A season in limbo

Lancer spring sport athletes keeping their fingers crossed

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It’s been two weeks since the Iowa High School Athletic Association and Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union suspended the spring sport season.

Boys’ soccer and track teams, along with girls’ track teams were scheduled to begin practice on Monday, March 16, with girls’ soccer teams from across the state set to begin practice a week later.

However, the rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic forced officials to suspend the season until April 10, and now, with President Donald Trump’s decision to extend his social distancing guidelines until April 30, it’s uncertain as to what the future holds.

As of Monday afternoon, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds had yet to change her order to close schools until April 13, but that is expected to change, and be extended.

If there’s no school, there are no sports, and the futures of the seasons are in jeopardy.

Still, Lancer athletes are being hopeful.

Girls' Track

Camryn Hanson was surprised. Brooke Kruse was upset. Coach Troy Matthaidess was just happy that the season was suspended, and not cancelled.

That was the gamut of emotions two weeks ago when members of North Scott’s girls’ track team learned that their season would be in limbo.

Now, they’re just hoping they get a chance to have a season.

“Honestly, I was really upset when I heard the news,” said Kruse, a senior, who ran in two events at last year’s state meet. “I had done a lot of preseason workouts, and I really wanted to improve this year. I really wanted to leave a mark on the track, especially since it’s my senior year.

“Just hearing that news, you think that it was all for nothing, but I’m hopeful the season might be able to happen, but I’m not really sure.”

That’s exactly how Hanson, a senior who has competed at state the last two years, also feels.

“I’m still hopeful,” she said. “We’re supposed to come back on April 13, but if that doesn’t happen I’m hoping we can push it back. I’m just hoping that we’ll be able to continue and work hard as a team, and that we can keep growing together.

“I never imagined this could happen, and I was surprised. We were all looking forward to the season, and had everything planned out. Now, it just feels really weird.”

Matthaidess said the Lancers had gotten off to a good start in the indoor season, and he was excited to see what the girls could do once they hit the track at Lancer Stadium.

“It’s just a great group of kids, and everything that has gone on so far has been positive,” he said. “We were off to a great start, so it’s really disappointing to be in this position, but we’re hopeful we can get back out there.

“We’ve been texting back and forth, and trying to remain positive through this. It’s just a great group of freshmen that came in, and some new kids in the upper grades that we hadn’t had before, plus all of our returners.”

Matthaidess said he understands the predicament the state is in, and knows that there’s a chance the season may not happen.

“To be very honest, I was much happier to hear the word suspended than cancelled,” he said. “Right now that’s just a word, because we’re still not up and going. It still could get cancelled, who knows?

“The way the NCAA shut everything down right away, and then for the state to say let’s reevaluate and see where we’re at, that at least gave me some hope that we might get back out there.

“I’m not holding my breath too much on that,” he continued, “but we’ll see what happens. At least it’s nice to have something to look forward to right now.”

The coaching staff and team are trying to keep things as normal as possible. The coaches are emailing workouts with hopes of competing at some point in time.

“I just know that as long as we’ve been off, they’ve been asking for workouts and all of us coaches have been shooting workouts out to them,” he said. “We hope that they are being smart with social distancing, but they are champing at the bit to get back out there.

“We’re very hopeful that we’ll get a season, but if we don’t, as unfortunate as that is, we understand and we want everybody to be safe.”

Kruse said it has been hard to get motivated because of the social distancing aspect of the pandemic, but said she’s been able to go to the track with her brother and dad.

“They have encouraged me to keep moving forward,” she said. “I’m not too sure about getting the season in, but I really, really hope so. The team has been working really hard together, and showing great teamwork, so hopefully something good can happen.”

Hanson said she is also working out at home, although she’s been to the track on a few occasions.

“It seems weird not practicing, and it’s tough because we can’t improve together and see other people’s improvement,” she said. “It just feels really weird because we’re not together. I’m hoping we’ll be able to continue eventually.”

Matthaidess looked at the whole situation realistically.

“Obviously, you want people to stay safe,” he said, “but at the same time, you feel bad for your team because they’re putting in a ton of work and now they don’t get a chance to showcase it.

“You have seniors who want to get out there for the last time, but at the same time, I think it would be pretty callous to say I’d put track above people’s well-being. If somebody in our community were to get the virus, and ended up passing away, that’s much more major than running a 100-meter dash.”

