Even as Ohio High School Athletic Association executive director Jerry Snodgrass acknowledged that the likelihood of the four remaining winter tournaments being completed grew dimmer by the day amid the coronavirus pandemic, Brandon Barash held out hope.
A senior forward for the New Albany hockey team, Barash refused to speak in past tense when it came to the Eagles having advanced to their first state tournament.
“This season has been incredible,” Barash said. “(The delay) has been a lot to deal with, but we’re not counting anything out until we’re told we’re not playing. We want to keep going farther than we already have.”
Scheduled to play Toledo St. Francis in a state semifinal March 14 at Nationwide Arena, New Albany instead continued to wait — along with all other winter sports teams and athletes whose seasons remained alive into mid-March, as well as spring teams — to see whether its season would continue.
In a press conference March 19, Snodgrass did not cancel the girls basketball, hockey and wrestling state tournaments, the remainder of the boys basketball postseason or any spring sports. However, he made clear that any subsequent decisions will be influenced by those of Gov. Mike DeWine and other authorities. All sports had been postponed indefinitely seven days earlier.
“Canceling absolutely has to be on the table,” Snodgrass said. “I’d be remiss if I did not say that.”
Olentangy Orange track and field coach Adam Walters said the loss of a season is about more than missing out on two-plus months of competitions, especially as the Pioneers boys team is coming off winning the Division I state indoor championship March 7 at SPIRE Institute in Geneva.
“Coaches and athletes start thinking about next season when the previous season ends,” Walters said. “There’s a possibility that there will be no senior proms, no graduation or at least graduation as we have done it in the past. There will be a lot of emotions and grieving if and when this happens.
“If we are not allowed to gather, how do we honor the seniors? Jaeschel (Acheampong, a Harvard recruit) and Alex (Kenish, an Akron recruit) will compete in college next year. Not everyone will have that chance.”
Upper Arlington girls lacrosse fans might have realized the gravity of the situation early on, as according to coach Wendy Pinta, the five-time defending Division I state champions’ March 12 scrimmage against Olentangy Liberty felt somewhat like a regular-season game.
“I told the girls to put on their uniforms and go out and give it everything they had. We made that our senior night,” Pinta said, her voice cracking at times. “We had parents get the scoreboard up and running. We had a big turnout, maybe more people than come to many of our (regular-season or postseason) games. We certainly hope that wasn’t the last time we get to take the field this year. …
“I can only say it’s been devastating. We’re glad that we still at least have a chance to have a season.”>> Winter, spring seasons hang in balance <<
Pickerington Central boys track coach Jason Roach, whose team hopes to defend its Division I state championship this spring, admitted breathing a sigh of relief when spring sports were not canceled.
“I was a little surprised because it seemed like most of the word had been that they were going to cancel,” Roach said. “It’s frustrating, obviously, but the thing is you have to try to turn the news off at some point or you’ll drive yourself crazy. Ultimately, as important as sports are, this is a health issue. No championship is worth a kid getting sick.”
Thomas Worthington sophomore Justin Braun tried to balance frustration and optimism as he hopes for a chance to win his second consecutive Division I state title in the 400 meters.
“It’s disappointing, honestly … (but) we still have work to do and hopefully the season resumes somehow, someway,” he said.
Westerville Central softball pitcher Emily Ruck, an Ohio State recruit and a first-team all-state honoree as a junior, hopes the next game she plays is as a Warhawk rather than a Buckeye. Ruck went 22-1 with a 0.96 ERA, 231 strikeouts and 73 walks in 123 2/3 innings last season and also batted .400 to lead Central to its first Division I regional championship.
“I definitely want to see what I can do this year, especially since a lot of people rely on high school to get better for college,” Ruck said. “It can put me back a little bit not being able to play (my senior year), but I’m definitely ready for college. I’ve been ready. I’ve anticipated going there for four years now. I want to get there, but not without a high school season.”
Dublin Jerome girls lacrosse standout Izzy Francati, a Villanova recruit, said she is treating every day of the delay as though the season is about to begin.
“I’m optimistic and doing everything I can to be my best for the day I can return. I miss my teammates mostly,” said Francati, who led the Celtics to a 14-3-1 record and a Division I regional runner-up finish last season. “I’m working every day to keep my stamina, strength and stick skills up to par as if I have a game tomorrow.”