Denair Volleyball Squad Making Strides As Season Progresses

Submitted by Denair High School

There are eight matches left in the Denair High volleyball season. And though the Coyotes have struggled at times – winning just once — Coach Christy North has seen consistent improvement and competitiveness. She believes Denair will play a factor in which team wins the Southern League title this fall.

“We continue to work on our serve receive issues, while steadily increasing our own serve percentage,” North said. “However, we are a stronger team than in the past, and are improving our strategies and skills each contest.

“I still believe we can have a .500 record (in league), and definitely be a spoiler against a team who doesn’t take us seriously.”

The Coyotes (1-10 overall, 1-4 in the SL) will rely on its two senior co-captains — setter Adrianna Snyder and outside hitter Cheyenne Souza – to lead the way to more success.

Snyder missed about a month and a half after suffering a concussion the first week of the season. North could see a difference when she returned. “I think her energy was contagious.”

North said Souza consistently has put pressure on opponents with her serves and aggressiveness at the net.

In Denair’s lone victory – a 3-2 win over Gustine on Sept. 11 — freshman Caitlin Warda came off the bench to start as outside hitter in the deciding game and served seven points in a row, including two aces.

North said the Coyotes still are refining their skills using a “libero,” which is a defensive specialist. Liberos must wear a contrasting jersey color from  her teammates and cannot block or attack the ball when it is entirely above net height.

Junior Tati Abebe began playing libero in the Gustine match.

The Coyotes’ next match is home against Waterford on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.

Unbeaten Denair Cruises Past Le Grand 41-21, Will Host Undefeated Ripon Christian This Week

Submitted by Denair High School

LE GRAND  — An explosive offense and a stifling defense. Denair used both in Friday’s 41-21 romp over Le Grand, setting up an early season Southern League showdown with Ripon Christian this week.

The Coyotes (4-0, 1-0) and Knights (4-0, 1-0) are the only undefeated teams left in the league after Ripon Christian hammered previously unbeaten Waterford on Friday.

“They’ve got a good defense. We’re going to have to score some points,” said Denair coach Anthony Armas.

Scoring hasn’t been an issue all season for the Coyotes, who have lit up scoreboards for 185 points in four games.

The offensive assault has been led by Denair’s three-headed monster at running back – Dylan De Silva, Steffin Winston and Hunter Musgrave.

Two weeks ago, De Silva scored five touchdowns against Stone Ridge Christian. Recognizing that, Le Grand set up its defense to try to stop the big fullback. All that did was create more openings for Winston and Musgrave, the two halfbacks.

Winston jump-started the offense with a 59-yard run touchdown run on Denair’s first offensive play. It came immediately after defensive back Drew Pritchard opened the game by intercepting a Le Grand pass. He picked off another throw just before halftime.

Musgrave added the first of his two TD runs as the Coyotes raced to a 14-0 lead. Le Grand bounced back with a touchdown to make it 14-7, but Winston ran back the ensuing kickoff 92 yards for another TD and the Coyotes never looked back.

They led 34-7 at halftime thanks for another touchdown each by Winston and Musgrave. Winston finished with 12 carries for 139 yards while Musgrave ran 13 times for 92 yards.

“They were really keying on Dylan, so that opened things up for Steffin and Hunter,” Armas said. “Steffin is so big and fast. He sees a crease in the defense and just hits it.”

Denair’s final score came in the second half on a pass from Elvis Silva to Scott Badal. And though the Coyotes allowed Le Grand to score twice after intermission, Armas was mostly pleased with his defense.

“We did what we wanted to do,” he said. “Defensively, we did better against the run. We gave up some deep balls. They had a receiver who was an athlete, but I thought we played pretty well.”

It’s been so long since Denair opened the season 4-0 that no one associated with the program is certain when it last happened. Armas doesn’t really care. He and his coaching staff have been impressed by how this year’s team has taken each game as it comes, without looking ahead to any particular opponent.

“They’re a fine group of kids,” Armas said. “They’re enjoying the ride right now. They kind of expect to win, which is good.

“They’re working hard in practice. I don’t think anything’s going to our head. They just go out and play football.”

JV Game: Le Grand 33, Denair 0

This week: After two weeks on the road, Denair comes home to Jack Lytton Stadium for Friday’s showdown with Ripon Christian. “They’re good,” assessed Armas. “They’re big, they’re physical, they’ve got some playmakers. … They’ll bring pressure and try to make us make mistakes.” … RC is No. 1 in the Modesto Bee’s small-school rankings; Denair moved up to No. 4. … The Knights are coming off a 42-6 victory over Waterford.

Community Discussions Generate Many Good Ideas; Denair Trustees Take Next Steps Toward District Charter

Submitted by Denair Unified School District

Terry Metzger is an optimist. But the new Denair Unified School District superintendent also is a realist. It will take a clear, credible, honest message to gain enough community support to pass a parcel tax next spring – the linchpin in the district’s two-part vision to restore salaries and recruit teachers to propel education forward.

