It's the end of 'the road' for Castilleja teams

the opening of school's new $14.5 million athletic facility ends nearly two years of traveling

Castilleja basketball teams have been on road trips before, but nothing like this. Imagine having no home games or home practices for nearly two years.

"The majority of my team has never had a practice on campus," said Castilleja coach Jez McIntosh. "Seven of my players weren't even in high school yet."

McIntosh, who doubles as the school's athletic director, is partly responsible for his team's long absence from campus.

"My first day on campus (10 years ago), I saw an OK gym with one set of bleachers. I thought, 'we're going to have to do something about this.' Once we got the middle school program going, I knew we needed a new facility."

Thus began McIntosh's vision and years of planning for what would turn into Castilleja's new $14.5 million Fitness and Athletics Center, which officially opens Friday and marks the end of the Gators' long basketball road trip.

Castilleja's last basketball game on campus was Feb. 9, 2006. The team's final practice there was February 28. While the school's volleyball team also was homeless since then, basketball has been gone longer and involved more teams and players.

The varsity's first practice was scheduled for Thursday, with a dedication ceremony and first game set for Friday. The players, quite obviously, couldn't wait to see their new home.

"I'm looking forward to having a warmup (music) mix," said Marion Cohn, who along with fellow senior Lindsay Taylor and junior Ericka von Kaeppler are the only team members who have practiced and played on campus. "We didn't even have home jerseys last year."

Cohn and Taylor were among those players who piled into two vans on Wednesday for a short trip over to Stanford University's Ford Center, where the team practiced away from campus for a final time. The Gators were at Burgess Gym in Menlo Park on Tuesday and at Paly last week. Before then, the team did most of its traveling to Paye's Place in San Carlos -- named after its owner, former Stanford quarterback John Paye.

"If we didn't have Paye's Place, we couldn't do the project," McIntosh said.

Traveling to and from San Carlos every day, however, added at least an hour to everyone's schedule.

"The travel time has been the hardest," Taylor explained. "People would have to study in the vans."

While Taylor looked at that time as a positive time for the team to bond, Cohn definitely won't miss rush-hour traffic, having to share court space with youth teams and one smelly daily affair in the vans.

"The putting on and taking off of sweaty ankle braces," Cohn said. "I will not miss that!"

McIntosh and JV coach Ted Minnis are glad the lengthy road trip is over, as well.

"The traveling to practice each day was the biggest drain," Minnis said.

There were times, in fact, when players had to be left at home because they missed the van for practice.

"When you rent space, you have to be there on time," McIntosh said. "If a player had to meet with a teacher and missed the van, they missed practice. It was really hard to run a program like we were used to . . . the girls have given up a lot of their personal time do to this."

"It has been very frustrating," said Cohn. "And the level of frustration was raised before we even stepped on the court. And there wasn't time to do individual things at practice."

And then there were the games and extra trips to San Francisco and San Jose each season.

"Every game, you're getting home late," Minnis said. "Every game you're getting home at 8 or 9 o'clock."

"I didn't really realize how much it took out of us," McIntosh said. "I can only imagine what it'll be like to walk out of class and into our own gym, and not get in a van and drive somewhere."

But, added McIntosh, the experience likely will be a positive for his players.

"I've tried to get them to grasp what they've done during this time (away)," McIntosh said. "No (Castilleja) team has had to endure what they had to go through. To practice someplace else every day and play on the road every game, it takes its toll. But, I think they'll be better off for doing that."

The newcomers on the team like sophomore Eve Zelinger and freshman Natasha von Kaeppler, have known nothing else but hitting the road every day.

"Castilleja girls will do whatever you ask them to do," McIntosh said. "They don't even realize what they've done the past 1 1/2 years. Hopefully, years from now they'll see what they've accomplished and it'll sink in."

Right now, there's a grand opening to be held and a game to be played in a sparkling new $14.5 million facility that ranks among the finest anywhere with two floors, two separate gyms, new locker rooms, training and weight-training facilities and more.

For McIntosh, a dream has been realized. The Taj Mahal of basketball is complete. Now the real work begins -- winning those West Bay Athletic League and Central Coast Section championships.


Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 15, 2008 at 5:15 pm

Honestly, I think a lot of recognition should be given to the Castilleja volleyball team as they spent two Full seasons out of the gym and still managed to make it to state the first year and Norcal finals the second year. While all of the teams were clearly affected by this change overlooking the adjustments other teams had to make is upsetting. I am very happy for the basketball team and all of the other teams that will be able to use the gym, but simply wanted to point out that they were not the only team affected by the construction.

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