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CURVEBALL: Tough choices ahead for multi-sport athletes
Bulletin girls soccer 2019-20
Two-sport athlete Melanie Nguyen, a three-year veteran for the Sierra High girls soccer and girls tennis teams, will have to choose which to play under the California Interscholastic Federation’s revised schedule next spring. - photo by Wayne Thallander

Melanie Nguyen has a difficult decision to make, and she is not alone in this dilemma.
The California Interscholastic Federation has had to revise the high school sports calendar because of rising coronavrius cases in the state. On Monday, the CIF revealed its plan to push the start of the fall season to late December while blending winter sports with spring. 
That is problematic for multi-sports athletes like Nguyen, who enters her senior year as Sierra High’s top returning girls tennis player and a contributor on the reigning Valley Oak League champion girls soccer team.
Girls tennis and girls golf are typically sports that take place in the fall, but to avoid inclement weather

Sierra girls tennis 2019
- photo by Wayne Thallander
during the winter months CIF moved both to the spring along with all winter-season sports such as soccer.
“It is going to be a really tough decision because soccer and tennis have both been a big part of my life,” Nguyen said. “I’m still pondering what I will do for this year.”
Nguyen has enjoyed some success playing on both teams for her school — she helped the Timberwolves claim their first Sac-Joaquin Section in tennis, and for soccer the defender tallied her team’s lone goal in the SJS Division III semifinals.
“I started playing both sports when I was so young, and this might possibly be the last time I’ll be playing sports competitively,” Nguyen said.
Three-sport standout Will Gilbert is choosing between basketball and baseball. Before playing either sport for Ripon Christian, he’ll get to experience wintertime football. Practices begin Dec. 7 with scrimmages beginning on New Year’s Eve and season openers scheduled for Jan. 8, 2020.
“It’ll be really weird,” said Gilbert, who is transitioning from wide receiver to quarterback for his senior campaign. “It’ll be hard in the passing game throwing wet and heavy balls.”
As for the big decision, he is already leaning one way but not fully committed to giving up on the other sport. Gilbert favors basketball in part because he feels a little more ahead in that sport when it comes to his prospects of competing in college.
The 6-foot-4 guard was elevated to the varsity as a freshman for the Knights’ postseason run and has been an important player to the team since with his shooting prowess and defensive acumen. He was named to the All-Trans Valley League team this past winter, and Ripon Christian went on to claim its fourth CIF Northern California regional boys basketball championship.
The baseball team, which includes several basketball players in addition to Gilbert, had aspirations to win a second SJS championship in three years before the 2020 spring season was cut short by the outset of the pandemic in mid-March. Gilbert was looking forward to following up on his productive sophomore year in which he was named to the All-Southern Athletic League team as a pitcher.
His baseball résumé is rather limited at the high school level with only one full season under his belt. Gilbert took a break from the sport his freshman year, saying he was “burned out” after spending much his youth playing for travel-ball teams.
“It’s not definitive, but I’m leaning toward basketball,” Gilbert said. “I’ve played some part on the team for three years and I think we can win state next year. I also think it might be easier to transition into college because I haven’t played enough baseball.”
He’s not ruling out playing both sports — CIF has no rule forbidding athletes to play multiple sports in a single season.
“I’m still doing a lot of work on arm strength and conditioning for baseball,” Gilbert said.
Lathrop High junior Isabella Paniagua may serve as a model for those looking into juggling two sports at once. She did double duty this past winter, making All-Western Athletic Conference teams for basketball and soccer while maintaining her good grades.
“It was kind of hard, but you get used to it,” Paniagua said. She credited the flexible head coaches of both teams — Dwayne Davis (basketball) and Jose Montes (soccer) — for helping her pull it off.
“I was at a game every single day of the week, pretty much. I would have to miss a lot of practices when I had road games, which is when I did a lot of my homework. At first I was really hesitant to play both sports but it was an amazing experience to have and I’m thankful for it.”
Paniagua is prepared to do it all over again, but there is another wrinkle to her situation.
Springtime is when the higher-level soccer players join their club teams. Because of the calendar change, the CIF temporarily suspended Bylaws 600-605 which restrict student-athletes from competing for high school teams and outside organizations simultaneously. High-comp soccer players are exposed to colleges in showcase tournaments, and junior year is pivotal in the recruiting process.
That means Paniagua, a member of Manteca FC Dash 04 who aims to play soccer at the next level, may have to ditch high school athletics for the year. Unlike Gilbert and Nguyen, however, she’ll at least have another year of high school to make up for lost time. Nguyen also plays at the club level with West Coast Soccer Club.
“If I was a senior that would be a whole other story,” Paniagua said. “I would love to finish out both basketball and soccer in high school my senior year. For now, I would have to choose club because that’s how I’m going to get the most looks for college.”