The second piece of that vision involves transforming DUSD into a charter district, which would allow greater flexibility in programming and teacher assignments.

Earlier this month, Metzger held town hall meetings with community members and staff to explain how the concepts support the long-term goals of the district and to listen to questions and comments.

Thursday night, she reported on the meetings to the district’s Board of Trustees.

Part of the conversation, Metzger explained, was asking those in attendance to participate in “vision casting.” She asked her audiences to finish two open-ended sentences:

  • “When my child graduates …”
  • “A great school …”

Respondents used words and phrases like “competence,” “employable,” “prepared for a global world,” “community leaders,” “internally motivated,” and “passionate and compassionate” to complete the first sentence.

For the second, they said characteristics of a great school include “high expectations,” “accountability for everyone,” “are inviting and inclusive,” “prepare students for college and life,” “are safe and stable,” “have excellent staff,” “are innovative,” “support parents and families” and “have a sense of community voice.”

Potentially passing a parcel tax and adopting a districtwide charter are two ways to boost the quality of education in Denair.

Metzger describes the parcel tax as a way “launch the vision” by restoring salaries that were slashed in 2013. Though the district’s finances have since stabilized and overall enrollment has grown, longtime employees still are paid today about what they were 11 years ago.

“It would be a short-term community investment in DUSD that will bring long-term community benefits,” she explained at the Sept. 4 meeting.

A parcel tax would add between $85 to $96 per year to each property owner’s tax bill for no more than five years. The earliest community members could vote on the idea would be next March. Before that happens, trustees must hold a public hearing and then vote to move ahead with a special election, which could cost up to $50,000. Two-thirds of those voting would have to approve for it to pass.

Trustee Crystal Sousa, who attended one of the community meetings, said a parcel tax would be a challenge.

“There still seems to be some mistrust and fear (from the community),” she said. “We have to be extremely clear and extremely transparent. Our messaging has to be right on. We are committed to full salary restoration. We know how hard the staff works and we want to accomplish that.”

Writing a districtwide charter also is a key part of the district’s long-term vision. Thursday, trustees directed Metzger to begin drafting it.

Denair Elementary Charter Academy and Denair Charter Academy (for home-school and independent study students) already operate in such a manner. A new charter would extend to Denair Middle School and Denair High School.

Key to the charter concept, the leaders explained, is the creation of fully integrated “pathways” that begin in kindergarten and extend through high school. Parents and students could choose from career and technical education pathways that include not only core academics but music, Spanish and world languages, agriculture, and possibly law enforcement.

Exposure to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) concepts would be emphasized in each pathway, as would leadership activities.

The idea is to prepare students not just for college but to move from school into productive careers.

At least half of Denair’s teachers must sign off on the charter idea, but Metzger said “we want a bigger consensus than that.” Community input must be solicited and a committee formed to write the new charter, which ultimately needs approval from the state Board of Education. Like the parcel tax, that also could come early next year.

In other action Thursday, trustees:

  • Heard a presentation by high school Principal Kara Backman and Chief Budget Officer Linda Covello about the district’s application for a state Career Technical Education facilities grant to build a farm and technology center. The goal is to boost student skills, especially with agribusiness dominant in this region. The project is estimated to cost $3.9 million; the grant would cover half, with the district using bonds to pay its share. The project would be built on the basketball courts behind the middle school. The farm would have an amphitheater/outdoor classroom, room for livestock and land to grow plants. It could be the site for a farmers market on the weekend. The technology center would have six temperature controlled classrooms and a lab in the middle, providing many opportunities to use the most current technology in the Agriculture and Natural Resources industry sector.
  • Listened as Metzger explained the significance of and how to interpret the California Assessment of Student Progress and Performance (CAASPP). The tests in English and math are taken online over seven hours each spring by students in grades 3 through 8 as well as high school juniors. The results are reported statewide. Denair students in 2016-18 performed under state averages. “They are high profile and high stakes, but they are not what we are about,” Metzger cautioned. “They are often misinterpreted. They represent the cumulative effects of instruction.” The superintendent pledged to work with teachers to evaluate the results and identify what is working and what isn’t. “This is a starting point for us,” Metzger said.

Approved an update of their governance handbook that lays out shared goals and objectives in hopes of “working toward the future while learning from the past.” The document includes a revised mission statement: “Denair Unified School District empowers tomorrow’s leaders through exemplary instruction and powerful innovative programs. Our exceptional school environments are the best education choice for all students.”

De Silva Scores 5 TDs as Unbeaten Coyotes Roll to 56-28 Victory Over Stone Ridge Christian

Submitted by Denair High School

ATWATER — Three games. Three blowouts. And now, in the mind of Denair High football coach Anthony Armas, the real season begins.

Dylan De Silva ran for 187 yards and five touchdowns Friday night as the unbeaten Coyotes erupted in the second half for a 56-28 non-league victory over Stone Ridge Christian.

