STOCKTON — Three new coaches at Weston Ranch finally got to see their athletes in action this week as summer conditioning kicks off for Manteca Unified schools.
The coronavirus outbreak has closed campuses to athletic activities across the state since mid-March, limiting interactions to teleconferences, emails and text messages. Fortunately for these three Cougars coaches, they're already well-acquainted with their teams and the school.
Football coach Ron Wayman has been a fixture on campus since 2005, serving in various roles from substitute teacher to full-time business teacher and varsity baseball coach to varsity softball. Girls basketball coach Damion McMiller just wrapped up his first year as a counselor on campus, while volleyball coach Senecia Patten is a 2019 alumna who takes over the varsity team after leading the JV last season.
Wayman was the first of the three to get hired back in mid-January, so he had the chance to meet with his players and coaching staff on multiple occasions before the onset of the pandemic. So far, it has been smooth sailing as the Cougars ramp up their summer program.
“It really has been,” he said. “They've been part of our Zoom meetings, doing their own workouts and we've been communicating with them three or four times a week. They've all been working very hard, and I consider myself to be extremely blessed with this group of players and coaches.”
Of course, his first week of summer training is much different then he had imagined back in January. Manteca Unified is allowing its five high schools to open up its outdoor practice facilities to sports teams but under specific guidelines. These workouts are solely for physical conditioning and skill-based drills without the use of equipment.
In addition, Weston Ranch administration is requiring its coaches to screen every player before entering the stadium, where most of the workouts take place.
“Once they come in we spread them out for social distancing and get right into our conditioning,” Wayman said. “We break them up into four to six different groups and at the end we have team meetings. It works out perfect for us to spread out over here (behind the north end zone).”
Patten had only met with her players remotely after she was hired. Her promotion to the varsity position was announced March 13, which was incidentally the last day spring sports teams from the area participated in live competitions as San Joaquin County recommended the temporary closure of school campuses.
“It's been a challenge, but I'm definitely up for the challenge — I always have been,” Patten said. “The coaches and I are trying to adjust in a way that helps all of the girls and ourselves. We had Zoom meetings prior to coming out here, but it's been a little difficult because everyone has their own personal issues and (schedules). It hasn't always been easy — it's a pandemic and it's stressful for everyone.
“Now that we're out here in person it has been better. More people are showing up for the in-person conditioning rather than the Zoom meetings. I don't know why that is but I'm glad because we've had a great turnout.”
Patten added that it has been tricky to teach the game on grass and without volleyballs but welcomes the change. Players are still able to fine tune the basics — on Wednesday they brushed up their hitting form and back-row digging — while not as secluded from the rest of the student-athletes from inside the gym.
The three teams along with boys basketball and boys soccer train in different areas in and around the stadium and track with start times staggered throughout the morning and early afternoon. Patten said she and her players enjoy crossing paths with the rest of the Cougar family.
“I really like seeing all the teams out here,” she said. “It's nice knowing that the community is coming back together during this hard time, because I know it's been awhile since we've seen each other.”
The Sac-Joaquin Section preseason dead period for all sports — except football — begins on July 27. For football, it's July 20, which is also the day the California Interscholastic Federation decides if the fall sports season will continue as planned or begin at a later date with an alternative schedule for the academic year.
“We're super excited for this season and we're trying to stay optimistic,” Patten said. “We're still hoping to have a season. There will be some adjustments, I'm sure, and it's going to look different, but we're going to do our best to work with what they apply for this year.”