WJ sport’s biggest secret: The story behind the Wildcat offseason teams

The fall JV baseball team discusses the previous inning in the dugout in their fall league game at Povich Field. Though not an official team sanctioned by MCPS, the Wildcats compete against other county and club teams.

Most students know that the road to great seasons for the Wildcats’ many teams is long and requires a great deal of hard work and preparation. What some may not realize is that the long path toward building team chemistry begins well before the first tryout. During the offseason, many players play in leagues outside of school with their teammates to become closer as a team as well as prepare for the upcoming season.

This league of play is dependent on players’ awareness of the existence of these teams, and student-athletes who have not played for the Wildcats are unlikely to know about these teams due to the fact they are not well advertised. For incoming freshman and transfer students, this can greatly impact their chances of participating.

While the official tryout process begins on the first day of the season, for many sports, players use these offseason teams to prepare for tryouts well in advance. For most teams, coaches are able to get an early glimpse at how players face high school competition. While for most teams, not playing in the offseason league does not directly affect players’ chances of making the team, student-athletes are indirectly less likely to make or get more playing time due to the fact that they have not played with their teammates before and may not know the team’s style of play.

Some of the teams that partake in these leagues include football, baseball, boys’ and girls’ basketball, boys’ and girls’ lacrosse and more. Each sport’s offseason team is different, but the main thing that they have in common is that anyone who is interested in playing for the school can join the offseason team whether or not they have already played for the school team, so long as they know how to join.

“It’s really just something that people do to have fun in the offseason and to stay in shape. It’s not really serious, we all just do it because we want to be with each other,” junior girls’ lacrosse player Natalya Krouse said.

This season empowers many players to gain and improve their skills which can make it so that they can have even more of an impact when the JV and varsity seasons begin. Getting time to work on many of the little details before the season begins can greatly benefit each individual player as well as the team as a whole.

“I was able to work on new things and try out new ways of my approach and some things didn’t work, some things were okay and it was a way to get game time and really be able to work on stuff that you don’t get to do in the regular season,” sophomore baseball player Ryan Schoenfeld said.

For some teams, off-season leagues give players a chance to earn more playing time and may help boost their chances of making the varsity team. This is especially true for teams with a large number of players who graduated in the season prior.

“People that play [for the offseason team] definitely have a good chance. We lost 22 players last season, so we’ve got a lot of people to replace. Anyone that wants to sign up; they probably have a good chance at making varsity,” junior boys’ lacrosse player J.R. DuBose said.

Chemistry is built on these teams outside of the playing arena just as much as on it. During the offseason league, some teams will play multiple games in one day and/or meet up to get to know each other better. With team sports, building relationships outside of the arena is paramount as it often translates to success in the arena.

“It’s helpful because you meet a lot of the girls and when you have a good connection off the court, you have a better connection on the court. It helps solidify the plays and gets you in shape for the season,” junior girls’ basketball player Eliana Nastase said.

Depending on the sport, discovering these offseason teams can be challenging for some student-athletes, especially for those who are new to the WJ community as some of the teams are not well advertised. Some new students find out about the teams from friends who play the same sport or from having friends with older siblings, but for students who do not fall into either of these categories, finding teams can be difficult.

One thing that many student-athletes have done to combat this is email the coach of the team. By doing this, these players were not only able to play for their offseason team but were also able to show the coaches that they are passionate and proactive which is a character trait that many coaches look for in potential players.

Teams such as girls’ basketball advertise more often through things like meetings during the school year while football advertises on social media.

“We send out an interest meeting early on and anyone that wants to participate can. We have a list and when we have an interest meeting, we always advertise that you can play if you want to,” girls’ varsity basketball coach Chris Donlon said.

Some student-athletes feel that they are at a disadvantage by not playing for the offseason team.

Junior Tre Perkins, who transferred to WJ this year, tried out for but did not make the boys’ basketball team this winter.

“I think just knowing the plays before just helps practice go a lot smoother. You don’t have to relearn those things, you can just hone in so it is perfect. You can just run it off the top of your head instead of learning it over and over and over again to where you’re taking time off your practice where you can actually practice your skills,” Perkins said.

Other players who were unable to play for the offseason team welcomed the opportunity to meet the coaches for the first time and show off their skills without the coaches and some of their teammates having already seen them.

“I would say that since Coach [Parrish] didn’t really know my style of play, it did come to my advantage that I could just show off from the start…without any background information,” senior boys’ basketball player Irad Zilberman said. Zilberman transferred to WJ his junior year and has been a starter on the team both this year and last year.

For some of the teams, the varsity and/or JV coaches coach the offseason team while for others, the captains and/or a parent coach the team. Either way, the competitive nature of the offseason teams allows players to experience the competition level of high school sports before the beginning of the season.

“I really got to learn the defensive plays and our coverages and also the coaches got to see me in a real competitive place,” junior football player Nick Zampardi said.

For incoming freshmen and new athletes, playing in the offseason can also be a game-changer in gaining experience and conviction in oneself.

“It got me in the rhythm of high school football…it showed me that I could hang with the older kids and it gave me more confidence,” freshman football player Dylan Byrd said.

Overall, the goal of these teams is to better WJ sports each year during the regular season and playoffs and to have each player reach their full potential during the season. For current student-athletes as well as future athletes, Wildcats’ coaches’ emails can be found https://wjathletics.org/coaching-staff/.