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High school sports: La Jolla’s winter athletes are ready to play a more normal season

The Bishop's School girls water polo team is "super excited to be playing together again,” coach Doug Peabody says.
The Bishop’s School girls water polo team is “super excited to be playing together again,” coach Doug Peabody says.
(Courtesy of Doug Peabody)

This time last year, high school sports were in the midst of pandemic-related turmoil, with ever-changing regulations, shortened seasons and limits as to whom the athletes could play.

As such, many of the sports typically played in the winter were instead played in the spring of this year, sometimes with students who had already graduated. For example, the girls water polo programs at La Jolla High School and The Bishop’s School (La Jolla Country Day School does not have girls water polo) played from April to June.

So as winter sports roll around again, many teams simply have been looking forward to having a regular season at its regular time.

Here’s a look at some of the action in La Jolla:

Girls water polo

The Bishop’s School

Getting to play at the usual time “is an unbelievable early holiday gift,” said Knights coach Doug Peabody.

“We had an undefeated season last season [and won the CIF San Diego Section Open Division championship] … so they are super excited to be playing together again,” Peabody said.

“We have a strong team with six seniors who have all played varsity since their freshman year: Maggie Johnson, Deming Wyer, Alex Scafidi, Alex Bonaguidi, Soyoon Park and Emmy Peabody. … We also have a strong junior class of seven, and two very talented sophomores. We are excited to see what our freshman class will do over the course of the season.”

In addition to playing teams outside San Diego — which was not permitted last season — the team is looking forward to other traditions, such as bonding trips and tournaments.

La Jolla High School

Given that there were no seniors on the team last season, this season’s Vikings roster has a very familiar look.

“They are just getting better together,” said coach Amy Jennings. “They were able to keep working and build from last season. It feels like we are picking up where they left off. It’s a lot of refreshers from last season, but I don’t have to explain anything, they remember it.”

And given that the Vikings made it to the CIF semifinals last season, Jennings expects to go at least that far again this season.

“I feel like I can depend on all of them,” she said. “Last year, we had freshmen that were maybe less confident and I had to lean on the juniors. This year, everyone has confidence and I can count on everyone.”

Basketball

La Jolla Country Day School

Boys: Coach DJ Gay said he sees this as his season 1.5. “I feel excited. I’m glad to be here,” he said. “I’m just happy to have a full season.”

The former San Diego State University point guard was hired in May 2020 and admits it was a rough start. “With COVID protocols, we were going to have games and then not, we were going to have a season, then we weren’t. But that year allowed me to establish where I want this program to go. I set expectations, team policies early and the kids know I’m going to hold them to those expectations, which has been huge. It’s about building a culture that is all about brotherhood, toughness, competing, being great young men off and on the court.”

This season, the Torreys are led by three seniors who have been with the program since their freshman year.

“Together, we have the same goal and the same vision — win a league title,” Gay said.

Girls: Contrary to Gay, coach Terri Bamford is in her 24th season with the Torreys.

After the tumult of last season, “it feels amazing to have a season at the regular time. It feels almost normal,” Bamford said.

This season, she said, she has a “championship caliber” team that includes nationally ranked players.

“Our top five are really solid,” she said. “They are amazing, they play well together. No one is trying to do it all themselves. They really want to win championships, so whoever has the hot hand that game, that’s who is going to get the ball.”

Over the past year, Bamford said, her team “only saw each other at practice, which was hard.”

But now the chemistry is there, she said. “It’s a whole new vibe for the team. ... Everyone is happy to be back and working hard together.”

Soccer

La Jolla Country Day School

Girls: The five seniors who lead the Torreys “bring so much life to the team,” said coach Briana Benson. “They are so much fun and so energetic.”

La Jolla Country Day School girls soccer coach Briana Benson
(Courtesy of Briana Benson)

After not having “a proper season with lots of games and practice,” Benson said, “they are so excited just to get back to normal. Some play other sports, so they were doing double duty last season; that was a lot for them. One of my players had games back to back all season. Now they can solely focus on their last year and us as a team.”

Benson comes to Country Day after years of coaching internationally. She said she “already feels like I’m home. I want the girls to learn to be, and feel comfortable being, competitive. I don’t want them to say sorry for going 110 percent against the other players. I want a competitive and very serious game but balance with having fun and bringing intensity. I want to connect with the girls on a personal level but also on an athlete level.”

The Bishop’s School

Boys: Coach Shane Walton said his 11 seniors make this “one of the best teams I’ve had.”

“We’ve been building for a while, and we only lost one senior last year, so I feel like we have some strong pieces,” he said. “We’re looking forward to seeing the pieces come together.”

With the seniors seeing this season as a “last hurrah,” they have their eyes on a championship, Walton said.

The younger players, he added, “are really going to be a boost for us; they are really scrappy. I knew some of these guys were good, but I was pleasantly surprised by just how talented they are.” ◆