Tucson High School Sports

Sunnyside Cancels Swimming Season, Proceeds With Limited Cross Country, Golf Schedules


With no public pools open due to the COVID-19 pandemic, schools such as Sunnyside and Desert View without on-campus or privately-run facilities have been forced to cancel their swimming seasons.

Sunnyside’s Nick Duddleston, who coaches the Blue Devils’ swimming program along with Angel Lopez, informed the boys and girls teams of the news this week.

“It was really tough to have to tell our student-athletes that their swim season was cancelled, especially our two senior captains, Daniel (Onie) Dong and Iliana Vijarro,” Duddleston said.

While Duddleston delivered that unfortunate development, the Blue Devils’ cross country coach Marco Rodriguez grappled with the thought Thursday of only two regular season invitationals before sectionals.

Coaches and members of the Sunnyside swim team (Sunnyside photo)

The schedule has since been updated with three three-team meets — at Flowing Wells with Rincon/University on Oct. 7, at home against Buena and Tucson on Oct. 14 and at Naranja Park against Flowing Wells and Ironwood Ridge on Oct. 21.

“We’re managing,” Rodriguez said. “The kids are hopeful.”

Sunnyside boys golf coach Orlando Rodriguez (no relation) has only three matches scheduled. A golfer requires six individual rounds to qualify for the state tournament late next month at Omni Tucson National.

Marco Rodriguez could benefit from swimmers joining his cross country program. Less than 15 boys and girls runners were at his practice Thursday — “This is smaller than usual, big time,” he said — and he must prepare for some of them unable to make meets because of transportation concerns. Sunnyside will not provide bus or van transportation of athletes to competitions to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

“A couple of our runners decided to not join the team,” Marco Rodriguez said. “The struggle has been just trying to get them hooked and to keep them motivated anticipating a race, a duel, an invite.”

Members of the Sunnyside cross country team during a conditioning drill (Sunnyside photo)

Dong and Vijarro have been with the swimming program for most of their high school careers. Dong is a four-year swimmer and has been the captain since his sophomore year. Iliana has been with the Blue Devil swimmers for two seasons. She took one year off to run cross country.

She is also a pole vaulter for the track and field team.

Duddleston said some of the swimmers are new to the sport but have “improved by leaps and bounds” since last season. They are junior Anaysse Gaxiola, and sophomores Ximena Dominguez, Allesandra Mejia-Rodriguez and Hugo Zapata.

“They were all looking to have great seasons this year,” Duddleston added. “Swimming is a very tough sport and these swimmers are some of the best conditioned athletes on campus. We have had cross country, basketball, football players, wrestlers who have come out to the pool and have said swimming is too hard.

“Angel and I are both bummed that the season had to be cancelled. We feel bad for our seniors especially, but we know that all the student-athletes are missing out on an important part of their high school careers.”

Sunnyside senior swimmer Iliana Vijarro
Sunnyside senior swimmer Daniel (Onie) Dong

The Sunnyside boys golf team (the girls have a developmental squad) will compete against Sabino and Sahuarita at Torres Blancas Golf Course at Green Valley on Sept. 29, Marana and Walden Grove at Haven Golf Course at Green Valley on Oct. 6, and Desert View at Fred Enke Golf Course on Oct. 20.

In addition to their three scheduled meets, Sunnyside’s cross country teams are slated to compete in the Rio Rico Rattler Invitational on Oct. 10 and the John Gleeson Lancer Invitational on Oct. 17.

Cross country meets will include waves of small groups of runners starting at different times. They will wear masks up to when the gun goes off. The second wave will line up a few seconds after the wave before them has started.

“You need a good timing system for that,” Marco Rodriguez said. “There is also no spectators and family members to go with the no transportation. Some of the kids are old enough they can drive themselves. There will also be no (enclosed) chute finishes. It will be a corral finish, an open finish.”

His top runners include seniors Adolfo Loya, Jeremy Ozbrin and Antonio Espinoza with the boys and Ariel Yourgulez and Paola Mendivil with the girls.

“The kids have been working hard; they’re sticking together,” Marco Rodriguez said. “We have a good core. We have an older team.”

Duddleston mentioned his swimming teams are planning to still work out and swim together when city pools open.

“We know when this pandemic is over we will be back in the pool,” he said. “We look forward to honoring our seniors this season at some point as well.”


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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.

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