WORTHINGTON -- Christian Lietz had big goals for the 2020 track and field season. Now, with the season on hold, he realizes that his plans are evaporating before his eyes.
Last year, Lietz, Adam Koller, Ammanuel Ojha and Andrew Huber teamed up at Worthington High School to break the school record in the 4x800-meter relay and qualify for the state meet. But with COVID-19 shutting down the spring high school sports season, Lietz may never get the chance to break the new record he helped set.
“I kind of wanted to do the same thing we did last year, with a new group,” said the Trojan senior. “But the dream is kind of gone now.”
All across Minnesota, high school spring sports athletes are feeling the disappointment of seasons interrupted. Not all of them were contemplating new school records or state tournament berths, but they all had goals of some kind. With each passing day, however, the prospects that spring track, baseball, softball, golf and tennis campaigns might return grow slimmer. Instead, prep athletes are facing more time away from their teams -- and from traditional classrooms as their schools transition to online learning.
Lietz not only eyed another new 4x800 record, but he also wanted to take a crack at achieving a new mile mark for himself.
To stay in shape, he’s working out independently -- running every day, in fact. Coaches are prohibited from staging organized practices while school is out.
Coaches are also frustrated. They, too, have time on their hands that they’d prefer spending on the activities that they love.
“My life without sports is very empty, I’ve learned,” WHS girls softball coach Rosalie Hayenga-Hostikka said, tongue-in-cheek.
She may have been exaggerating. But maybe not much. The Trojan girls held a week of practice before word came that there was to be no more.
“It gets you all fired-up and then it’s taken away from you,” Hayenga-Hostikka explained. “I told (the players) that there’s more to consider … But I also told them, ‘Don’t let anybody tell you it’s only a game.’”
“I was sad. I was very sad,” one veteran Trojan softball player, Haley Cauwels, said. “I know the seniors probably took it the hardest.”
As of late last week, Cauwels held out hope that the season might return. Until then, though, she’s doing her best to stay busy as both school and softball practice are missing from her life.
“I have absolutely been playing video games. I’ve just been playing Minecraft with my friends, ‘cuz we haven’t been able to be with each other.”
Video games, some of which can be played online with others, give sports-challenged athletes a way to connect with their pals without having to be in the same room.
A teammate of Cauwels, Payton Sauerbrei did not have her schoolwork quite so interrupted as did many others. The high school senior has been taking online college classes even before the coronavirus scare hit the fan, so she continues that. But that’s still not stimulation enough.
“I’ve also been watching more TV. Bored. Very bored,” she admitted.
“At first it didn’t really feel real,” she said about after the world came crashing down. “I just kept thinking this will all be over with in about a week. I don’t know even now that it hasn’t really sunk in yet, and to think it could be the end of my (softball) career.”
Making the best of it
Mike Marquardt, veteran coach of the Worthington High School boys tennis program, along with his players had been looking forward to a successful spring. The Trojans return key members from a team that nearly qualified for the state tournament last year, and they were hoping to pick up where they left off.
“We were going to have a phenomenal year. It’s just been a situation we had no control over, so we’ll just go from there,” he said in a phone conversation a few days ago. Without school, without tennis practice, Marquardt spoke from his home, where he was busily attending to his children.
Even now, he said optimistically, there can be a silver lining to COVID-19.
“On the flip side of that, it’s family time. This is a chance to regroup and do some quality time,” he pointed out.
One of Marquardt’s top players, Kipton Jenson, said he’s not going crazy.
“Not yet,” he promised.
He says he’s catching up with his sleep now, though boredom keeps knocking.
“Everything is shut down. There’s nothing to do,” he said, adding, “I’ve been very excited for this season all year. We’ve got a lot of good players, a lot of guys who want to win.”
Fellow Trojan Emmett Bickett, a hurdler with the track and field team, has been setting up hurdles and doing his own workouts. He also exercises at home to stay in top physical condition, and when he’s not doing that he’s playing a lot of board games with his family and showing animals for 4-H.
He strives to maintain his optimism.
“I like to stay that way until we hear that the season comes back,” he said.
Optimism is a good thing, said his coach, Cory Smidt.
“I just hope the kids can stay self-motivated as they have. And to stay active. I know they’ll do a good job,” he declared. “The kids I really feel bad for are the seniors. And you can’t tell the athletes that there’s closure on their sport unless you have it. When you’re a senior, you can’t have closure.”
Smidt, however, understands the decisions that have been made in respect to COVID-19, citing safety as the ultimate concern. That said, however, he believes one of the worst aspects of the suspended season is that younger kids don’t get to see the seniors working hard at their craft. It’s a learning experience that the younger kids just aren’t fully exposed to.
Lietz wants to be optimistic. He says he was, at first. But now, he says he’s “not so sure” spring sports is coming back.
Time is not on the athletes’ side.
“I started reading books,” Lietz said. “That’s been pretty fun. I’ve always read books, but I always got distracted by other things. So I’ve got a lot of time for it now.”