Still, Matthaidess is hoping his girls can get back on the track.

“I don’t know what to think,” he said. “You look at what other states are doing, and it doesn’t look super positive, and then you look at what the CDC is saying, and that doesn’t sound too positive, either.”

Boys' Soccer

All the stars were aligned for the Lancer boys’ soccer team, with some thinking they had a shot at their first-ever Mississippi Athletic Conference championship.

After wrapping up an 8-8 season a year ago with a disappointing 2-1 loss to Cedar Rapids Jefferson in the substate semifinals, the Lancers had high hopes for 2020.

Now, they just have hopes that the season will be played.

“Everyone thought this would be the best year North Scott soccer would have, and everybody was excited to get out there,” said senior Ben Evitts. “Now we’re just hopeful, and we’re trying to get better every day since we have extra time. We’re just hopeful that we will get to show what we got.”

Lancer coach Troy Bendickson is also trying to be hopeful, but he doesn’t know what to expect.

“This suspension is unprecedented, and I don’t think it was on anybody’s radar,” he said. “It happened so quickly.”

As is the new norm for the Lancer boys, practice officially starts the week of spring break with a team trip, and this year they were headed to Nashville to work out at Lipscomb University.

“A lot of work goes into that trip,” he said. “About a week before, I put out a Plan B to parents, but even then I was optimistic because we were going to kind of a private area.

“Then it went from the trip being cancelled to the season being suspended, and that all happened within about a day. I knew that when the first shoe fell, when all the colleges were closing, I knew it wouldn’t be long before everybody followed suit.”

Bendickson’s first thoughts were about his seniors, and what a suspended season would mean to them.

“Everybody else gets another chance, but not seniors,” he said. "As coaches, we only really think about our players. It’s just disappointing for everybody. You have in your mind what you think the season is going to look like, and now you just have no idea.”

Like Evitts, Bendickson was excited for the season.

“We don’t have a big senior class, but it’s a class that would contribute heavily,” he said, “and there were plenty of openings for some new players. The core of last year’s team is basically still with us, and for the most part, that core will be with us next year.”

When the news came down two weeks ago, Evitts was disappointed.

“I just really wanted to get out there and start with my team, but it really sucked that we couldn’t,” he said.

Senior Ethan Fairfield wasn’t totally surprised by the state’s decision.

“I think we were expecting the season to be delayed somewhat, especially with all the professional teams cancelling,” he said. “I don’t think any of us planned on starting the season on spring break.

“Still, we were amped to get the season started, and take our trip to Nashville. We expected the suspension, but I think everyone was disappointed.”

Like all coaches, Bendickson is prohibited from having any contact with his team, except via texts, emails and social media.

“I’ve encouraged them to get on the ball, and encouraged them not to get together with anybody,” he said. “I think we have to do the wise thing, maybe not for us individually, but for the entire population.

“Even though our kids are young and healthy, I encouraged them to stay at home and get touches on the ball. I also sent a couple of video links and a skill endurance test I sometimes use, just to give them some ideas.”

Like everybody else, the Lancers are playing the waiting game.

“I’m not real optimistic,” said Bendickson. “If there is no school, there will be no sports, and I’m not sure what a season would look like in a shortened time frame.

“As it stands now, May 1 would be the first day of contact, and then you can’t have games for two weeks. It would sure be fun to be able to do something, but I’m not sure how.”

Fairfield is keeping his fingers crossed.

“I have no clue what the future holds for the soccer season, but I’m hoping they can maybe push it back into summer,” he said. “I love soccer, and I hope we can play, and right now I’m just keeping my mind focused as if we’re still going to have a season.”

Like Evitts and his coach, Fairfield thought the Lancers were primed for a special year.

“I think this could have been a great year,” he said. “We have so much talent on the team, especially with how good we were last year, and we took a big step up.

“We were looking at having a shot to win the MAC, and that was our goal, and maybe even go to state. Even if that doesn’t happen this year, I still have all the faith in the juniors, sophomores and freshmen that they can get it done next year.”

“I just feel bad for the seniors,” said Bendickson. “I would have loved to coach them one last time, but we’ll just have to wait and see.”

Boys' Track

Joe Greenwood is trying to be optimistic. North Scott’s boys’ track coach says he has no choice.

