Silver linings. That’s what Rochester John Marshall girls basketball coach Phil Schroeder was looking for Wednesday as Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced that high school sports would be shut down for four weeks beginning Saturday.
Walz made the proclamation after watching the coronavirus spread like wildfire the last few weeks in Minnesota.
Girls basketball normally starts in early November. Now it won’t begin until Dec. 21, at the earliest. The same start date is likely for boys basketball, boys and girls hockey, wrestling and boys swimming and diving.
“My hope is that through this process we come out of it more grateful for what we have and stronger because of it,” Schroeder said. “Everything has a silver lining to it, we just have to figure it out. But I know it doesn’t do any good to sit around and complain about things."
While winter sports start dates have been kicked back, and for the second time this year due to the pandemic, two fall sports are getting an early end thanks to Walz’s announcement.
Football and volleyball will both cease in Minnesota starting Saturday. Football will have had a bit of a postseason by then, with whatever section championships that weren’t played on Tuesday now likely either moved to Friday or cancelled. There have been no state tournaments permitted by the Minnesota State High School League in any fall sports this year, the pandemic in mind.
But in volleyball, there won’t be playoffs of any sort, unless something is cobbled together in the next 24 hours. Like football, volleyball got off to a late start as the MSHSL voted on Aug. 4 to send volleyball and football to the spring, hoping that the pandemic would have subsided by then. The MSHSL reversed course seven weeks later, inserting volleyball and football into the fall after all, albeit with late starts and shortened seasons.
Turns out the volleyball campaign is now being cut much shorter than planned.
The MSHSL had scheduled a six-game regular season for football and 14 competition dates for volleyball, with a “culminating” postseason event to follow for each.
A number of volleyball programs will now finish with far less than that. COVID-19 outbreaks sat down a number of teams this season for two-week quarantines, and now there will be no postseason.
Stewartville is one such team whose season has been considerably shortened by the pandemic. Last year’s Class AA state champion and No. 1 ranked again this season, Stewartville is returning Thursday from a two-week pandemic-related layoff. It will have a match Thursday, another on Friday, and then that will be it.
The Tigers go into Thursday’s match at Cannon Falls with a 9-0 record.
Stewartville Hall of Fame coach John Dzubay says these are emotional times for high school players, especially seniors.
He has three of them on his team who have been playing on his varsity since the eighth grade — Erin Lamb, Jolie Stecher and Jaidyn Brower.
“To not be able to have seniors play all the way through is really hard,” Dzubay said. “This just isn’t how you expect to go out, because when kids are seniors they tend to rise to the occasion. I am always blown away by how seniors play. Now these kids, who are really good, they have to stop playing. And we certainly aren’t the only team around that has seniors. It is tough for all of them, whether they are football players, or volleyball, or cross country runners (and swimmers and soccer players) who didn’t get a state tournament.”
Still, Dzubay understands.
“I think this was inevitable,” Dzubay said. “Having to shut down early, I thought it was bound to happen. You have to be realistic about it.”
Stewartville’s Lamb, an All-State player who is bound for Kentucky next year on a volleyball scholarship, also saw this shutdown looming.
“The (COVID-19) numbers are really bad, so it doesn’t surprise me that the governor has decided to shut things down,” she said. “His top priority is the health and safety for everyone, so I understand where he is coming from. Obviously, this being my senior year, I’d love to finish it. I’ve lived Stewartville volleyball for five years and it means so much to me. But it is what it is, and there is nothing that we can do about it.”
ACCEPTING THEIR FATE
Dodge County girls hockey coach Jeremy Gunderson was also in an understanding mood Wednesday.
The 14th-year coach, who figures to have one of his better teams when the puck finally does drop for the start of the season, has also seen the escalating COVID-19 numbers.
His biggest concern is keeping people alive through this pandemic. As tough as a pause in hockey is to him and his players, he says that Walz is making the right choice.
“I am very disappointed to not have hockey,” Gunderson said. “On the other hand, we have to do what is best for the state. I just hope we can get this under control. A vaccine can’t come out fast enough.”
Pine Island Athletic Director Lisa Myran-Schutte says she will now prepare a third version of her school’s winter sports schedule.
The pandemic-related edicts coming from the state have changed that many times as the COVID-19 numbers have swirled this fall and recently spiraled.
Myran-Schutte is working with a moving target as the United States experiences its first pandemic in 100 years.
That movement includes Pine Island schools having gone to distance learning Wednesday for the first time this year.
Still, she is not arguing with Walz’s most recent move, as tough as it is to take. The last thing she wants is to take opportunities away from kids. But that’s going to be the deal, at least for the short term.
“It is important for kids to have that outlet (of extracurriculars),” Myran-Schutte said. “It allows them such growth. But we’ve reached the point in the pandemic where we have to look at the bigger picture. And we have to make kids aware of that bigger picture.”