Worthington Athletics: Cardinals, Wolves playing catch-up

STEPHEN BORGNA
sborgna@thisweeknews.com
Tatum Snyder, a senior center back for the Thomas girls soccer team, kept herself busy preparing for the season before team activities were allowed to resume in pods of nine players per coach on Aug. 6.

After more than a weeklong hiatus, Worthington Schools Superintendent Trent Bowers announced in a letter posted to the district website Aug. 6 that athletic activities were permitted to resume with restrictions.

Because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Worthington Schools suspended extracurricular activities July 30 upon recommendation from Columbus Public Health.

"It's been a tough few days for our athletes and coaches," Thomas athletics director Jen Goebbel said Aug. 4. "We've all been in constant contact and working through the appropriate legal channels and coming to some sort of resolution here so our kids can have a chance to get back out there and safely continue playing."

Upon the resumption of athletics, non-contact sports, which include boys and girls cross country, boys and girls golf, girls tennis and girls volleyball, were allowed to resume.

Contact sports, which include field hockey, football and boys and girls soccer, were permitted to resume activities in pods of nine players per coach, with Bowers acknowledging that contact sports "may or may not be possible" this year depending on future orders from the Ohio Department of Health.

The Ohio High School Athletic Association released a proposal Aug. 7 for a shortened football season in which all teams would qualify for the playoffs after a six-game regular season, but the plan needed Gov. Mike DeWine's approval. The proposal called for the season to begin the final weekend of August, as previously scheduled, with the postseason beginning Oct. 9 and ending no later than Nov. 21.

All district athletes will be asked to have a waiver signed by a parent or legal guardian, and fans in attendance at athletic events also will be asked to sign waivers.

Coaches will undergo training to adhere to Ohio Department of Health guidelines.

Thomas teams grapple with lost time

The Thomas football team began summer workouts in the first week of June in 13 pods of nine players.

After a couple of weeks, the team moved to Phase 2, where they worked out in pods of 28, and finally Phase 3, which allowed them to work out in two pods of 50.

Then the order came down that athletic activities were suspended.

First-year coach Mike Picetti said the Cardinals, who went 4-6 overall and 3-4 in OCC-Cardinal Division play last year, had practiced July 28 before collecting the players' equipment. While team workouts were halted, individual workouts were posted on the team's website and players were able to review the playbook on the team's Hudl account.

"We're just trying to keep them accountable," Picetti said. "If this thing hopefully ends and we're allowed to go back, we're obviously going to be a heck of a lot farther behind than other districts. But we're trying to adapt in any way that we can."

"It's disappointing," senior running back and outside linebacker Brandon Ross said at the time.

"At the same time, I do understand there's people going through worse things out there with this virus."

Senior left tackle and defensive end Sam Carver said he spent the time away from team activities working out.

"I'm getting in (the gym) every day and (working out) different muscle groups," Carver said. "But after that, I'm doing gassers and half-gassers."

Thomas girls soccer coach Jeff Sever said the team had a final practice July 30. He said he and the coaches met with the players that evening and encouraged them to carry themselves as if the season was going to resume.

"We said, 'Hey, you guys should really be treating this like we're going to get back to work hopefully,' " he said. "We really set them off on their own, and the seniors really picked up the ball and rolled with it."

On Aug. 6, Sever said he was notified that the Cardinals, who finished 6-7-3 overall and 1-3-3 in the OCC-Cardinal last season, could resume activities in pods of nine players and a coach beginning the next day.

"I think we're taking it as well as we possibly could," senior forward Lily Houser said. "I think putting it into perspective, there are people dying in the world currently due to this virus."

In absence of organized activities, senior center back Tatum Snyder said she kept busy.

"Today, actually, I just went on a run with one of my teammates," she said Aug. 6. "Coach Sever has given us some workouts to do in the meantime, some that we would be doing during our practices. We go to either the turf if that's open, or there's some grass fields around the area we could go to and run them."

Senior cross country runner Carina Napoleon said she is just happy to be back.

"With practice opening back up, I'm excited to be with my teammates and just be surrounded by the other girls, and hopefully that can make the hard days easier," she said.

Kilbourne squads remain optimistic

Kilbourne girls soccer coach Meghann Moore said she and the coaching staff are adjusting to this unique time.

"It's a different time for everyone," she said. "From the start of summer, even the preseason and the spring, we've kind of had to be creative about how we get athletes prepared. Because if there is a season, their bodies need it. We have to make sure they're ready to play."

With that perspective, Moore said she and her coaching staff were prepared when athletics were suspended. The coaching staff put together fitness packets and a ball-skills packet over the spring that the players could utilize on their own, taking into account the potential ramifications the coronavirus could have on fall sports.

"Daily there are different exercises that the girls are able to do, either alone or via social distancing," Moore said. "None of them would have to be together. They do have that stuff available to them."

Moore said an important thing coaches can do for athletes is to remain in good spirits.

"This is obviously a ton of pressure on (the athletes') mental health," she said. "It hurts to not be in school and not have sports there for you. But I think (we're) trying to give everyone grace and give them some hope that at some point things will go back to normal for them."

That attitude was reflected by senior midfielder Abby English on Aug. 5, a day before organized athletic activities were allowed to resume.

"It's mainly frustrating, especially for the seniors," said English, whose squad finished 6-8-4 overall and 0-4-3 in the OCC-Cardinal last season. "But I do feel that we all have hope. We're all very optimistic about the situation."

When activities were suspended, football coach Mike Edwards directed his players to review playbooks and continue familiarizing themselves with schemes and assignments. The Wolves finished 1-9 overall and 1-6 in the league last year.

"(We have to) stay confident, stay positive about this," Edwards said. "That's all we can do right now is have hope that we one day get a call that we're allowed to go back and get back to it here."

"We're trying our best to stick together and try to work on getting better each day," junior lineman Luke Brown said of the team's mindset during the moratorium on district athletics.

Senior goalie Tyler Katz of the boys soccer team, which reached a Division I regional final and finished 17-1-3 last season, said the team has some ground to make up compared to other teams in the area whose practices weren't suspended.

"Schools close to us have been practicing, doing two-a-days and stuff like that, and we've been kind of behind because we haven't been allowed to do that as a team," he said.

Senior forward Brandon Kim added that the players have taken it upon themselves to do things on their own.

"I think we will have to make up some ground," he said. "But even though they did suspend sports, we kind of kept in touch with each other, made sure we kept in shape and did stuff on our own."

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Kilbourne senior midfielder Abby English remains hopeful about playing her senior season. "We're all very optimistic about the situation," she said.