_____________________________ ST. NORBERT CHURCH           RATES _______________________


ARTESIA HS SPORTS: Volleyball head coach anxious for green light to resume practices, games

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

December 9, 2020

The CIF-Southern Section boys volleyball season was supposed to start its 2020-2021 season on Saturday with the girls beginning theirs on Dec. 19. But with the latest stay-at-home order in effect as of this past Sunday night, more questions have risen as to when high schools can get their volleyball seasons underway, as well as the other fall sports.

On Nov. 2, area high schools could begin conditioning only for the fall sports, which, for this school year, are boys and girls cross country, football, gymnastics, traditional competitive cheer, boys and girls volleyball and boys and girls water polo.

Then at the beginning of this month, the CIF State office issued a press release stating, among other things, that the California Department of Public Health has postponed the issuance of its updated youth sports guidance.

Still, many high schools were proceeding with their fall conditioning, including Artesia High where second-year boys and girls volleyball head coach Tommy Dube is just as anxious to get things rolling as anyone else.

Prior to Nov. 2, the Artesia High campus was shut down as administrators were not allowing anyone to be on campus. Dube said there were a few outside voluntary non-structured camps held on the beach or at various local parks for his volleyball players to get whatever conditioning in they could.

“I was on the periphery of that; I wasn’t directly coaching that,” Dube said. “But I run an organization that does beach sports as well as grass sports, or turf sports. So, through those programs conditioning and skill development and stuff like that, we just invited the kids to come out and participate in that.”

Dube said some of the questions the players had before conditioning was allowed were related to returning to play safely and what will the season look like, which as he put it, is still very fluid.

Once Nov. 2 came, the volleyball teams didn’t immediately flock to the campus for conditioning. Instead, they did a lot of online stuff pertaining to the mental training component piece and some video work, according to Dube. Nothing was done face to face. It wasn’t until two weeks later that the program was able to get approval to get the players on campus and through that process, get them cleared through the mandatory paperwork needed to participate.

“We were actually able to meet face to face for one week before the [Thanksgiving] holiday and before this second uptick of cases,” Dube said. “There has been no volleyball being used as a common equipment that we could use.”

Since things have been changing, it seems, every day or so, Dube said he has been having conversations just before Thanksgiving with either of the co-athletic directors, Joe Veach or Octavio Marquez, almost every day as far as updates on the return to conditioning or return to play. However, as of this past Tuesday, Artesia has once again shut down all campus activity.

The girls volleyball team finished last season with a 7-19 record, the school’s best mark since 2015 when that team had a 7-17 mark. In fact, Dube became the first Artesia head coach in over two decades to post more than four victories in his or her first season. The Lady Pioneers, who last reached the playoffs in 2010, also haven’t had a winning overall season in over two decades.

“I’ve put a lot of attention to it,” Dube said of the girls program. “It’s just a matter of what does it look like? Obviously, the girls have changed since last March, not touching the volleyball or doing whatever they are doing with their own physical conditioning. I know that they’re young ladies that are developing and what that looks like when they actually step onto the court and can put their skills to use…are they rusty, are they not rusty? That’s definitely been weighing on me. Where is the performance level going to be at?”

Going into his second season, Dube said that the girls team has made it to a certain point of growth and there’s still a long way to go. He continued by saying there were some great spotlights with the 2019 team, but the opportunity is there to have a better season once it gets underway. Dube added that he is very optimistic of the team’s attitude and chemistry and the pieces that the Lady Pioneers have.

“I’m super excited,” Dube said. “For the group that we had over the last year, the focus and the chemistry of the team was, as we finished the year, was what I like to see. I’m very excited to get this group, if we can get this group back together again, to see what we can create…I was hoping that this season was going to create some more girls and development for us. But, just the raw talent what we had from last year that’s coming back this year, I was looking forward to this season.”

Something that will be new to Dube, just for this season only, is the fact that the boys volleyball season, normally held in the spring, has been grouped with the girls as gymnasiums across the state will be jam packed with basketball and wrestling going on at the same time. For the purposes of the 605 League, and many leagues elsewhere, there will be varsity volleyball doubleheaders on the same day.

“My first reaction was just how is this going to happen, what is the schedule going to look like; how are we going to do games,” he questioned when he first saw the CIF’s athletic calendar back on July 2. “I think that was the question for everybody. The second breath in that was just making sure we have the coaching staff to, obviously, facilitate this and make sure the kids were going to have the opportunity to have the attention as well as the program.”

Artesia was tentatively scheduled to have its season opener this month and the 605 League opener is slated for Jan. 12 with Artesia hosting Cerritos High. Dube said the schedule he had lined up for this season was one that would have included some new competition from around the area that would be challenging in addition to some of the opponents the Lady Pioneers played last season. Dube is hopeful that the boys program can host an all-level tournament on Jan. 2 and the girls do the same on Jan. 9.

