Pandemic throws local athletes a curveball
On a Wednesday night about two months ago, Lake Oswego High School senior Ava David was preparing to leave for the New Balance Nationals Indoor track meet in New York when she heard the news.
With the COVID-19 outbreak ramping up in the United States, the meet had been canceled. David — the defending champion in the Three Rivers League (TRL) girls discus, and a former state champion — could see the writing on the wall.
"My track season started to crumble before my eyes," she said.
Athletes throughout Lake Oswego, West Linn and Wilsonville have had games, tournaments and entire seasons canceled as a result of the health crisis. While some have been more severely impacted than others, everyone has felt the impacts of COVID-19 to some degree.
Eighteen-year-old Lakeridge High School golfer Aaron Buck — defending TRL champion in boys golf — had a couple practices before the season was canceled.
"I was really excited for this year because that was going to be our year to make it to state as a team, so that would have been fun," said Buck, adding that he went to state as an individual his sophomore and junior year. "I think that we were going to be really good."
West Linn High School seniors Lexi Grein and Ali Campbell felt similarly to the abrupt end of their high school softball careers.
"Senior year is supposed to be one of the better years in your sport because you're on top. You have some privileges. I worked so hard and then for it to just go away was kind of frustrating," Grein, a first-team all league pick in 2019, said. "It put the last three years in perspective. (I've been) taking the positive things out of the past three years instead of dwelling on the fact that my senior year is gone."
Campbell, another first-team Three Rivers League pick last year, said it was difficult to lose this last year. After playing beneath talented older classes in her first two years of high school, Campbell was excited for her opportunity as a senior leader. But in the past few weeks, she too has begun to put the past 12 years of her softball career in perspective.
As a senior who doesn't plan to continue playing college, accepting the loss of this season was extra tough for Campbell. She keeps thinking back to her last club game in the summer, when she expected to have her last high school season before her playing days were over.
"I'm looking back at my last summer game and wishing I hadn't taken it for granted," she said. "I wish I had enjoyed that moment more than I had because I was so looking forward to my last game being during high school season."
One of the hardest things for these two standout Lions to accept was losing the shot at a playoff berth after narrowly missing out last year.
"This year, we had a better shot at getting into playoffs because the team dynamics and willingness to win was a lot stronger this year," Grein said.
Emilia Bishop, a junior at Wilsonville High and the center on the girls basketball team, compares the Wildcats' rivalry with La Salle to that of the Michael Jordan era Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons. She wanted a chance to avenge a playoff loss to the Falcons in 2019 with a victory over them and a state championship this year.
However, before the state semifinals matchup between the two league rivals tipped off, the season was canceled.
"It was heartbreaking," she said.
During Bishop's daily shooting sessions in front of her home in Wilsonville, the all-state player practices hook shots, off-the-dribble floaters, post moves and jumpers from every spot on the court.
Bishop hopes the added skillwork will help her smoothly transition from the center position in high school to forward in college.
But for Bishop, and many athletes struggling to train through the COVID-19 pandemic, there's no substitute for practicing with your team.
"It's just me by myself," she said. "In practice you're competing with teammates to do a drill better than them or make more shots and now it's competing against myself. It's harder to get that motivation."
With the closure of parks, sports courts and many outdoor spaces for most of spring, athletes have had to get creative with their workout routine and sports practice.
Cason Dougall, a junior on the Wilsonville High boys basketball team, utilizes his home gym and said he's already gained 8-10 pounds of muscle, and has improved his ball handling. However, he hasn't played a pickup basketball game in months and it's unclear when he will be able to do so again. Both Dougall and Bishop's spring and summer club basketball seasons were canceled and high school summer basketball is also in jeopardy.
This complicates the Wildcats' hopes for another high state tournament finish in 2021.
"The team chemistry building is important. Losing four good seniors, our big goal for the offseason was improving individually but also working with up-and-coming players and getting that chemistry and working as a team," Dougall said. "If we can start playing during the summer then we can play well as a team."
Lake Oswego High School senior Jonas Hunter, who has signed to play Division 1 lacrosse at University of Vermont next year, has also been lifting at his home gym and practices shooting every day at his friend's private turf field.
"We came into this year with super high hopes again for competing for another championship," said Hunter, who was part of the team that won the first lacrosse state title in school history last year. "When I found out, the first couple days I was in disbelief. After two days it really hit me and honestly I just broke down and started crying."
While Buck, the Lakeridge golfer, has had the leisure of playing golf casually — the courses did not remain closed for long in Lake Oswego — David had to get a bit creative to practice discus throwing.
"Because of the pandemic most public parks and school facilities, and anywhere you would find a shot put or discus or hammer ring, have been closed so training has been a little tricky," said David, who signed with the University of Arizona for discus and hammer throwing.
David added that she has found community college facilities or other outdoor areas to throw at a safe distance.Grein, who has committed to play softball at Tufts University next year, said she's been working out every day to prepare for the higher fitness standards she'll face in college. She said she's been using her garage space for workouts with her dad and also using the facility of her club softball team for batting practice.
College decisions made tougher
Like the boys basketball team, Bishop and her teammates may not have the chance to compete for a state title next year. But that's not the only worry on her mind.
The Wilsonville High center has a collegiate decision to make.
Yet that decision has proved increasingly challenging as Bishop plans to make her decision by the end of July or early August despite the fact that she's unable to visit most of the schools that have offered her a spot on the team. One school even rescinded an offer, saying they were focusing more on the subsequent recruiting class.
"I have to decide whether to go to a school that I've never been to and never met the girls. It's taking a huge leap of faith," Bishop said.
She is arranging Zoom calls with prospective coaches and future teammates to try to better gauge where she would fit in best. She hopes things will turn out OK despite the difficult circumstances.
"I think it's going to come down to writing a pro and con list and say 'Here's what this school has. Here's what this school has,'" she said.
For Grein, starting her college career amidst the uncertainty is strange.
"My coach is pretty positive we're going to get our spring season, but for me it will be weird if we don't go in the beginning of fall and we're doing online classes and all of a sudden we have to transition into college and softball season," she said. "But having the team as a support system will be beneficial."
College students affected too
Bishop's sister Sierra also lost the chance at an important opportunity. Despite her rowing career starting just a year and a half ago, the Oregon State University sophomore improved enough to be invited to a United States Rowing Association under-23 camp with the chance to compete for a spot in the world championships. But the pandemic dashed that dream. Not to mention, her sophomore season ended just one race after it began.
"That was the most devastating thing for me. I was super excited to be a part of this and seeing my name on the list (of camp invites) was super awesome but was bittersweet because it looks different this year than any other year," she said. "I'm still telling myself it's special and an honor."
Sierra Bishop is currently training with the U-23 team via Zoom meetings rather than out on the water. She said she still can get a good workout using her rowing machine at home but that some of the technique and synchronicity required in rowing can't be replicated that way.
A host of other former high school athletes, including West Linn alumnus Payton Pritchard at the University of Oregon and Lake Oswego High School's Tya Seth at Idaho State, also saw their college seasons cut short.
For Emilia Bishop, the uncertainty around when she will be able to play with her team again has created its own sort of pressure, which she said has proved helpful.
"I never know when I'll be able to play so I have to stay in the best shape I can," she said.
As for David, she has her fingers crossed that juniors can have a season and compete next year.
"I think that what happens with the football season this fall will be telling with what happens with the rest of sports for next year," said David, adding that track is non-contact and there are ways to compete individually. "Track is a spring sport so theoretically (we) should have all fall and all of winter to test out new regulations and guidelines.
"I'm trying to stay positive right now and expect the best."
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