The La Jolla High School Vikings and The Bishop’s School Knights are getting some new leadership this season, when three new coaches enter the varsity arena.
The Bishop’s School welcomes Nick Levine to the varsity boys basketball team, and Ron Witmeyer to the varsity boys baseball team. La Jolla High School brought on Drew Burdette to coach varsity girls volleyball. La Jolla High School varsity girls tennis team will also play in a new division.
■ Knights Basketball
As the young Knights on the varsity boys basketball team prepare for the 2014 season, which starts Nov. 15, new head coach Nick Levine is eager to get started.
Coming from Pacific Ridge School in Carlsbad, where he coached two seasons, and six seasons of coaching at La Jolla Country Day School before that, Levine is ready for whatever challenges may arise.
One of them is that this year’s team is generally shorter than other teams. However, the Philadelphia native said, “We are fast and we have guys that are really good with the ball, so we’ll get up and down the court and I expect us to play fast.”
Levine added, “I think the best part of our group this year is how we defend. We have a really scrappy, athletic, tough group of guys. I think that’s what we’ll pride ourselves on most this year — how we defend and how we rebound.” Another challenge the team’s prepared to face is their schedule of league games. Bishop’s basketball is in the Coastal League — along with Francis Parker, Army-Navy, La Jolla Country Day, Horizon Christian and Santa Fe Christian schools — and “there are no nights off,” he said. “When you look at the schedule, there are no nights when you can say, ‘let’s consider that a guaranteed win.’ Each one is going to be a tough game and each team brings something different we have to prepare for.”
For the non-league games, the one Levine and his players seem most excited about is the continuation of the cross-town rivalry, when the Knights play the La Jolla High School Vikings in January.
■ Knights Baseball
When it comes to finding a baseball coach, you want someone who has been there and done that. That’s what happened at The Bishop’s School in new varsity baseball coach Ron Witmeyer. The former major leaguer, who played with the Oakland A’s, also has two NCAA National Championships under his belt from his time at Stanford University.
After moving to San Diego, Witmeyer opened a Frozen Ropes baseball and softball training center near 4S Ranch and recently opened a second location in Del Mar. “I bring a lot of experience (to Bishop’s),” he said. “I’ve coached a lot of players over the years, have had 70 make it to the pros, and about 13 play major league. Hopefully, I can help these players make it to a higher level.”
Because the season doesn’t start until spring, with the first game in early March, Witmeyer is still becoming familiar with his team. “I think we have a good nucleus of senior leaders. They play hard and they work hard. And the younger players can learn from the seniors,” he said.
Leading up to the start of the season, the players not currently playing another sport are staying in shape with strength training. For the fielders and hitters, speed and explosiveness will be key. For pitchers, there is the delicate balance of keeping their arms strong, and keeping the elbows and shoulders injury-free.
Witmeyer has three sons: Luke, a junior at Cathedral Catholic High School; Clay, a freshman at The Bishop’s School; and Tommy, a sixth grader at Bishop’s.
■ Vikings Girls Volleyball
For Drew Burdette, the new varsity girls volleyball coach, landing the job with the Vikings came after some “net” working. While living and coaching in South Carolina, he became friends with other coaches who either lived in San Diego or had connections here. “I wanted to live at the beach where I could play beach volleyball. Some college coaches I knew encouraged me to move to San Diego,” Burdette said. Once here, they helped him get a job with Coast Volleyball Club.
“A lot of the athletes that played (at Coast Volleyball) attend La Jolla High School, so I met a bunch of players and parents. When there was an opening, they encouraged me to apply,” he said. “La Jolla is just like where I grew up in Florida — the people, the beach-community feel and even the kids — it really made want the job.”
And he came on at a good time. “Most of the girls playing varsity have been playing varsity for a few years now,” he said. “They started varsity when they were young and were advanced at an early age. They’ve also been playing together for a while.”
However, some players, although having played before, did not play varsity last year, and therefore aren’t familiar with the high pressure and level of competition. The Lady Vikings are three games into the season (1-2).
When their season winds down, Burdette said there is one game not to be missed, and no surprise, it’s against The Bishop’s School. “It’s our last home game of the season, plus it’s Senior Night, so it’s the last game seniors play, and it’s right before playoffs,” he said. “That game is 4:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 3.”
■ Vikings Girls Tennis
The La Jolla High School varsity tennis team, though keeping with the same coach, joins seven other schools in their migration to open division. Participation in open division is determined by CIF scores, and many of the schools moving up have been finalists or winners. Other divisions are determined by the school’s population.
“If we play this year and continue to win, we could stay in open division,” said head coach Lisa Shih. “But the goal is to do well, and we are going to do our best wherever they put us. We are in a tough division with tough teams so they have to give it their all.”