Varsity Sports Back in Full Swing

After more than a year of no practices or games, the Los Angeles Department of Health recently issued guidelines that allowed the Los Angeles City Section to clear all but one of the 25 Pali varsity sports teams to start their seasons. 

With a quarter of Californians vaccinated and the number of daily cases slowly decreasing, Pali was approved to allow all sports except for wrestling back on campus starting March 8. However, many of these teams had not practiced together since last March, and some played their first game after just one week of practice. 

Aaron Benyamini, a senior on Pali’s swim team, said the athletes’ times have slowed because of a lack of training.

“Some kids haven’t gotten into a pool in a whole year,” Benyamini said. “If you play basketball, there are hoops at almost every park, and you can go practice shooting whenever you want; swimming you can only do if you have a pool.”

Despite the lack of practice, Benyamini said that he is confident in his team. 

“I think we are going to win all the meets because we’re not versing very hard teams,” he said. “We aren’t versing any private schools or anything. We usually beat these teams.”

During previous years, sports teams typically practiced for three months before their first competition. Right after school, it was common to see the football team training on the 50-yard line and the softball team throwing and catching at the 10-yard line. Meanwhile, the lacrosse team passed on the sidelines, the cross country team stretched by the bleachers and sprinters and mid-distance runners circled the track.

Now, the teams disperse across the campus and practice anywhere from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.. Track and field practices are held in the quad instead of the actual track, while indoor volleyball meets by the outside grass patch and soccer practices take place on the baseball field. 

“Everyone is just excited to get out of the house and see each other,” said Tiana Nikkhoo, a junior on the girls varsity soccer team.  

“However, it has been a big problem now balancing soccer, school and cohorts,” Nikkhoo added. “On any given day I have an ASB cohort from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., school practice from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and then club practice from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m..” 

Nikkhoo stated that she still has the same amount of homework and often struggles to keep up when she gets back from a long day of practice and in-person cohorts.

Because all Pali sports were pushed into the spring semester, the game schedule for each sport looks drastically different than past years. For example, football played only four games instead of the ten games in the regular season. 

To accommodate this tight schedule, Director of Athletics Russ Howard said that he and Athletic Director John Achen scheduled only the spring sports to have playoff games.

Howard said it is like “a puzzle trying to schedule each team while also prioritizing the spring teams like softball, lacrosse and track.” However, he vowed to “bend over backwards to help the players.” 

Despite the various troubles, Howard maintains that the school’s athletic program remains focused on serving students. 

“Winning isn’t our main objective,” he said. “We just want to provide the space, the availability, and the possibility of practice and games — that has always been our goal.”