The Manteca and Sierra High girls tennis teams are playing it safe while other sports teams at their schools ramp up their summer conditioning programs.
Manteca Unified high school campuses opened for athletic training starting last Monday, June 15 under certain guidelines. Safety protocols prohibited use of equipment and limited groups to 25 athletes per coach.
Last Thursday, San Joaquin Public Health Services released its own set of guidelines that allow the use of equipment, which is not to be shared between groups and must be disinfected after practice. Football teams from the area began working with footballs on Monday.
The girls tennis coaches at Manteca and Sierra have limited their contact with players, so far. Manteca’s MaryAnn Tolbert hasn’t held any group activities, while Ed Melfort at Sierra meets with his athletes on Mondays for conditioning. Neither coach was aware of the directive from the county on Wednesday.
“Unless I am told we can go to that next step, I am hesitant to do it,” Tolbert said of holding organized practices that include the use of equipment. County guidelines recommend athletes to bring their own equipment, which tennis players already do with racquets. The only shared equipment would be tennis balls.
Tolbert’s two-time defending Sac-Joaquin Section Division III champion Buffaloes typically meet three times per week over the summer until the fall sports Dead Period. Tolbert said her program stresses repetition with ball striking, and the intensity of the drills also helps with conditioning.
“If we can’t have balls out there the girls are better off going out and hitting once or twice a week on their own,” Tolbert said. “As long as they’re hitting that’s all I can ask for now.”
Melfort is hoping to get the nod to begin using racquets and balls soon from school administration. His top two players from the Timberwolves’ 2019 SJS Division IV championship team have graduated, so he’d like to get his less experienced players some work with the equipment. He believes it should be easy to follow county guidelines.
“Tennis is rated one of the lowest-risk (activities),” Melfort said. Earlier this month, health experts rated various activities from 1-9 with 1 presenting the least amount of risk. Tennis was considered a level-1 risk.
“You can do social distancing because people are not grouped up anyway,” he added. “You don’t share courts, you have your own racquet — it’s pretty safe.”
On July 20, the California Interscholastic Federation will determine if fall sports will continue as scheduled or use an alternative calendar. While start dates for high-contact sports such as football are likely to get delayed, that may not be necessary for sports like golf and tennis.
In tennis, traditions such as pre-match lineup introductions and post-match handshakes would probably be eliminated.
“I think we could do it,” Tolbert said, noting possible concerns with transportations in school vans. “It’s not going to be back to regular and there are a lot of things that would have to be different this year, but I think it would be feasible to have a match.”