Denair’s offense has been unstoppable in the first three weeks of the season, averaging 48 points behind a potent backfield trio of De Silva, Hunter Musgrave, and Steffin Winston.

The Coyotes’ defense – which features most of the same players as the offense – has been overshadowed but still very effective. They’ve recorded one shutout while holding opponents to an average of 15.3 points per game.

Up next for Denair (3-0) is the seven-game gauntlet that is the Southern League schedule, beginning Friday night at Le Grand.

“I don’t want to get too ahead of ourselves,” said Armas when asked about the meaning of a perfect preseason. He knows there are some tough opponents ahead in a league that features three undefeated teams (Denair, Ripon Christian Waterford) and as well as perennial powers Gustine, Orestimba, and Mariposa.

Friday night against Stone Ridge – on a converted athletic field at the former Castle Air Force Base – Denair took two quarters before asserting its dominance. The game was tied 21-21 at halftime before the Coyotes outscored the Knights 35-7 in the final two periods.

Much of the damage came on the same play – a trap to De Silva that Stone Ridge never figured out how to stop. The junior back consistently ripped off big chunks of yardage behind key blocks from tackles Zach Cherry and Derek Starkey and tight end Will Knox.

And when Stone Ridge began to key in on De Silva, Denair handed the ball to Musgrave (12 carries, 129 yards, 1 TD) or Winston (5 carries, 66 yards, 2 TDs).

Amazingly, Denair attempted just two passes Friday. One was a 29-yard completion to Winston on a screen; the other resulted in a sack.

“When our offense is going, you have to cover a lot of stuff as a defense,” Armas said. “Some people try to overload to one side to stop us, but that just leaves someone else free.”

Defensively, Armas credited the Coyotes for responding well to halftime adjustments made by the coaching staff.

“Every game is a feeling out process,” he said. “We had a game plan going in. … We made some tweaks at halftime. I think the kids have a better understanding each week of what we’re trying to do. We’re getting better at reading our keys and filling holes.”

Spearheading the defense were defensive end Scott Badal and middle linebacker Christian Obando.

Armas is satisfied with the progress the Coyotes are making but knows they must keep improving to compete successfully in the Southern League.

“Even plays that are working for us, we can get better,” he said. “Each week, we’re always trying to put something in – new plays, trick plays – to keep it fun for the kids. We may not use it that week, but you never know. And defensively, we still can get better at tackling.”

JV Game: Denair lost 20-12 at home to Mesa Verde of Citrus Heights.

This week: The Coyotes play at Le Grand (1-2), which is coming off a 27-20 loss to Linden. Armas said Le Grand is still in a “rebuilding process,” but has some talent. “They’ve got some big linemen and a good running back. I think it will be physically challenging. I expect them to take some shots down the field.” … Denair debuted at No. 5 in the Modesto Bee’s small-school rankings, which Armas was quick to shrug off. “That’s nice, but it’s just one guy’s opinion.”

Cross Country Runners Hoping to Gain Momentum

Submitted by Denair High School

The Denair High School cross country team will look to rebound from a slow start in the coming weeks.

The Coyotes finished sixth Thursday in the first of two Southern League meets at Tuolumne River Regional Park in Modesto.

Denair’s team score of 128 (based on the cumulative total of where the five fastest runners finished in the race) left it well behind Waterford (30 points), Orestimba (48), Delhi (56) and Ripon Christian (94).

Senior Uriel Gonzalez (22 minutes, 58 seconds) and sophomore Pablo Flores (22:03) finished back-to-back in 21st and 22nd places, respectively. Juniors Brigg Wenstrand (26:13, 35th), Ramiro Diaz (26:16, 36th), Alex de la Torre (28:49, 38th) and Johnny Ibarra (28:50, 39th) also competed on the relatively flat 5K course.

Coach Matthew Groom takes responsibility for the results, but he has an understandable explanation – he just returned to school after taking time off around the birth of his son. As a result, practices, training, and participation were sporadic in the past month.

“We will work hard for the next league meet at the end of the month,” Groom promised. “I would like to get our points down to around 115 at our next meet and I hope we can break 100 points at the league finals (in late October).”

Groom credits Gonzalez, the team captain, for setting the right example during practice.

“He has shown great leadership,” the coach said. “He has worked hard every day in practice and will continue to improve on the year.”

Groom expects Flores to challenge Gonzalez as the team’s top runner this fall. That makes sense. As a freshman last year, Flores won the Sac-Joaquin Section title for his class. He will run varsity races during the regular season, but race against only sophomores in the postseason.

“I have high expectations for Pablo,” Groom said.

Wenstrand and Ibarra are veterans of last year’s team, while de la Torre and Diaz are new to cross country. Both are veterans of the soccer team in the winter; Diaz also competes in track in the spring.

“This was his first 5k and he beat some runners who have been doing this for a few years,” Groom said of Diaz. “He has a sprinting background and he is an excellent runner in the 100 and 200 for track.  I am excited about his potential, and looking forward to how good he will be when he gets more practice with running distance.”