Published March 30, 2021
By RILEY PALSHAW
With the 73-annual Shoe Game on Thursday, the Carmel High athletic program closes Season 1 and transitions into Season 2, which consists of typical winter and spring sports simultaneously, and coaches hope to keep building momentum as competition becomes increasingly likely all around.
Season 1 teams’ experiences have been varied, with health restrictions and the tier system regulating what certain sports can and cannot do. Although the season was often tough to navigate, many teams at least got some competition out of it.
“Carmel cross-country has been quite fortunate this season,” says head coach Whit Rambach. “Besides the obvious masking, distancing and health screening protocols, our practices and competitions have been business as usual. It has been a wonderful sense of normalcy for our athletes.”
Over the course of five weeks, the cross-country team raced in five meets, leaving the girls undefeated. Deemed a red-tier sport, field hockey was also permitted to play at San Benito High School where they won 2-0, and at home where they won 3-1 against Salinas. The field hockey season began as fairly restrictive, but with Monterey County moving to the red tier, practices became more normal, as girls were allowed to come within six feet of each other for drills and team scrimmages.
“The field hockey season was really nice because I hadn’t seen most of my team members in over a year, and it honestly felt like a pretty normal season — except with masks of course,” says junior field hockey athlete Lelia Kraut.
Football was also among those sports that were allowed to play other schools. Junior varsity took on King City and Trinity, while varsity also played King City and will play Pacific Grove on April 2. Each player took a mandatory COVID-19 test that had to come back negative in order for them to participate. Because of their orange-tier status, practices have proceeded as usual, just with more spacing and drills involving smaller groups.
Despite these teams’ success, some sports didn’t get much in terms of games or scrimmages against other schools. Volleyball ended their season Wednesday with a lighthearted scrimmage against their own players on their final day of practice. Likewise, boys’ water polo didn’t play any games, and instead took the time to improve their skills.
“The season was more for fun than for anything else,” says junior water polo player James Parker. “The time given inhibited the possibility of any major growth, but overall it was enjoyable, and it was nice to meet the new coaches.”
Girls’ water polo, on the other hand, played against both Hollister and Salinas.
As Season 1 sports conclude, athletes now focus on winter and fall sports, and coaches remain hopeful as they prepare for the upcoming season. As of now, boys’ lacrosse and girls’ softball each have a 12-game season ahead of them, and many other sports may also get that opportunity depending on the county’s status and where the sport is ranked in the tier model.
Tennis, for example, is socially distanced in nature and categorized as a purple-tier sport, which makes varsity girls’ tennis coach Lauren Haase hopeful that her girls will get a season.
“We don’t know the future and what will be scheduled,” Haase says. “But we appreciate the privilege of playing and are preparing for any scenario. We will be preparing for matches to be played, giving our full effort and playing with the usual good sportsmanship that our team always has.”
Due to the unconventional length of the season and the circumstances in which it takes place, coaches’ expectations for this year have been altered from past years.
“Although I recognize it will be an abbreviated season, I am still hopeful that we can accomplish quite a bit and create some good memories for our seniors,” says varsity boys’ basketball coach Kurt Grahl. “This is also a good time to let the juniors get some experience that will be vital for their senior year.”
Coaches not only have to handle shortened seasons, but develop practice plans that fall in line with the CDC and Monterey County health regulations in a constantly changing environment.
“Some of the differences this season will be centered on our focus of player safety, increase in outdoor activity and skill development,” says Joy Smith, varsity girls’ lacrosse coach. “The goal for the entire CHS athletic program is to safely return to sport and promote physical fitness along with skill development in conjunction with implementing the most current social distancing guidelines.”
A greater interference will be the unusual rosters teams will encounter for Season 2 sports. Because winter and spring sports are lumped together, many multi-sport athletes will have to face a difficult decision about which sport to participate in.
Senior Emily Valdez played varsity soccer last winter and was playing varsity softball until the season was shut down last spring. This year, she had to choose between the two sports she’s played throughout her childhood.
“I ended up choosing to play one last season of softball,” says Valdez. “Although I’ve been playing soccer for longer, I feel as though I am more skilled at softball and have devoted more time to it. I also feel responsible to take on a leadership role and inspire the underclassmen who play, just as the upperclassmen had done for me throughout my seasons.”
But there is still hope for these multi-sport athletes as they may participate in more than one sport at the same time. Athletes signed up for a winter sport can still come to their spring sport practices in a sport-specific pod when their schedules allow, and the same goes for athletes prioritizing a spring sport. Students will have to stay in these pods when attending another team’s practices in order to prevent mixing of cohorts, so even if they attend another sport’s practice, they cannot mix with any of the players who are permanently playing that single sport.
While some may decide to just prioritize the one sport, this provides an opportunity for winter and spring season athletes to still play the sports they love and not miss out.
“I’m going to try and do both swim and basketball during Season 2 because I love both of those sports,” says senior Erin Trotter. “Since it’s my senior year, I don’t want to give either up.”
Certain Season 2 sports are already under way, and the rest will start up in the upcoming weeks.
Season 1 will come to a close with the Shoe Game at 4 p.m. Thursday at Carmel, with limited access to the field and a limited number of invitations designated for each player.