Shortly after winning the Class 4A championship last June, the Maple Grove softball team began making plans for a spring trip to Cocoa Beach, Fla., to prepare to defend its title.
Plans were finalized in July and money was paid. Team members, parents and coaches spent the winter looking forward to a spring break spent playing softball and enjoying warm, sunny weather.
That’s off now, the victim of the restrictions and cancellations because of the COVID-19 scare.
“That was the first time it became real, when the district told us we couldn’t take the trip to Florida,” Maple Grove coach Jim Koltes said. “Everyone is super disappointed, and I know the seniors are really devastated, but we just have to control what we can control.”
Koltes said the airline, Sun Country, the hotels and facilities they rented have been accommodating. “We got $6,500 back and vouchers for future flights,” he said.
The St. Anthony softball team also canceled a spring trip to the Disney Spring Training Complex in Orlando, Fla.
“A lot of tears were shed, but it’s the best decision and the right thing to do,” St. Anthony Athletic and Activities Director Troy Urdahl said.
Hoping things calm down
Most spring coaches were grateful the Minnesota State High School League didn’t cancel the season outright. For now, practice is starting Wednesday through March 27. No games or scrimmages can happen until April 6 at the earliest. The league issued an update Tuesday clarifying that while coaches could provide optional training plans via e-mail, in-person contact or suggestions of group practices were forbidden.
“It’s good that they’re taking a wait-and-see approach,’’ said Forest Lake coach Sean Hall, who also runs one of the state’s top club softball programs, Midwest Speed. “Hopefully, things will calm down and we can have something of a season.”
A few teams took advantage of the two days before the league restrictions took effect to get in another round of training. But most were self-restricting before Wednesday’s ban.
Mounds View baseball coach Mark Downey acknowledged frustration at the quickness and length of some cancellations. But, he added, “Let’s be prudent and evaluate as we go on.”
Spring in Minnesota has conditioned baseball to adapting schedules. Downey said he’s certain a season could be held and a state champion crowned even if the ban on competition lasts until late April.
“Last year, we had 80 games between four teams, and I think I had to reschedule 40 of them,” he said. “We baseball people are really good at rescheduling.”
Urdahl, also the baseball coach at St. Anthony, said he feels the most for “our seniors who don’t know what it’s like to have a good high school baseball experience. We’ve had two miserable springs in a row and now COVID-19.”
Urdahl is confident, however, that some good can come out of all this.
“We don’t always understand lessons as they’re being learned,” he said.
Faith in ‘remote training’
For former Olympian Amanda Smock, in her third season coaching long jump and triple jump for the Edina boys’ and girls’ track and field teams, remote training is no obstacle to excellence.
She qualified as a triple jumper for the 2012 Olympics in London despite only receiving instruction through phone calls and video exchanges with coach Michael Eskind, who lived in Boston.
“I never considered it to be lonely,’’ Smock said. “I thought of it as an opportunity to be really dialed in without any distraction.”
Since her jumpers lack access to facilities, runways and sand pits, Smock is suggesting optional sprint-heavy workouts three days per week. For the events’ more technical aspects, Smock gave her athletes the option of bounding and hopping repetitions through plyometric drills.
Smock, a 2000 graduate of Melrose and known then as Thieschafer, won three consecutive Class 1A long jump state titles and back-to-back triple jump crowns.
She said her Edina athletes “were lucky in that we got to meet as a large group for a week. We still have big goals for them, and those goals are still attainable even though we are stuck in uncertain times.”
Nick Lovas, who coached the Hopkins boys’ track and field team to the Class 2A title last spring, said he told his captains Monday that “There’s a lot we don’t know, but what we do know is that whether it’s a six-week, two-week or even one-week season, we want to be a state championship team.”
Still, being apart is hard. Lovas and Wayzata boys’ track and field coach Aaron Berndt experienced something similar when the 1997 spring floods in Grand Forks, N.D., forced a closure of their Red River High School. Teammates were dispersed to various high schools and still competed for Red River.
“The electricity of the team and the culture of being together is important to learning and athletics,” Lovas said. “The challenge is, how do you create authentic enthusiasm without that face-to-face interaction?”
For workouts, Lovas said athletes have the option of using their yards and local parks as long as they adhere to social distancing. Lovas said athletes who engage in optional workouts should measure performance in time rather than distance and to account for uneven terrain.
“We could end up with a lot of smarter athletes who are better in tune with their training,” Lovas said.
Lacrosse less affected
Not scheduled to begin practices until March 30, boys’ and girls’ lacrosse have the potential to be disrupted less by a shortened spring season.
Ana Bowlsby, girls’ lacrosse coach at Benilde-St. Margaret’s, suggested her players “be as ready to go as you can” through conditioning, wall ball or cradling. They can also watch videos to get tips on some of the sports’ nuances.
Distance learning is far from ideal, said Bowlsby, who planned to hand out practice jerseys Tuesday.
“It’s tough because team bonding is always first when you ask, ‘What do you want to work on this season?’ ” Bowlsby said.
Uncertainty also creates anxiety.
“That’s really the question, ‘What now?’ ” Bowlsby said. “What’s happening is bigger than lacrosse, but it’s still a bummer.”