After a dormant stretch, high school sports are coming back this summer

Published 5:20 pm Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Austin head girls basketball coach Eric Zoske recently became reacquainted with one of his favorite places.

After more than three months away from the court, he was able to get his team into Ove Berven Gym for some activities last week. It started with players being allowed to shoot on their own, and by the end of the week the Packers were able to run some passing drills.

The return to offseason activities during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a long time coming in an era where summers are crucial for any team looking to compete. Zoske plans on increasing the team’s workload as regulations are relaxed.

Email newsletter signup

“It’s so good to be back in the gym. Monday was my first time even setting foot in this gym since the section loss to Kasson-Mantorville,” Zoske said. “It’s been really hard to plan workouts because the rules have changed almost daily. It’s been a process to even do the simple things like passing.”

When the Packers got back together last week, it had a bit of a family reunion feeling with some players seeing each other for the first time in a long time. 

Ruby Kvam said it took a little while to get used to a practice setting.

“We’re a little rusty, but I feel like we have been doing really good,” Kvam said. “We’re all back together, we’re clicking and we’re a team again. We had to be self motivated during the break. It’s what we wanted to do. We can’t be slacking because we know other teams are working hard.”

In all sports, some Austin players have been competing in the AAU circuit in Iowa, some have worked out on their own and others still have some work to do to get back in playing shape.

“There is a gap in conditioning,” Zoske said. “We’re going to be here as often as we can for the kids that want to be here.”

Cassidy Schute has stayed busy at home by playing with her younger sister. She said it was great to be back in team workouts, which includes players in seventh through 12th grade.

“It’s been a fun week, just being able to shoot around,” Schute said. “It’s been fun helping everyone out with techniques and skills, especially with the younger kids.”

For Austin head football coach Ed Schmitt, this year has been a taste of deja vu as it has reminded him of last season when he took over the team in the spring. Schmitt was forced to scramble together a schedule last summer and now he’s doing the same thing this summer.

“We’re going to be here as often as we can for the kids that want to be here,” Schmitt said. “Everything’s different. Usually you want all of the kids working out together and building that team bond. This year is different and I understand if kids want to be on an island by themselves. You plan everything and then COVID-19 hits and your schedule goes right down the drain. It’s kind of like last year when I got off to a late start and I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off.”

The Packers will begin team workouts in groups of less than 25 on July 20 as they focus on different positions each day. Schmitt is also hoping to still hold a youth camp and have the full team in practice by the first week of August.

The Packer boys basketball team graduated a big class of seniors that was on the verge of playing for a state berth when the pandemic hit, and now Austin head coach Kris Fadness must look to rebuild without having a lot of time with his players.

Fadness is looking to start workouts with the high school players on July 6. Due to high numbers, he will need to divide the team workouts into three separate one-hour sessions – one for freshmen, one for sophomores and one for juniors and seniors. Fadness has signed the varsity team up for a few summer tournaments, but he is worried about the development of his younger players.

The team will hold a camp for fifth through eighth graders in the first week of August, but it will be limited to less than 25 players due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“It’s a tough situation and I’ll understand if some parents want to withhold their kids from camp. I get that,” Fadness said. “I’m just hoping to get some guys in the gym. We’re just trying to keep things structured and a little bit is better than nothing.”

Summer can always be a tough time for high school coaches as they are forced to balance activity schedules with vacation schedules, but this summer has made things extremely difficult for just every coach in the nation. As of now, there is no certainty the MSHSL will even allow fall sports teams to compete.

There isn’t much that can be done, besides laying out plans and hoping things work out.

“Everything is fluid with COVID,” Fadness said. “If numbers start going up or if we hear of some kids getting COVID, we’ll have to shut it down. Hopefully we’re able to get this done.”