Over the past three years, Gator senior Ella Koebernick has took her spot in the field at first base for the Gator Softball team. The last time she took her spot at first during a high school season came in the Class A State Championship Softball game at Caswell Park in North Mankato on June 7, 2019. The Gators would fall in the state title game to finish second, losing just one senior from this team.
After seeing her team fall one win short of a state title, Koebernick— the lone senior on this season’s Gator softball team— would go into this spring season believing she had one more crack at helping lead the Gators to that elusive state title. Little did she know June 7, 2019 would be the final time she would get this opportunity.
Softball and baseball fields, golf courses, and tracks remain devoid this spring of high school sports action thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Following Minnesota Governor Tim Walz’s Executive Order to extend distance learning through the rest of the 2019-20 school year, the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) cancelled the remainder of spring activities on April 23.
Gator spring student-athletes and coaches responded to this cancellation. The coaches talked about their seniors and their expectations for their team going into this season. The student-athletes also recalled some of their best Gator sports memories and what they are most proud of or how they hope to be remembered.
As for this year’s spring sports seniors impacted by this cancellation, the Gators had eight of them. They are listed below by sport. After their names, in parentheses, are the other sports they participated in during their Gator career.
Softball: Ella Koebernick (volleyball and basketball)
Baseball: Andy Dostal (football, wrestling, trap shooting)
Golf: Ganon Kuznia (trap shooting) and Kennedy Truscinski (trap shooting)
Track: Aaliyah Creekmore (volleyball), Alyssa Waage (volleyball, fall cheer team, winter cheer team), Gage Creekmore (football and basketball), and Michael Diaz (volleyball manager and winter cheer team)
Note: The trap season is still on as of now, but the season will include just five weeks of competition starting in late May. Gator trap team coach Luke Novacek said participants would wear masks and abide by social distancing guidelines, aided by their plan to schedule participants to shoot at certain times. Those seniors whose only spring sport is trap shooting were not listed since their season is still on.
These athletes who are missing out on their final seasons had a variety of reactions when they first found out they could lose out on this season, including heartbreak, sadness, anger, panic, unfairness, disbelief, disappointment.
“I kind of panicked at first because I was really depending on this season a lot more than I was in my past seasons to really go out and do more than I’ve done before,” Aaliyah Creekmore said, a BGMR/Freeze Track and Field participant, “And really (to) just get better results for college because I was looking more into the possibility of continuing my (track) career on after high school.”
Kennedy Truscinski was “really hopeful” that her golf season would still go on after learning that the Governor had opened up golf courses. A few days later, these hopes were dashed when she found out that Minnesota schools would continue with distance learning through the end of the school year and checked out the MSHSL website to find the spring sports cancellation announcement.
“I was instantly heartbroken because golf was more than just a sport to me. I loved it as a sport, but also the people in (it) that I met and the friends that I made,” Truscinski said. “It was like a whole second family to me, and it was just kind of heartbreaking knowing that I won’t have those same experiences with those people again.”
The coaches gave different responses when asked about seeing their seniors lose out on their final seasons, but they all centered around the same idea: hard.
“With a college kid, if he doesn’t want to come back for another year, that’s his choice,” Gator Baseball Coach Nathan Voll said. “He has the option, where the high school kids don’t have that option. So they’re going to be going out… not on their own terms which is really difficult.”
This lost season hurt for Gator Softball Coach Kent Christian, knowing well the lone senior on his team, Ella Koebernick.
“All coaches are probably saying this about seniors… that you hate to see it (end this way) but I really hated to see it with Ella,” Coach Christian said. “Number one, she was the only girl senior in her class that played softball and to be able to stick that out says something about her character. And for as much as I know she loves the game… it really, really hurt.”
Asked how they hoped to be remember, the seniors threw out various words and phrases. For example, Aaliyah Creekmore hoped to be remembered as a leader who gave confidence to others. Andy Dostal hoped to be remembered as a leader, hard worker and competitor. Dostal’s baseball coach Nathan Voll said Dostal was a “leader by example” through his hard work and dedication. Alyssa Waage hoped to be remembered as an example of the fun one can enjoy in sports, beyond the results.
“I just hope that when they see or realized that I was once a Gator,” Waage said, “that they’ll remember that even if you’re not super athletic or have a lot of skill while playing a sport… (to) just try it and have fun while doing it.”
First base on the Gator softball diamond remains quiet, as do other high school spring sports hot spots, including those occupied by seniors. The COVID-19 pandemic brought an abrupt and unexpected end to some Gator seniors’ sports careers, eliminating some last memories and potential accomplishments for them and their teams. They can’t ever get this season back, but they leave the Gator sports programs knowing they left their mark and made some memories before the lost season.
To see the complete story, read the May 6 issue of The Tribune in print or online.