The 2020 high school spring sports season will forever be remembered as one with high anticipation and high hopes that turned into much disappointment and sadness.
The Princeton softball team was coming off the first regional championship in school history and geared for another.
The St. Bede softball team hoped to make a return trip to the state tournament.
In track, Bureau Valley junior Kamyrn Kolb, a state champion as a freshman, was looking to get on track after illness sidelined her for competing at state as a sophomore.
Hall senior Marshall Walk hoped to carry over the success of state championships and try to run down another.
Then the nation was shut down by the coronavirus pandemic in March and all those hopes and sports dreams became missed opportunities and “what could have been a.”
Princeton baseball coach Wick Warren found it ironic the day everything shut down.
“It was very sad, We were ready to go and boom, March 13 ... Friday the 13th ended everything,” he said. “Baseball is notorious for superstition, but Friday, March 13, is beyond anything anyone could imagine.”
Warren remained hopeful, keeping PHS’ Prather Field in meticulous shape throughout the rest of spring for the games that never happened.
Putnam County baseball coach Chris Newsome always tries to lighten the mood if he sees one of his players having a bad day. There was little he could say when the news broke that the season was canceled.
“Usually this little humor breaks the poor-me outlook, shoulders go back to normal, chins lift up and we get back to normal. When this pandemic caused us to cancel the spring season, there wasn’t a joke or a story I could tell them to get it all back to normal; normal was gone,” he said.
Newsome said the next hardest thing was conducting the uniform turn-in.
“We just received two new uniform tops and the guys were pumped to play in the new threads. Having to turn the uniforms in without ever playing in them was tough,” he said.
The seniors did get to dress up in the uniforms to have some individual action shots taken of them, thanks to Deb Pyszka, Newsome said.
The Princeton Tigresses softball returned much young talent from its 2019 regional championship teams, including seven regular starters. They envisioned putting more numbers of championships on the banner at Prut Gym. It never happened.
“It was weird not to be able to play this year,” PHS sophomore outfielder Hannah Muehlschlegal, who was an All-BCR First Team pick as a freshman. “We all look forward to playing together all year, so it was very disappointing to not get that opportunity. We will miss the seniors next season, but the incoming freshman class has a lot of talent, so I am excited to get on the field next year, make more memories, and hopefully be able to defend our title.”
Sophomore pitcher Katie Bates was unlikely to have been able to pitch this spring due to a shoulder injury, so the canceled season bought her time to recover.
“We were all disappointed that we didn’t get to play our season, because we were planning on picking up right where we left off, but honestly, I had mixed emotions about it,” she said. “It was almost a blessing in disguise for me. Ever since I tore my labrum in my right shoulder last August, pitching was a struggle. I most likely wouldn’t have been able to pitch this season, but with the extra rest and time to build up my strength.
“I’ve been able to ease back into it and get back to where I used to be, which I’m super excited about.”
An eye for state
The St. Bede Lady Bruins were coming off third-place finish at state last year and returning six starters. All it needed was someone (senior Hayley Short) to step up to take over the pitching duties for workhorse Abby May and the leadership of 2019 BCR Player of the Year, Maggie Sons.
The Lady Bruins were excited to get back on the field.
“How could you not be (excited),” St. Bede coach Rob Ruppert said. “We were looking forward to good things. We were just getting started. Man, we had high hopes.
“Obviously, it’s tough to make it back to state. We set a goal every year. We want to make state and we work our way back - super-sectional, sectional, regional conference. And you take the little victories - the Halls, the L-Ps, the Marquettes.”
Ruppert felt bad for all the girls, especially the seniors, that they didn’t get a chance to play.
“It just stung having that taken away from us, but I also understand the gravity of the situation,” he said. “I think we probably did right from what the government and IHSA did. It’s paying off now, I think. But, still the girls put in a lot of hard work not only in the spring, but, a lot of them play year round and put a lot of effort in it and they didn’t get to use it.”And some of those seniors, it was going to be the last time they were going to play.”
Back on track
Bureau Valley’s Kolb was hoping to make up for lost time, her junior trip to state canceled when she developed mono the week of state. She had anchored the Storm’s state champion 4x100 relay and state runner-up 4x2 relay as a freshman, and was putting in a lot of extra work to get back atop the awards podium.
All those plans and dreams came crashing down with the cancellation of the season.
“I was completely devastated when the season was canceled,” Kolb said. “Knowing last season when I got mono, everyone told me I still had two more years to come back and bring home four first place medals. With this season gone I have one more left and I’m going to push past my goals.
“I’m going for state records. I’m thankful for my family who have been by my side helping me train and getting ready for my senior year.”
Like Kolb, Hall’s Walk was a state champion, anchoring the Red Devils’ blue-ribbon 4x100 and 4x200 relays last year. He was getting all geared up for another state run, more on the individual side this year with his relay mates the year before graduated.
“It was very hard to comprehend that I was not going to have a senior season at first, but as time went on I just accepted it more,” he said. “Everyone always remembers their senior season over any other season as time goes on but my class will not get to have that luxury.”
Walk tries look at things in a positive way, because “that’s all you really can do.”
“I am fortunate enough to say I still went out with a “bang” as last year we had an unbelievable end to our season, and I came out of it with two state championships and another individual medal,” he added. “I always tell myself this all could’ve been worse if it were to happen last year, and we wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to compete for our state titles in our relays.
“So there are always the pros and cons, but ultimately I can’t be too upset with it myself because every single athlete had to go through the same situation and fortunately enough I came out on top either way and had a blast with some amazing friends of mine.”