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John’s Journal: One Day on Day One of Fall Sports

Smiles behind the masks at Rosemount High School

Posted: Monday, August 17, 2020 - 4:40 PM

Everybody at Rosemount High School knew this fall would be different, but in a good way. Artificial turf was installed at Irish Stadium over the summer, a new track is being put down now and an adjoining practice field will have turf in a matter of days.

Those differences were long expected and happily anticipated. What wasn’t expected, at least until more recently, was hand sanitizer, facemasks, social distancing and other lifestyle adjustments that are now routine in these days of Covid-19. When Irish girls and boys cross-country, girls and boys soccer, girls swimming and diving, and girls tennis teams gathered for the first day of practice on Monday, it was Day One of a new world.

Smiles ruled the day, smiles that have been shining brightly since the MSHSL board of directors approved those sports for this fall on Aug. 12.

“Honestly, I was surprised that we were allowed to play,” said girls soccer coach Gretchen Stramel. “I'm obviously thrilled for my girls, but just with everything over the summer; the summer camps and different schools and pods that were shut down, it was a lot. And so I was concerned that it could be a problem. But we do have an advantage in playing a sport that's outside on a gigantic field. The objective of our game is to be spread out, not on top of each other.”

Football and volleyball were moved from this fall to a new “flex” season from March to May, between the end of winter sports and the beginning of spring sports. Before the rise of Covid-19, the expectation was that the Irish football team would probably christen the new turf field, but the first event there will be an afternoon boys/girls soccer doubleheader with Lakeville South on Aug. 29.

The turf was much needed; it’s become common in recent years for football and soccer games, including playoff games, to be held elsewhere due to unplayable conditions.

“It's just so fun for the girls to be able to play on their own field, especially when they’ve earned it,” said Stramel, whose team finished third in the Class 2A state tournament last season.

The Irish cross-country teams held their first workout of the year Monday morning, starting and ending their runs in a city park. Coach Chris Harder kept pace with the athletes on his bicycle. The runners have been grouped into pods rather than the customary large groups for warmups and cool downs.

“It's different, in the past we’ve been co-ed and we'd always hang out with each other. Now we’re in different groups and it's kind of weird,” said senior Abby McNeil. “Usually we're all warming up together, talking to each other. Now we're in little groups, which still makes it fun.”

Under guidance from the Minnesota Department of Health, athletes across the state are asked to bring their own water bottles instead of using common water stations. High-fives and hugs are largely unseen.

“Do I wish we had a ‘normal’ season? For sure,” Harder said. “However, we’re really looking forward to the challenge. The kids are so resilient, they just want a season to compete and share experiences with friends and classmates.

“They have the common goal of, ‘Let's have a season and have a safe season,’ and if this is what it is, we can do it.”

Rosemount is a member of the South Suburban Conference; the SSC schools will compete only against other conference members this fall. Schedules have been worked out in all fall sports, including some intriguing variations. Girls swim and dive teams, for instance, will hold virtual competitions with teams swimming in their own pools, then comparing times with other teams doing the same.   

Rosemount swimming and diving coach Jake Kemna said even though he still has “a thousand questions” about what the season may hold, he’s excited about the opportunity for the kids to train and compete.  

“When they made the announcement that swimming was going to go, I had about five minutes worth of excitement that we're going to have a season and then for about the next week and a half it was trying to plan for an entire season,” he said. “So that's been interesting.”

Like at schools all over Minnesota, the practice routine is vastly different and schedules have been tossed and rebuilt, but attitude is everything.

“I’m just so grateful,” said Irish activities director Mike Manning. “I think some of my colleagues have had difficult times with coaches and with parents. But I’m just so thrilled, all our coaches have really dug in and listened and they’re always looking for solutions and haven’t complained. I’m so grateful for that.

“It’s actually gone much, much better than I thought. The parents have been very supportive, and the kids are great.”

During a water break in Monday’s girls soccer practice, seniors Kenzie Jacobson and Julia Schorn talked about their happiness at having a season, as well as the uncertainty surrounding the postseason; no decisions have been made about section or state tournaments in all the fall sports.

“I was extremely worried,” Kenzie said. “We just wanted to come back for our senior season and just have a good last season.”

As for playoffs, Julia said, “It's sad if it won't happen. But as long as we can work hard to have a great season, that's what we're looking for.”

Playoffs or not, an overriding theme in these early days of a once-uncertain season is simple joy at having an opportunity to reconnect with friends, have fun, and compete.

“When you're in a global pandemic you can't be choosy with your options,” Harder said. “You’ve just got to go with the best option and make the best of it.

“We’ve got something like 85 kids here today and most of them aren’t worried about the postseason. They just want to be here with their friends, they want to get in shape and quite honestly they just want to do something, as opposed to being locked down in their house.”

Boys soccer coach Todd Farrington said that on a scale from one to 10, his thrill meter hit at least nine when he learned the season would go forward.

“Everybody is just craving something that feels normal, and these kids are so excited,” he said.

“We're like every other program in that we're so fortunate to have such amazing young men. They're committed to the soccer part of it and the school part of it but they're also entering into covenant or agreement with us to be smart with the distancing. … It's refreshing. It fills my spiritual, emotional bucket.

“We want these guys to become the best version of themselves and soccer is just part of it.”

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.

Rosemount boys cross-country

Members of the Rosemount boys cross-country team cool down after their first workout of the season.

“When you're in a global pandemic you can't be choosy with your options. You’ve just got to go with the best option and make the best of it."
Rosemount cross-country coach Chris Harder
Rosemount soccer seniors Kenzie Jacobson and Julia Schorn.

Rosemount soccer seniors Kenzie Jacobson and Julia Schorn.

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