
“The challenge really is sitting here and waiting to hear what those other schools said,” Veloso said.
Parsons admitted he had his doubts about the season starting. For him, it was the students who wanted to continue practicing, even just shooting outside.
“I give them a lot of credit because I was down and they picked me up,” Parsons said.
Both squads are returning most of their core. The girls, in route to winning the Division IV CCS Championship, went 25-4 last season, including 11-1 in league play, and made it to the second round of the 2020 California Interscholastic Federation tournament. In 2019, the boys went 20-7, 12-0 in league, made it to the CCS Division IV semifinals and the first round of CIF the Division III state tourney.
On top of maintaining the team chemistry that was so crucial to last season’s success, the girls know this is an abnormal season with unusual challenges. While it’s fun to see their friends, the girls know how quickly things can change.
“It’s a little bit stressful with everything up in the air right now, like if games are going to happen,” said junior Abby Kennedy. “We’re all trying to stay positive and be ready for whatever happens.”
“We have to be really safe and careful about what we’re doing to not jeopardize the season,” said senior Maya Rippberger.
After last season’s run for the boys, Mykola Ediger was named the PAL North Most Valuable Player and the CCS Junior of the Year by the sports website Prep2Prep. He averaged 17.1 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.8 steals per game.
“I hadn’t been in the gym for over a year, I think,” Ediger said last week. “It’s so much fun to be here with all these guys that I might not ever play with ever again. I’m just grateful that we have this time to be here.”