It wasn’t the triumphant end to the season that the Weston Ranch boys basketball team envisioned.
The Northern California Division II regional champions have been denied the opportunity to compete for a coveted state title after the California Interscholastic Federation cancelled final-round games Thursday morning because of growing concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.
Weston Ranch was set to face off with SoCal champ St. Francis of La Canada at Golden 1 Center on Saturday. The 40th annual state basketball championships, consisting of 12 boys and girls title games across six competitive-based divisions, would have started this morning at 10.
Three NorCal regional participants withdrew earlier in the tournament — the San Francisco-based Lincoln and Archbishop boys teams, and the Menlo-Athlerton girls.
CIF’s announcement came roughly 14 hours after the Sacramento Kings had their game against the New Orleans Pelicans cancelled at Golden 1 Center. A referee assigned to work the game had previously officiated a contest involving the Utah Jazz, whose biggest stars, Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, have tested positive for coronavirus.
“This decision was made after careful deliberation and in the primary interest of protecting the health and safety of our member schools, fans, and most importantly, our student-athletes,” CIF Executive Director Ron Nocetti said in a statement. “While we understand this decision is disappointing, we strongly believe that the opportunity to compete in this event does not outweigh our obligation to place the health and safety of our member schools and school communities above all else.”
Weston Ranch finished 24-12 after starting 4-9. The Cougars played an ambitious non-league schedule after their highly-successful 2018-19 campaign in which they went 31-2, won Valley Oak League and Sac-Joaquin Section Division III titles and earned an invitation to the CIF Open Division state playoffs.
Due to its participation in the Open Division tournament, the Ranch was forced to compete in Division I for the SJS playoffs this year and, as the No. 14 seed, knocked off No. 3 Folsom and No. 6 Cosumnes Oaks on the road to reach the semifinal round and clinch a berth to NorCals.
Seeded fourth for the NorCal Division II bracket, the Cougars marched to their first state final with thrilling wins over Piedmont (79-74 in overtime), St. Mary’s (57-55) and St. Patrick-St. Vincent (62-61) in the first, third and fourth rounds, respectively.
“Obviously, this situation is out of the hands of everyone, and health and safety of our students come first and foremost,” Weston Ranch coach Chris Teevan stated in a post on social media. “This is an unprecedented situation and if deemed unsafe to play, the CIF made the decision to eliminate all risks by cancelling the tournament.
“To have to tell our kids, especially our three seniors, that they’ve played their last game in maroon and black is difficult.”
Teevan acknowledged the “legendary” contributions of four-year starters Titus Haley and 2019 Manteca Bulletin All-Area MVP Gavin Wilburn along with fellow senior Jordahn Johnson, a transfer from San Leandro.
“Although those three have played their last game as a Cougar, their future is even brighter than their time here,” Teevan said. “Over the past four seasons, our 2020 class has combined to bring 92 wins to our Weston Ranch program. They have elevated it from a good program, to elite. Even in their last game together, all 3 were on the floor at the end, making just enough plays to make sure the team won, as they have throughout their time here. These three players go out not only as winners, but as champions.”
Weston Ranch Athletic Director/Vice Principal Brett Lewis said a celebration of the season is planned for after next week’s spring break.
“With so much uncertainty in the world of sports today, at all levels, we can say affirmatively that Weston Ranch boys basketball ranks among the state’s very best — a testament to the coaches and players in the program. Without their sacrifice and dedication, none of this is possible,” Lewis said in a statement.
“We want to congratulate the boys basketball program on a historic run to a CIF State Northern California Division II championship, and thank the senior class for raising the bar for all public schools in the region. Over the last two years, our seniors have won a Sac-Joaquin Section title, a Valley Oak League crown, qualified for the CIF State Open Division tournament, and today they walk among giants as Northern California champions.”
While the winter season comes to an abrupt halt, the spring season has already been affected by the coronavirus threat. Manteca Unified schools, Ripon and Ripon Christian have had games and events postponed or cancelled altogether by opposing schools.
The Golden Valley boys volleyball tournament in Merced and San Joaquin County track meet in Tracy, both of which involve several local teams, are among the competitions called off for today. Also cancelled is Ripon’s VOL swim meet at Oakdale today and the Oakdale swim invitational on Saturday.