Does success cover controversy?

Varsity teams approach struggles in different ways

The great Vince Lombardi once said individual commitment to a group effort is what makes a team work.

For many athletic programs across the Granite Bay High School campus, this logic closely coincides with a team’s success.

An uncharacteristic 4-7 varsity football season led to rumors, pointing of fingers and disagreements between players and coaches.

Because the team was losing, there seemed to be more reason to be upset at specific coaches, players or even the team as a whole.

Usually, these types of incongruencies go unnoticed while a team is winning, but the struggles of the football team ended up tainting the perspectives of many fans, players and some coaches, and questions arose regarding what caused the poor results.

The boys’ water polo team faced similar struggles regarding some disagreements late in the summer months.

However, the Grizzlies continued winning – and the problems were overlooked and the team soon regained focus to go on and win a section championship.

“The coaches were hard during the summer, and we got kind of burnt out because it was so many hours of polo every week,” said junior Blake D’Souza, a member of the varsity water polo team. “But in the end, we realized it was right what they did.”

The team’s undefeated league season is one of the best performances in school history.

“After winning, I respected the coaches so much more,” D’Souza said. “I already respected them a lot, but I realized they knew what they had to do to get this done and to win sections.”

Because they continued to win, water polo fans, players and coaches were able to ignore the hiccup during their season.

“Our season isn’t (people’s) top priority,” D’Souza said. “They probably don’t care that much about what we put in as long as we win.”

GBHS health teacher and water polo coach John MacLeane said the difficulties the team faced “just goes with the territory” and “the competitive nature” adds a high level of intensity to practices.

“We got to the point where we couldn’t even scrimmage anymore in practice,” MacLeane said. “No one wants to admit that they can be beat by anyone else.”

The sport has continually evolved to become more and more aggressive, so much so that MacLeane describes it as “MMA in the water.”

“How hard these guys are willing to work – they have to put their whole lives on hold,” MacLeane said. “In the summer they don’t go on vacation, they play water polo – it never stops.”

MacLeane understands the difficulty of committing to a team for such an extended period of time, but players and coaches have reaped the rewards.

With an overall record of 29-2, the Grizzlies placed four players – Michael Plastino, Connor MacDonald, Logan Swanson and Jackson MacLeane – on the all-American list, something coach MacLeane has never seen in all his years of coaching.

“It is a testament to all that work,” MacLeane said. “The fact that they are willing to achieve something together, and accept those roles together, to do something that is very difficult.”

In late October and early November, the GBHS football team went on a three-game winning streak, momentarily distracting fans from what was ultimately a difficult season.   

“People are quick to speculate about the football team because they only see what goes on under the lights on Friday,” senior safety Sven Pollock said.

The worst winning percentage of the season occurred after the team lost its first three league games and its record dropped from 1-3 to 1-6.

“People in the community always want something to talk about – that’s why rumors are spread,” Pollock said. “They talk badly or try to interject their own opinions on why we’re losing or how we could do better. Winning definitely covers up complications that might be going on behind the scenes. Winning is the ultimate goal, so if that happens then there’s not much to complain about.”

The football team’s three-game winning streak to close out the Sierra Foothill League season allowed the Grizzlies to sneak into the playoffs, where they lost 42-17 to Grant to end their season. After that first-round loss, more frustration from players surfaced.

“Coach (Jeff) Evans hasn’t been a good fit for Granite Bay,” Pollock said. “His coaching style hasn’t worked for the last two years, and I don’t think it’ll get better unless there is a significant modification to the way he handles the team.”  

Pollock later expressed frustration with the team changing multiple things since the parting of coach Ernie Cooper such as practice structure, implementing new offensive and defensive schemes and even new uniforms.   

“We all wanted to add to the Granite Bay legacy,” Pollock said. “Nobody wanted to be a part of the Evans era.”

As a head coach for the Grizzlies, Evans has a career record of 11-13.

While critics don’t appreciate the results the program has experienced in the last two years, supporters insist those changes have only been in the best interests of the team.

“Coach (Ernie) Cooper established a culture of pride, selflessness and intensity during his time as head coach,” Evans said. “As the head coach, I look to continue that.”

Although some players were critical, others remained indifferent or were supportive. Some noted that coaching wasn’t the issue for the Grizzlies.

“Evans has been nothing short of perfect in being our head coach,” junior quarterback Jade Foddrill said.

Foddrill said Evans’ ability to push the team helps them develop both on the field and off the field.

“From what I see, the coaches don’t show favoritism,” Foddrill said.  “They  play someone based on his work ethic and commitment to the team.”

From senior running back Griffin Vidaurri’s perspective when the team won, it only added to the issues that were at hand.

“(Winning) didn’t cover up anything – as a team, we decided to play for ourselves, not the coaches,” Vidaurri said. “If anything it made it worse because the coaches’ ego went up a few notches each game we won.”

The team had scenarios “plenty of times” in which coaches or players broke out against each other, but “that’s just football for you,” Vidaurri said.

Vidaurri said he doesn’t think the team can return to a state championship level in the near future, and the main issues this season were “team division, the wrong players at the wrong positions and players not knowing their jobs.”

Although ridiculed, Evans, in an interview in September, recognized the strong following and foundation the football program already has.  

“Granite Bay will remain a well-respected and successful program in the long term,” Evans said in September, “because the traditions we have established and continue today are effective in life and sports.

“Our guys will work hard in the classroom, they will train hard in the weight room and the football field, and they will be good people – those are culture emphases that will not waiver under my watch.”