Rance Hodge is in his fourth season coaching the Anzar High boys basketball team.
Chew on that for a minute. At a school where coaches often depart after a year or two, Hodge has doubled the average coaching tenure expectancy at the San Juan Bautista school. For the 42-year-old Hodge, his reason for staying goes deep.
“It’s bigger than basketball for me,” he said. “I care about the students and maybe some of them will grow up to be better men because of the time they spent here. As I’ve become more familiar with the community, I’ve realized what they need most is consistency. They need someone to stay with them through some of the highs and valleys.
“I’ve invested time in this community because I do at one point want to be there for the change and evolution of the school in a sports manner. So my desire is not to go to a program and continue a tradition; I’m more on wanting to build a new tradition. Me being here is like coming home to my family—it’s a no-brainer. This is my community and family now and we’ve made it our own.”
Even though every team has been affected by Covid this season, the Hawks have probably had the worst of it. They recently came off a two week shutdown of all team activities due to precautionary measures implemented by the school district.
Thankfully, Anzar came off the forced layoff with a blowout win over Pacific Point which was followed by a 72-69 squeaker over Ceiba College Prep. The pair of victories improved Anzar to 6-1 overall and 3-0 in the Pacific Coast League’s Arroyo Division.
For the first time in his coaching career at the San Juan Bautista school, Hodge can say with confidence that the team has a legitimate shot to win a league championship.
“Without being too presumptuous, I think if they come out and play their game, I believe we can foresee a postseason,” he said.
Anzar is a guard-oriented team, but its best player has been junior post Max Castro, who can do it all.
“Max is one of those guys you don’t put in a box,” Hodge said. “We have him do a little bit of everything. He’s very coachable, even tempered, and definitely our best player. We want to make sure we build around him and he’s not carrying too much of the load for our team.”
The Hawks have been receiving solid guard play from the likes of Andre Grio, R.J. Garcia, Ericson Sundiam and Warren Du, a junior point guard who handles the ball well, can get to the basket off dribble penetration along with knocking down shots from the perimeter.
Garcia, a senior off guard, is a four-year player and like Castro capable of doing a little bit of everything, said Hodge, who praised Garcia for always giving a max effort on both ends of the floor.
“We’re really counting on him to put it in high gear for league play,” Hodge said.
Grio is another four-year player in the program and Hodge appreciates his hustle, rebounding and doing all the little things that don’t show up in the box score. Center James Ely has earned praise from Hodge for his desire to win the battle on the boards and loose balls.
“James is a first-year senior and very aggressive,” Hodge said. “He has the intangibles and a desire to want the ball more.”
Junior Josh Vega is a key reserve and Hodge said he can count on Vega to bring the energy whenever he’s in the game.
“He’s dedicated to the team and is always trying to encourage and uplift the team,” Hodge said.
Hodge is also high on another junior, Alan Arriaga, who has a versatile skill set.
“He’s a Swiss Army knife type player,” Hodge said. “He can shoot, go inside and outside. He just needs to build his confidence a little.”
Like most public schools, Anzar has a near impossible task in keeping coaches for a sustained period. The reasons for that are many, but Hodge looks to be an outlier. Well aware that Anzar tends to be a coaches’ pit stop, Hodge said he plans on building something foundational at the school.
“I’m all about Anzar building a culture that’s sustainable and I’m not about turning my back on that,” said Hodge, who works as a youth activities coordinator in south Santa Clara County and Salinas. “I’m not one of those people who is going to think, ‘Oh, there’s a more enticing opportunity elsewhere so let’s go over there.’ No, I want to build something here.
“People come and people go, but seeing that makes me want to stay even more because I don’t want to be that guy that goes to a Gonzales or Salinas school and then these guys here are back at ground zero with some volunteer that doesn’t know how to coach. I have a big heart for kids and that definitely drives me.”
Indeed, Hodge coached Anzar’s junior varsity and varsity girls volleyball teams last season because Anzar couldn’t find a coach. And he did it despite having never coached volleyball before.
“For me, it’s a treat and privilege to coach so I don’t loathe going to practice or focus on the fact we don’t have a budget of what the bigger schools have,” he said.
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected] and (831) 886-0471, ext. 3958.