Sophomore standout Alli Dioli wasted no time starting the Cougars’ girls varsity basketball team’s unusual season. Her first shot of the game, a 3-pointer from the left wing on the first possession, marked a milestone moment for a struggling Peninsula Athletic League trying to schedule games during a pandemic.
After five eight-minute playing periods, the reigning Central Coast Section Division IV champions came away with an 83-43 blowout win over Carlmont High School on Thursday evening at Half Moon Bay High School.
“It was fun to get back to a sense of normal,” Dioli said after playing in what was likely the peninsula’s first indoor high school sports competition since the pandemic began last March. “Playing against other people outside our group was really fun.”
The California Department of Public Health states that for basketball teams playing outside of the yellow tier, players must have negative test results within 48 hours of competition. This requires teams to get tested at least twice a week. Last week, athletic directors in the PAL decided scheduling between competing school districts would prove too complicated this year. Now, school districts that want to play and can figure out testing are creating their own schedules.
San Mateo Union School District is not allowing schools to play until the county reaches the yellow tier, when there are no restrictions about indoor sports. The Cougars were originally supposed to play Woodside High School on Friday, but when the team couldn’t meet its testing protocol, head coach Antonio Veloso coordinated with Carlmont to get testing done in time.
The Cougars are joining a new five-team league with Sequoia Union High School District. The new league consists of Menlo-Atherton, Sequoia, Carlmont, Woodside and Half Moon Bay, and Veloso oversees scheduling. The plan is to get tested on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which would cover games on the following days. This allows teams to play back-to-back games and still be within the restrictions of one test. Half Moon Bay will still play private schools that get tested, including St. Ignatius, Menlo, Pinewood and Riordan on weekends. To limit physical interaction, boys and girls won’t overlap on the same day. This is yet another change from years past, when Friday nights would feature four games from both junior varsity and varsity teams.
The Cougars’ home gym, which is normally packed with cheering students, felt oddly quiet on Thursday. Only parents are allowed and they are supposed to help in some way, either taking temperatures, keeping doors open for ventilation, filming or keeping stats. Facemasks are required for everyone in the gym except the players on the court.
After tipoff on Thursday, the Cougars took full control of the game. Dioli and Abby Kennedy each finished with 19 points.
“Just seeing kids run up and down, that was awesome,” Veloso said.
Half Moon Bay’s defense forced a lot of turnovers which got the Cougars scoring in transition. By halftime, the Cougars were up 39-20. Carlmont made a push in the third, holding the Cougars to just one basket and winning the point differential, 10-2.
In the fourth quarter, however, it seemed like none of the Cougars could miss as they outscored Carlmont 26-5. Abby Co spun and crossed-over opponents in the lane, scoring a layup that capped a 12-0 start to the period. Kennedy and Dioli rained 3-pointers. Genevieve Belmonte set solid screens and hit a 3 herself.
“It felt really good,” senior guard Maya Rippberger said. “It felt weird being around so many people and playing against people that we don’t see every day. But it was really fun.”