Riordan guard Bryce Monroe, seen here during the second half of a 76-62 win over Vanden, had his quest for a state championship cut short after the school was forced to close its doors when a student tested positive for the coronavirus. (Jeff Fung/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Coronavirus fears bring heartbreaking season ends to at least three SF high school teams

Sudden cancellations curtail chances for championships

Riordan’s boys basketball team, Lowell’s girls soccer team and Lincoln’s boys basketball team all had runs for potential Northern California and state championships cut short over concerns relating to the coronavirus.

The Lowell girls soccer team was the first to be felled by the virus, with news coming out some 30 minutes before a Northern California Division V semifinal game against Chico was supposed to be played. The school was shut down that day after it had been revealed that a parent of a student had tested positive for coronavirus. While plans were initially discussed to play the game the following day in Chico, the Cardinals were ultimately forced to withdraw from the tournament, ending their run for a potential third consecutive NorCal championship. Chico ultimately won the tournament.

Riordan was the second domino to fall in the saga, with Saturday’s NorCal semifinal game against De La Salle getting called off roughly 50 minutes before it was set to tip off. The parent of a student in the athletic department (not a basketball player) had also tested positive for the virus, and the game was postponed. Initial plans were made to play the game on Monday at De La Salle, but after further tests revealed that the student had also tested positive for the virus, the Crusaders withdrew from the tournament and the school was shut down for two weeks.

“As soon as it came out that our kid was tested positive, we knew it was going to be tough to find a pathway to play the game, knowing our kids were exposed to it,” principal Tim Reardon explained.

The abrupt end to the Crusaders’ season is a stunning end to a year in which Riordan, led by a pair of Division I-bound guards in Je’Lani Clark and Bryce Monroe, was billed as one of the most talented teams in San Francisco basketball history. They ended up splitting the West Catholic Athletic League title with Bellarmine and Mitty, and though they beat both Modesto Christian and Vanden in the first two rounds of the state tournament, their quest for a title was cut short.

The combination of their shared league title, surprising defeat in the CCS Open Division Quarterfinals and lack of a chance to finish their quest with a state crown leaves Riordan’s season incomplete, with fans left to wonder what might have been.

“We knew we left room for people to question if we were living up to the hype, and going into the state playoffs, we wanted to show we were the real deal,” Monroe said. “All year we were winning big games and competing, but every time we lost, the critics would come in and question everything we were doing.”

With the top-seeded Crusaders forced to withdraw from the tournament, De La Salle went on to host the Northern California Division I Championship, losing to a Campolindo team that Riordan had beaten in December, 76-62. In that matchup, the third-place game at the prestigious Gridley Invitational, Monroe scored a career-high 44 points.

To end the quest for a title without the players finishing their seasons and careers on the court was something that Reardon, a former coach himself, had hoped to avoid, but after the student’s positive test, he was left with no choice.

“I know I’m going to have a long line of people at my door with pitchforks and torches,” he said. “This season did more to bring our school together than just about anything that’s happened besides the new football field. People went crazy for this team. We’re gonna do everything we can to try to celebrate the WCAL championship, and we’re going to make sure the kids know how much we appreciate their year.”

While the decision at Riordan was only made as a last resort after a student had tested positive, Lincoln was forced to withdraw before the Northern California Division IV Championship Game after a blanket decision from the San Francisco Unified School District, even though no cases had been reported at the school.

“I hope you could look at our situation with a different lens, as it is very unique and doesn’t fall under the same umbrella as other SFUSD school sites,” Mustangs head coach Carl Jacobs said in a letter to assistant superintendent Bill Sanderson. “If the situations were reversed, we would support other schools’ teams to continue playing.”

Lincoln was more than willing to play on the road against Brookside Christian-Stockton after the decision came out, but the district’s decision was final. Instead, the Knights advanced to the upcoming weekend’s championship game, which, as of now, is still on to be played at Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center.

The decision to cut Lincoln’s season short was handed down less than 48 hours after the Mustangs had won a crosstown battle with University, 69-58. In that game, freshman guard Jeremyah Aquino scored 22 points and his sophomore brother, Jordan, scored 17. At the time, Lincoln was posed to try to join Mission as the second San Francisco public school basketball team to win a state championship, but those dreams were ultimately cut short.

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