Book closes on unprecedented, abbreviated seasons

Members of the Granite Hills High School baseball team rush the field to celebrate their 3-2 walk-off victory in last Saturday’s San Diego Section Division I championship baseball game.

The CIF-San Diego Section’s 2020-21 sports schedule has raced to a miraculous close.

Few would have given high school sports teams a chance to not only compete on the field but complete an abbreviated season following the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 that put all youth sporting activities in a holding pattern.

High School sports teams traditionally start practicing in August and September to start each interscholastic year. But those dates came and went as the 2020 lockdown continued. Few schools were holding in-person classes and most campuses across the section remained closed, including athletic fields.

Distance learning became the norm as sports took a back seat to the home computer.

Section officials remained hopeful that as the pandemic started to abate that some form of season could be salvaged, especially for the seniors on the various teams.

Plans were made to launch a delayed season in late December and early January, but it wasn’t until mid-February and early March, in fact, that high school student-athletes actually were able to get back on the field and meaningful games finally commenced.

The roll-out was slow to start due to the state’s cumbersome color-coded tier system for economic reopening. However, a series of lawsuits opened the floodgates and it quickly became a nightmare for many athletic directors trying to allocate field time for sports that traditionally competed in separate seasons but were compressed into a short window of opportunity.

Because of this creative scheduling, some sports teams ended their seasons as much as two weeks after graduation ceremonies.

Besides graduation, proms and advanced placement testing, section officials also had to find enough referees to officiate games.

Key operating words were perseverance and dedication.

Not only did the 2020-21 season survive, but it appeared to thrive.

“If you had asked me in December or January if we would be playing now, I would have given it a five percent chance of completing the season,” San Diego Section commissioner Joe Heinz said. “We’re happy our schools have been able to mitigate all these challenges.

“Compressing three seasons of sports into four months obviously created its share of challenges. If we weren’t able to do this two years in a row, it would have been absolutely devastating for our student-athletes.”

Spring fling

Baseball, softball, boys and girls water polo and track and field all held their championship events last Saturday in overlapping fashion.

While softball finals took place at Helix High School, Granite Hills High School hosted the water polo finals — all eight of them.

Baseball was split between two sites – Poway and Eastlake high schools – while University City High School hosted the Open track finals that consisted of qualifiers from all three divisional finals held the previous week.

Several section teams also completed play in the Southern California regional boys and girls basketball championship games last weekend.

It’s all been accomplished at a frenetic pace to reward student-athletes with a season they could call their own.

Five East County baseball teams and one East County softball team took the playing field in last Saturday’s Season 2 championship matchups while six East County teams made a collective splash in the pool in water polo.

It may not quite be over, either.

Regional playoffs are set to conclude in both baseball and softball this weekend.

All-star games are also planned.

This past weekend’s spate of championship games built on an already jam-packed schedule that saw 12 other sports wrap up their seasons in the past month.

The Southern California regional boys and girls golf championship tournament took place June 15 following regional competition in boys and girls tennis June 1-5.

The section’s divisional boys and girls basketball championships took center court June 10-12.

The Southern California regional playoffs for boys volleyball wrapped up two weekends ago following section divisional championships June 4-5.

Girls and boys lacrosse divisional championship games took place June 5.

The regional soccer championships took place June 1-5 following the section’s divisional finals over Memorial Day Weekend.

Section championship tournaments in girls wrestling and boys wrestling took place May 22 and May 29, respectively.

The section’s coed tennis team finals took place May 11-13, followed by the individual tournament May 24 to June 10.

The section divisional swimming and diving championships kicked off the run of section finals on April 23-24.

The 2020-21 section calendar ended with six consecutive weeks chock full of CIF championship events.

It was obviously a year like no other.

“No shortage of fun,” Heinz quipped in an understatement of the first order.

Eastern exposure

Three East County baseball teams, one East County softball team and three East County water polo teams all emerged with division team titles following last weekend’s section championship extravaganza.

Top-seeded Granite Hills (25-10) rallied from an early 2-0 deficit against second-seeded Point Loma (20-13) to record a wild walk-off 3-2 victory to energize fans in the Division I baseball final.

Top-seeded Christian High School (26-4) defeated 10th-seeded San Dieguito Academy (21-14) by a score of 7-4 to win the Division III baseball title while top-seeded West Hills (16-17) defeated third-seeded Mission Vista (22-11) by a score of 4-0 to capture the Division IV baseball championship.

Santana High School won its first section championships in water polo by sweeping the Division I gender field as the top-seeded Sultans girls team completed an undefeated 20-0 season by defeating third-seeded La Costa Canyon (13-2) by a score of 8-6 while the fourth-seeded SHS boys team (19-2) topped third-seeded Helix (11-7) by a score of 9-5.

Valhalla High School’s girls water polo team proved to be the bracket buster in the Division II girls water polo field after the sixth-seeded Norsemen ladies (11-8) upset top-seeded Helix Charter (11-6) in the championship game by a tight 8-7 score.

Two of last weekend’s water polo championship games proved to be all-East County matchups.

Top-seeded Helix Charter had the rare chance to play on its home field in the Division II softball championship game but came up short by a 4-0 score to second-seeded Otay Ranch in the final.

In track finals at University City High School last Saturday, four East County athletes captured section titles in their specialty events: Helix sophomore Adren Parker in the boys 400-meter dash, Steele Canyon senior Diego Lopez in the 1600-meter run, Valhalla senior Ian Lipsey in the boys long jump and West Hills senior Brandy Atuatasi in the girls discus throw. Helix also won the boys 4×100-meter relay. 

Runner-up finishers included the Grossmont Foothillers in the Open Division baseball championship game, Steele Canyon Cougars in the Division II baseball final and Valhalla in the Division I boys water polo championship contest.

Additionally, Granite Hills finished runner-up in the Division I girls lacrosse championship game while Helix (Division II) and El Cajon Valley (Division IV) both finished runner-up in the boys volleyball finals.

Steele Canyon freshman Anna Davis finished runner-up in the section’s girls golf championship tournament June 1-3.