Enthusiasm, Bonding, and Plenty of Practice Come Together As Winter Sports Prepare for Season Ahead

Winter sports are preparing to leap into league competition as the fall season draws to a close. While boys’ basketball had its first preseason scrimmage game on Nov. 9 against Troy High, the preseason kicked into full swing this week, when girls’ basketball, boys’ and girls’ soccer, girls’ water polo and wrestling competed in their first scrimmage matches.

Last fall, strict COVID-19 precautions were in place and winter sports were unable to practice as a group, as students were not allowed to pass balls to one another or make contact. With these restrictions mostly lifted, allowing for indoor practice and scrimmage games, sports like basketball can emphasize team cohesion in a competitive game setting, according to varsity basketball forward and junior Ryan Chu.

“Earlier in the year, during the fall season, most of our stuff was a lot of conditioning, weightlifting, more strength and agility stuff,” Chu said. “And now we’re focusing more on actual plays that we’ll run this season or types of defenses we’ll run and overall skill stuff a lot more by scrimmaging and playing against each other.”

Team spirit is high going into the winter season as teams welcome both new and returning faces. On the girls’ soccer team, a positive chemistry has already developed after only a few weeks of practicing and scrimmaging, according to varsity girls’ soccer center midfielder and senior Sarah Ibrahim.

“This sport is interesting, because you see each other when you’re at your absolute worst, you’re doing conditioning, you’re working hard, you’re sweating, you’re not in the mood,” Ibrahim said. “And then you also see each other when you have an amazing game or an amazing day, and you’re being fun and happy. You go through all these ups and downs throughout the season and it builds a really, really strong bond. And I think that’s already started and I think it’s just going to get stronger as the season goes on.”

These bonds are not only important for teams in competition, but also help new athletes quickly adapt to a sport. Sophomore Shriya “SJ” Janolkar, who joined the wrestling team this year, has received support from seniors on the team in learning the foundation of wrestling — the stance, sprawl, and shot — in advance of the season. Though practices have been grueling, the overall experience of learning the sport has been exciting, according to Janolkar.

“Our coach has a little thing that he likes to say. In the wrestling room, we have windows and door windows, and he says that we’re never really done with practice unless the windows fog up,” Janolkar said. “I think our energy is pretty high because it’s a new season and we’re ready to start and honestly just have fun.”

Assistant athletics director and head basketball coach Brian Smith encourages students and faculty to go out of their way to attend all winter sports games, not just Friday night games, as Portola High continues to pursue the intersection of academic and athletic success, according to assistant athletics director and head basketball coach Brian Smith.

“For the winter sports, we’re just trying to continue what the fall sports teams have done because there was some success in the fall sports, so we’re trying to build off that,” Smith said.