Benefield: Kincade fire forces volleyball forfeit, delays playoff game

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It was not the way Rich Schwarz wanted, or deserved, to go out.

After 15 years of coaching Windsor High School volleyball, the varsity coach is hanging up his whistle without even getting to coach his final game.

The Jags, 14-12 overall and 4-6 in a tough North Bay League-Oak Division, earned the 13th seed in the North Coast Section Division 2 playoffs starting Tuesday. They were set to play at No. 4 seed Redwood on Wednesday.

It won’t happen.

With the Kincade fire still raging, all of Windsor under mandatory evacuation orders, and all Windsor Unified Schools closed at least through Friday, Schwarz, in consultation with athletic director Jamie Williams, made the call to forfeit the match. Redwood will advance to the second round and the Jags will call it a season.

“You have to put everything else aside and do what is best,” he said.

It was a decision that was tough, but correct, he said. He didn’t get complaints when he told his team, it was more like a slew of sad-faced emojis.

His team is scattered to the wind. He can’t be sure that his players, when they were forced to evacuate, thought to grab their uniform and equipment. There is no way they were going to cobble together a meaningful practice.

And Schwarz didn’t want to add another burden — a practice to get to, or schedule to keep — to his players’ families who are already under extraordinary stress.

There were just too many things piling up in front of them to justify pressing on, he said.

“It was just too much,” he said.

Williams notified section officials Monday morning of the decision.

“We understand it affects more than just our team,” she said. “This was a call that wasn’t easy to make but we felt it was best.”

Schwarz remained upbeat Monday, despite the abrupt ending to his successful career at the helm of the Jags.

“We’ll just have to have a phenomenal banquet,” he said.

The Jags weren’t the only ones juggling their options and trying to find a way forward during the unprecedented chaos created by the largest evacuation in Sonoma County history which saw 185,000 residents ordered to leave their homes.

Section officials are dealing with the early days of fall season playoffs amid wildfires, noxious smoke and massive PG&E power shutoffs that are affecting millions of Californians up and down the state.

“We are communicating with schools right now and we are looking at moving games and obviously accommodating schools that have closures, that have been evacuated, any number of situations,” said section Commissioner Pat Cruickshank.

But even communicating amid the widespread power outages and mass evacuations has been difficult, he said.

“Communication has been the hardest part,” he said. “We don’t know whether people have access to the internet, we don’t know if they have access to power.”

But Cruickshank praised the officials and coaches from the 180 section schools for maneuvering through difficult scheduling and facilities challenges.

“I have to commend our schools,” he said.

Sonoma Valley’s volleyball team (14-5 overall and 10-2 and co-champs of the Vine Valley Athletic League) earned the 4-seed in Div. 2. They were originally slated to host Terra Linda on Tuesday. But with another round of destructive winds set to whip through the area Tuesday night and because Sonoma Valley was closed for business Monday and Tuesday, the game was pushed to Thursday.

“I won’t say that we are used to this, but we are getting accustomed to dealing with it, let’s put it that way,” Dragons’ coach Brian Perkins said.

And with the campus one of the few places in the area that has power, many players are finding refuge from their darkened homes when they show up for practice in the gym. Plus, it gives them a place to charge their phones.

Perkins laughed and said he, too, might bring his phone cord into the gym.

“I’m sitting here without power at home,” he said.

With Sonoma Valley pushed from Tuesday to Thursday, No. 10 Rancho Cotate at No. 7 Moreau Catholic in Div. 3 and No. 9 Clear Lake at No. 8 Sonoma Academy as well as No. 14 Mendocino at No. 3 St. Vincent — both in Div. 5 — and No. 13 Vintage at No. 4 Monte Vista in Div. 1 are the first teams to get a taste of playoff volleyball. They all are scheduled to play Tuesday.

The Rancho Cotate Cougars, largely untouched in Rohnert Park by widespread power outages or evacuations, are ready for business, coach Jeff Bradshaw said.

The Cougars (15-12 overall and 6-4 in NBL-Redwood) were satisfied last year with simply making the postseason. Not so this time around, Bradshaw said.

“I think we have the opportunity to do something special,” he said.

But he’s mindful of all of the anxiety that the fires and outages and poor air quality have wrought on the community — yet again.

“I told them it’s a stressful time and anxious time, but I think it’s good for us to get together and prepare and move forward,” he said. “Just being together is going to be good for us.”

After the largest evacuations in county history, being together again sounds about as good as it gets.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield.

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