By James Kay
*Note: the IHSA held a meeting on April 21 to determine the fate of the 2020 spring sports season. However, it announced that the likelihood of being able to bring back high school athletics this season would be "difficult" since the logistics around planning a state series are complicated. This article was written before that meeting.
When Gov. Pritzker announced on April 17 that schools will remain closed for the rest of the academic year, high school athletes across the area where devastated. With prom and graduation postponed (and likely to be canceled soon), the IHSA's announcement piled on to the litany of lost end-of-the-year festivities for the class of 2020.
For senior athletes looking to close their final chapter at RBHS with a shot at a deep postseason run, this news stings just a little bit more. The Landmark caught up with a few seniors from various teams to see how they have handled the situation. Here's what they said:
The Bulldogs' baseball team was preparing for a season in which they had 10 seniors returning, including three-year varsity starter Michael Schicker. With a deep pitching staff and high-quality top-of-the-order lumber, the team felt like it had a chance to be one of the best teams the program has ever had. However, the team has cleaned out its lockers before it even had a chance to get started.
"I was definitely look forward to this season more than the first three I played at RB because of how good we were supposed to be," said Schicker. "But also because, for some of us, this was our senior season. We wanted to go out with a bang and have a good time with each other."
His teammate Daniel Kawiecki felt the same optimism around his team's chances to be special this year.
"We had pretty high expectations going into this season," said Kawiecki. "Our staff was great, we had a lot of returning players and the juniors we had coming up this year improved a lot since last year. I thought we could go far."
Schicker and his cousin Owen Murphy, who is also on the varsity team and is committed to play baseball for Notre Dame after he graduates in 2022, have been playing catch and staying in shape in case the season were to resume. Schicker also set up a net in his garage for hitting drills and has used armbands to build up the strength around his rotator cuff.
While he will continue to do that during quarantine to prepare to play college baseball next year (he is still deciding where he wants to go after decommitting from Purdue University), Schicker and co. are trying to figure out a way to play in the summer.
"When it's OK to go outside, we are definitely going to try doing something [like a pickup game]," said Schicker. "I think we all just want to play with each other again."
Along the same lines as the baseball team, RBHS girls soccer has tried to find ways to stay positive during quarantine. One fun thing they did was create a video called, "pass the ball challenge" which had quick cuts of the players at their respective homes juggling before "passing" to another teammate in a different cut.
Even with these efforts, the team was crestfallen after hearing the IHSA's announcement.
"We are all in the same position," said Riordan. "We are very upset and were all very excited for this year. We have been keeping in touch a lot and have tried to make the most out of the situation."
Before extreme measures taken to stunt the spread of COVID-19, the team tried to set up practices to stay in shape in case the season resumed. However, after one or two of informal practices, they were cut off by stay-at-home protocols.
"Us seniors were really upset about this so, at the beginning, we got together and shot some balls on the field," said Riordan. "We wanted to stay together but that only lasted a couple practices. Right now, we wouldn't feel comfortable doing that but since we could play soccer with our feet, we were privileged to be able to play before things escalated."
A lot of the team's players have been playing for RBHS head coach Ivek Halic since before they were in high school which makes the cancelation of the season harder to grasp. He ran his own soccer club (RBFC) and coached senior Taylor Jurgens since she was 6 years old.
"It's extremely tough because we all wanted to have that last goodbye and be able to play our last games," said Jurgens. "Working with [Halic] for a bunch of years makes it even harder to lose this season."
Girls water polo
RBHS' girls water polo team was ready to play its first game of the season when Gov. Pritzker announced that schools were going to be shut down. That game was canceled and, weeks later, there are some players who haven't cleared out their sports lockers.
While accepting that they won't be able to play out their final year of high school athletics is difficult, the outcome of the IHSA's announcement wasn't necessarily shocking for some members of the girls water polo team.
"This definitely wasn't a surprise, unfortunately," said RBHS senior captain Claire Kawiecki. "I knew this was going to come. It is very sad that we worked so hard, not only since this past September through the preseason, but these last three years."
Since pools aren't readily available in time of quarantine, the team found it difficult to stay in the same shape they were in before the start of the season. However, Kawiecki and some of her teammates had one week before stay-at-home protocols were placed to practice at Max Aquatics.
When that option was no longer on the table, the players had to do their own conditioning. For senior goalie Lynna Leimberer, the loss of the season was a letdown due to all of the offseason work she put in. She played club water polo at Lyons Township High School and worked with the goalie coach to ramp up for the 2020 season.
"I conditioned a lot during the offseason because I wanted to be really good for this year," said Leimberer. "Now, that isn't going to happen. I felt like I improved with all the work I put in. I am definitely bummed."