Athletics: And they’re back
Ally Goeden couldn’t imagine not playing tennis during her senior year at Brainerd High School.
For now, the Warrior senior won’t have to as practice started Monday, Aug. 17, across Minnesota for high school girls tennis, boys and girls soccer, girls swimming and diving and boys and girls cross-country.
Those four sports were spared for the fall season by the Minnesota State High School League, which announced a condensed fall season Tuesday, Aug. 4, along with the creation of a new spring season that will host football and volleyball.
Fellow Warrior doubles player Chloe Pecarich was both excited and worried upon hearing the announcement.
“It was very exciting,” Pecarich said. “I was excited, but I was worried about how modified it would be. It’s a little different because we don’t really have a preseason.”
Pecarich, who is coming off hip surgery, said each athlete is assigned a cone that is spread out 6 feet apart. That’s where they place their equipment and stretch. She said hand sanitizer use has increased dramatically.
While Pecarich was recovering from surgery, Goeden and her fellow teammates were working hard this summer in case there was a season.
“We’ve been working hard and working all summer for this,” Goeden said. “It feels good to be back. We were out hitting and had community education tennis this summer in a more modified format and then transitioning into today’s practice felt very similar, I would say.”
Both girls have aspirations of playing college tennis and both are thankful to have a season to highlight their skills. More importantly, they’re taking what they learned from last year’s seniors about not taking anything for granted.
“Just savor the moment,” Goeden said. “I think that’s more true than ever right now. Especially having a limited season with less matches, you have to enjoy every single match.”
Pecarich added that includes savoring every practice as well. And by all accounts, practices Monday went well in Brainerd.
“It was smooth and it was organized,” Warrior tennis coach Lisa Salo said. “It was seamless. Those that played summer tennis seamlessly transitioned into practice today. Those that didn’t had few problems as well.”
Salo said the COVID-19 requirements didn’t affect the way in which her team practices. She said the main difference was pre-practice distancing and during the team talk, instead of a big huddle around the coaches, players were spread out across the high school tennis court facility.
Some of the more odd things Salo and her staff will stress to their players in the coming days before their first match against St. Cloud Tech Tuesday, Aug. 25, will be no high-fiving among doubles teammates and no shaking hands with opponents after a match. Even the prematch introductions will be different and distanced.
“You still have to display good sportsmanship so I’m guessing you do a phantom handshake or a thumbs up,” Salo said. “Racket tapping is what we’re seeing a lot of doubles teams do. After a point, we’ll just tap the ends of our rackets together.”
Friday the Warriors will host an intrasquad scrimmage since they aren’t allowed to scrimmage another team. At that time, the coaches will do a prematch introduction ceremony and they’ll practice all the COVID requirements as well as practice the actual sport itself.
Brainerd’s tennis team picked up one volleyball player. The Warrior cross-country team got a handful of athletes from other sports.
“We had two football players that I know and they just wanted to do something this fall. Another was a hockey player,” Warriors head coach Dave Herath said. “Really a lot of Nordic skiers who I don’t really know what their fall sport was. There is a big group, 25 to 35 kids, that got together multiple nights and it was a combination of cross-country and Nordic skiers.”
Herath said he spent the first half-hour, 40 minutes, talking about the safety precautions being put into place.
“We were getting changes up until 10 p.m. last night,” Herath said. “It’s all about not only starting the season, but ending. We’re putting protocols in place and keep kids separated and wearing masks too and from practices. There were quite a few, just housekeeping changes more than anything.”
He said the hardest part was the fact he’s got friends on his roster that haven’t seen each other since last March and now they’re back together.
Herath said meet procedures are still changing. Events will still remain triangulars or duals. Herath said he doesn’t see Brainerd being part of duals, but changes to the start and finish of races are also being finalized.
Brainerd will only compete against Central Lakes Conference teams. The run for the melon season-opener will still be a go, but only two other teams will be there.
One twist that may occur is to have a triangular at 11 a.m. Complete that portion and then host another triangular at 2 p.m. after the first three teams have left and combined the times to form a six-team event.
Because section and state meets have not been decided yet, Herath said his workout plans are still uncertain. He’s not sure when the culmination of the season will be and so he still is unsure when his athletes should tapper, or rest for peak performance.
Even with that uncertainty, Herath is excited about the work ethic of this year’s teams.
“We’re starting off way ahead of where we usually do,” Herath said. “And I have to say this group of athletes worked out harder than maybe any of my other teams, even our state qualifying teams. They came into practice ready.”
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 218-855-5856 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jeremymillsop.