The Foothill High softball team has a new coaching staff that is really a blast from the past.
Matt Sweeney, the Falcons' football coach, is back in the dugout after two years away, and look who he's brought with him as assistants -- ex-Falcons stars Valerie Arioto and Kelly Sweeney, Matt's daughter.
Talk about a triple play: It's Sweeney squared, smiling Val and a whole lot of Falcon pride.
"It's pretty cool," Matt Sweeney said of his staff.
"We're a dream team," added Arioto, a U.S. national team player and ex-Cal star. "We all give something different to the team. It's a great spirit and such a great atmosphere. The girls love it. I think they're loving the atmosphere, too. It makes me feel like I'm in high school again. It's great to be a Falcon."
Kelly Sweeney, who graduated from Boise State in 2012 after four years of softball, and Arioto were teammates on the 2007 Falcons squad, coached by Matt Sweeney, that went 25-3 and won the East Bay Athletic League and North Coast Section 3A championships. Kelly Sweeney also helped the 2008 Foothill team win the league title and advance to the NCS 3A semifinals, before falling to California.
Of course, the current Falcons team needs to write its own script. Coaches can only show the way. They can't hit or catch or throw when the games begin.
The program is coming off two tough years, but Foothill, with a talented squad, showed promise in a 2-1 win over Newark Memorial on March 5 to open the season.
"It's a lot of fun," said Kelly, who is not all that much older than the players. "The girls are great. They all have great attitudes, and that makes it a lot easier on us."
A world-class player and perhaps the ultimate battler in the batter's box, Arioto calls the pitches in the Falcons games. What a gift to the program.
"You've got a girl that was on our national team and is a phenomenal player and phenomenal pitcher and hitter," Sweeney said of Arioto. "She is not a primadonna, just an extremely great competitor that wants to cut your heart out, and she's smiling the whole time she's doing it."
Arioto's playing career is far from over. She has tryouts again in June for Team USA. To stay sharp, she and Kelly will take some swings before practice.
After a successful softball coaching career, Sweeney opted out two years ago because he wanted to watch Kelly play in college and to focus more on football with De La Salle having joined the EBAL.
He had a change of heart after the school asked him to return in early December, when the softball job popped open.
"If you would have told me in the middle of November that I was going to be the softball coach, I would looked at you like you were crazy," he said. "But the thing is, I love softball. I love softball. I would never go back and coach baseball. It's too slow. Softball is a great game. It's fast, and it's just boom-boom-boom-boom. That part I loved. It was just all the other stuff that comes with being a coach again that I wasn't looking forward to."
Sweeney wants his young coaches to emphasize the positive. He can be the one that brings the tough love.
Every so often all three coaches can look back and smile at what they accomplished together.
"Oh yeah," Arioto said. "Me, Matt and Kelly, we'll sit there for water breaks. 'Remember when we played them? Remember when we beat them?' It's fun. Lot of memories."
Kelly and Matt Sweeney have a strong bond. Coaching together seems natural.
"It's awesome," Kelly said. "I've played for dad my whole life, and now to be on the coaching side is just as fun, especially with Val on board, too. I played with Val my entire life, since I was in T-Ball all the way through high school, and now coaching together. I couldn't ask for a better threesome, coaching-wise."
TV30 'MADNESS': The TV30 Foundation's March Madness Viewing Party will be Friday, March 22 (5 p.m. to 8 p.m.) at John Madden's Sports Center in Pleasanton. Games will in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament be shown on eight 63-inch screens. The $60 per person admission price includes viewing, food, drinks and more. Admission may be purchased online at www.tv30foundation.org or by calling 925.462.3030.
Contact Matt Schwab at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter at @schwab_matt.