With COVID-19 wreaking havoc with the spring sports season, Greenwood says it’s important to stay positive at a time when there are so many uncertainties.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before, that’s for sure,” he said. “Our indoor season was going really good, and we were making some good strides. I was excited for the outdoor season to start, but we’re going to have to wait a little longer.”

Like most coaches, considering everything going on around the world, Greenwood was just happy the season was suspended, and not totally cancelled.

“You see other states that have totally cancelled things, so at least for now, that give me a little hope that maybe we’ll still be able to do this thing.

“I’m 100 percent optimistic moving forward. I’ve been texting my staff and tweeting things out. I don’t mean to sound like this is a do-or-die type situation, but it’s really the only thing that we kind of have to hold out for. If you’re a senior, it’s the only thing that you do have.”

Luke Kroeger is one of those seniors.

“I was pretty bummed out when I heard the news,” he said. “This is my senior season and something everyone looks forward to. I understand why it happened, but it just sucks.”

“I was definitely nervous when things started happening,” added senior Trent Allard. “It started getting pretty bad there for a little bit, when everything was shutting down. I was nervous they might not even have the season, and that would be really horrible.”

There’s no denying the Lancers returned plenty of talent from last year’s team, and experience, and perhaps that’s why Greenwood immediately thought of his seniors when the season was suspended.

“My first inclination was to worry about them all, because they all have valuable roles,” he said. “But obviously you look at Trent, who has a chance to make some history in being a four-time state qualifier in the same event.

“I’m not sure the last time that’s happened here, or if it ever has.”

Allard finished fifth in the high jump a year ago. He was 17th as a freshman and 12th as a sophomore.

Allard said it would be difficult not having a chance to get back to Des Moines.

“It would be devastating, and I can’t imagine what it would be like if I wouldn’t be able to be at state,” he said. “I know they postponed the Drake Relays, and if they don’t get rescheduled, that will be a tough time as well.”

Allard isn’t the only senior that Greenwood is counting on. Ben Belken, Luke Kroeger and Chris Tague are also expected to play key roles.

“Ben is obviously the leader of our throwers, and he’s going to have a huge role,” said Greenwood. “When you look at some of our runners, I realize that Luke has been a huge part of our program, and he’s really been working hard and developed into a leader. That’s been neat to see.

“Then I look at somebody like Chris. He’s a kid who was a sprinter for us, and this year he decided he wanted to move up into the middle distance events. He’s been working his butt off for the last several months.

“He’s a guy who has had limited success in his first three years,” Greenwood continued, “but has an opportunity to do something special, and he’s really excited about that.”

Like every other coach in Iowa, Greenwood isn’t allowed to have any contact with his team, but he can communicate via text and email to deliver workout suggestions.

“I’m just trying to stay as normal as possible to what we do,” he said. “I will say, that in one regard, it’s a little bit easier with some things because we’ve done some things the last couple of years, but on the other hand, we cannot do the same thing.

“You can’t say what they are going to do on their own is going to be exactly what we would’ve done if we had them. We put a stopwatch or a timer on a lot of things that we do, and that will be hard to do when they are by themselves.”

Kroeger is doing the workouts, and he hopes his teammates are as well.

“I have to keep myself healthy, and I can’t sit around and get out of shape,” he said. “I’ve been working out a few times every week, and I hope the rest of my team is taking it seriously and doing all that they need to do to stay in shape.

“It seemed like we had a pretty good group going during the indoor season, and I really don’t think the quarantine is going to stop us from being a good team, as long as we all are still doing what we need to do.”

Allard is also trying to stay positive.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. “I could see it going either way. I just hope whatever they do, we have a chance to go out and compete, even if it is just three or four meets before the district and state meet. That would still be better than not having a season at all.

“I thought we were going to be really good this year. We had a bunch of young guys coming in that were going to be successful, and if we can get out there and show what we can do, I think we can still have a really good year.”

That’s exactly what Greenwood wants to hear.

“I’m preparing as if there is going to be a season, and until it is actually shut down, that’s the only way I can go about things. As the leader of this program, I feel that’s really important for everybody to see.

“There’s not a whole lot of positive in the world right now, and I think that’s something that our kids can kind of grasp onto to keep some type of normalcy.”

 

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