“From a coaching perspective and a kid perspective, I think everybody will be excited and ready to go back to business,” he said. “When it comes to the school district and the county, I think that’s the bigger concern with the allowance of the kids to get back to play and when that will happen.”

Before the high schools were shut down last season, the boys volleyball team was able to play three matches in the Liberty Christian Tournament this past March 6 and 7, having been swept in those matches. On Mar. 12, the Pioneers were swept by Sunny Hills High in the last action the team would see.

“Safety is first and foremost,” Dube said. “That’s what we’re looking at; to return safely. The kids, as well as myself, want to have something that’s returning and it’s sustainable so that when we do go back, we’re able to continue and keep moving forward versus possibly coming back and then it’s a questionable situation and we have to stop the season after maybe one or two games.”

He said that having the boys volleyball season stopped after a few matches was disheartening for the players who put in all the hard work. Once the season begins in January, and since he will be coaching both varsity teams, Dube admits it’s going to be a lot of fun.

“It’s the first time the boys and the girls get to go together,” he said. “So, I think the team spirit will actually be heightened. Just having that excitement truly for our varsity boys and girls teams be together; playing on the same day as well as [junior varsity] being at the same location. The camaraderie will be awesome in that the growth of the sport will grow. It will definitely be challenging for a coaching perspective. But for the kids, it will be a lot of fun.”

As for the Artesia football program, it was supposed to start conditioning on Oct. 19 but began on Nov. 2 and went for three weeks before pausing for the Thanksgiving holiday. Head coach Don Olmstead said the players have basically been doing summer camp stuff, including agility exercises. He added that the biggest thing was to get the players into some type of a normal state where they could do running and stretching exercises. The Pioneers resumed conditioning on Dec. 7 after taking the week following Thanksgiving off as well for precautionary measures, according to Olmstead. But one day later, on campus activity was shut down again. As of this past Sunday evening, Olmstead said he hasn’t heard of other high schools pausing conditioning for their fall sports.

“I know there’s a stay-at-home order, but if it’s a school activity…I don’t know,” Olmstead said Sunday evening in a phone interview. “I figured somebody from the district or county will call me and tell me [we’re] not practicing, whether it be my principal or district personnel.”

Olmstead went on to say that the conditioning that his program has been doing has been minimal and it’s not as bad as what other high schools are doing.

Artesia separated every fall sport by having the athletes go through different entrances. Football entered through the main stadium gate. However, not all the sports began their conditioning on the same day. Following football was water polo and volleyball.

“It’s been pretty nice,” Olmstead said. “It’s been nice to get out and see the kids and kind of make it as normal as we possibly can.”

The recent stay-at-home order has also put a curtail in the beginning of Artesia’s regular season, which was slated for Jan. 7, a road game at Garden Grove High. State law requires that football teams have at least 14 days of practice prior to their season-opener and with the Christmas and New Year’s holidays approaching, football teams were hoping to begin practice either this week, or next week.

Olmstead believes that practices won’t begin anytime soon and in fact, thinks his team won’t be able to have regular practices in pads until at the very least, Los Angeles County is out of the Purple Tier, the worst of the four-colored tiers the state has designed based off the average number of positive cases.

“That’s my guesstimate from talking to people, that they’re not going to let us play tackle anything when we’re still in the purple,” Olmstead said. “When we get to the Red [Tier], now we can start making progress on, ‘okay, when are we going to allow contact’. But until then, I don’t suppose anything is going to happen until that point.”

Most likely, Artesia won’t be able to play Garden Grove, or even Chino High on Jan. 15 and Maywood High the following week, unless something drastic happens in a positive way. So, the prospects of playing a five, six or seven-game schedule becomes more realistic, according to Olmstead. While the CIF-SS would like to get at least a league season in for its schools, Artesia would only play three league contests because four of the six schools in the 605 League field football programs.

The 605 League season begins on Feb. 26 and if you add two, three or maybe four non-league contests to Artesia’s schedule before that, you’re looking at possibly the Pioneers beginning the regular season as early as Jan. 29 against Western High or Feb. 5 at Estancia High.

“We just have to hope and pray that we’ll get to a certain point where they’ll say, ‘okay, you guys can put on pads’ and we can start in a week,” Olmstead said. “I don’t know if that’s the safest way to go about it. But I think that’s what when we get word of it at some point, and I hope it’s sooner than later, so we can practice for three or four weeks before actually playing a game. I feel at this point, if we play two non-league games, then play league and play five games [in the season]…that I think would be a good start.”

No matter how many games Artesia will play, Olmstead is optimistic there will be a football season. Like every school, he said it wouldn’t be fair to the seniors and the underclassmen who have been waiting for a season to begin, regardless of what month it is. He did stress that everybody needs to do their part to help keep the number of positive cases from expanding to the point where the season would be cancelled.

“The irony of this whole thing is we have to work as a team to get our numbers down to get our season,” Olmstead preached. “Not that I had to sell it to them, but you guys better follow the protocols when we get here by wearing your mask and everything because if we have an outbreak, it’s your senior year that’s going to be gone.”