'Hard to accept' for senior prep athletes who see careers end due to pandemic
Prep athletes, including a plethora of seniors throughout the suburbs had been holding out hope they would somehow be able to salvage at least part of the 2020 spring sports season.
Then came Friday's news from Gov. J.B. Pritzker that schools would be closed for in-session learning for the remainder of the academic year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
And while the Illinois High School Association has not officially canceled the spring state tournament series, it would appear that's just a formality that will happen on Tuesday when the IHSA board of directors meets via videoconference.
"There is no way to put into words the amount of frustration and sadness that I and I'm sure my other seniors and senior athletes are feeling right now," said South Elgin boys track and field athlete Ryan Harvey on his Instagram.
Harvey's father, Rob, is the head girls track coach at Wheaton Warrenville South.
"Growing up with a dad as a coach, every year I would make the trip down to watch his team run at state. It quickly grew from simply a fun tradition to a full on passion. I fell in love with the sport early on in life and told myself that one day I would run at a state meet just like that. Unfortunately, that dream will never be fulfilled for me. It will forever hurt me to my core that (the) dream that little Ryan set his mind to at just 10 years old will never come true.
"It hurts even more to know that the season that I had my best shot, I don't even get to run," continued Harvey, who will run at Loras College next year. "Despite this, running has still given me so much more than I ever thought. It gave me three lifelong friends in Jace, Shane, and Derryl. Friends that will stand up at my wedding and I will stay in contact with for the rest of my life. It helped me strengthen a bond with my dad in our shared deep love of the sport. It allowed my mom to not have to be nervous about me getting injured at every sporting event she watched me at.
"What I'll miss the most is the little memories made. The pasta dinners, cool downs, bus rides, etc. For all this sport has given me I knew I couldn't let it go after high school, I needed to continue it into college. Thank you to everyone who has supported me and cheered me on throughout this high school journey but especially ... thank you high school running. You will be missed."
Not surprised, but still heartbroken
Wheaton North senior catcher Tyler Woltman hoped to don a Falcons uniform one last time. Instead, he will be an Illinois State Redbird the next time he straps on his catching equipment. Friday's announcement did not take him by surprise.
"I've been kind of losing my mind during quarantine, but I could see this coming for awhile, that it was going to be canceled," Woltman said. "Eventually, I was right. Now that it's finally here, actually, it's kind of heartbreaking, you know? I was looking forward to just playing with some of the guys again, our last year. It's tough. It all got cut short."
Burlington Central senior soccer player Zoey Kollhoff needed 25 goals to reach 100 in her career. The Rockets won sectional championships her freshman and sophomore years, taking third in state in Class 2A in 2017.
"It's been an amazing three seasons," said Kollhoff, who will play collegiately at Illinois. "It's been kind of hard to accept. It's been hard not to see my teammates every day and go to practice every day and play the games. It's been hard to adjust but I think I'm coming around to it. Knowing I'm fortunate enough to have the opportunity to play the next four years has given me something to look forward to. I have something to train for and reason to go for a run instead of soaking in sadness in my room.
"But my heart obviously hurts for not only my teammates who won't be able to play soccer again and I have a few other friends who go to St. Charles East or Bartlett and this was their last go at playing soccer."
Holding out hope
Before Friday's announcement, Vernon Hills senior center fielder Quin Yuter was holding out hope there would be some semblance of a softball season.
"I guess I'm good with all things, considering," said Yuter, a varsity player since her freshman year who will attend Miami University in Ohio, where she might play club softball.
"You have to be optimistic, you have to be positive. There's not much more you can do. You can't beat yourself up every day thinking about not having a potential season. The adult in me knew it probably wasn't going to happen. I've come to terms with it. I understand why. I know it's for the greater good because we need to get over this. My coaches have been as positive as they can in hoping for a season."
Grayslake Central senior shortstop Marcus Maristela and his teammates spent Friday sharing memories. The Rams' six seniors had a Zoom call with head coach Troy Whalen after the announcement from the governor.
"We talked a lot about memories that we've made as a group," Maristela said. "We've had a lot of good moments as a team, but we really didn't talk much about winning regionals or sectionals, we were talking about what has happened outside the lines. All the funny things that happen when we hang out, all the things that happen when you're in a brotherhood.
"We also talked about what kind of potential we had this year, and the kind of leaders we would have been. It was really good."
Closure will be missed
Fremd senior varsity soccer player Allie Prigge called the news 'crushing.'
"Obviously, I'm still excited to still play at college (Wisconsin-Whitewater) but with our high school team, we're so close and we just needed that closure," Prigge said. "So it's very emotional for everyone. Being a senior, it's like the worst season possible for this to happen. I think we're going through all the stages of grief. We always thought there was a chance we'd get back to school. Everyone was just in denial and hoped we'd get back. Then when we heard the news Friday, it was crushing."
St. Viator pitcher Jack Mahoney added, "I think for all seniors we're just super disappointed on how our high school careers are ending. A lot of people say the last few months of high school are the best time of your life and we aren't getting those memories."
Metea Valley softball pitcher Rissa Bajusz will play at Western Michigan next year but that didn't take away the disappointment of seeing two of her senior teammates who aren't playing in college lose their final high school season to the pandemic.
"I'm super sad for our other two seniors who aren't going to be playing in college," Bajusz said. "It's definitely such a bummer for us because all four years we have been looking forward to senior year. And I know my freshman year my sister (Sydney) was a senior and celebrating her on senior night was the coolest thing ever to see her finish at Metea. I was really hoping for that for myself and my friends. But unfortunately that isn't going to happen for us."
Daily Herald sports writers Orrin Schwarz, John Lemon, Joe Aguilar, Jerry Fitzpatrick, John Leusch and Patricia Babcock McGraw contributed to this story.