Fall sports return: Area athletes and coaches respond

Rhiannon Horien prepares to bump the ball as part of a passing drill at a Freeze Volleyball practice session at MCC School in Newfolden on September 17. (photo by Ryan Bergeron)

Kobey Dallager gets in his ready position before sprinting as part of a drill during a Gator Football practice session at the practice fields behind the Greenbush-Middle River School in Greenbush on September 14. (photo by Ryan Bergeron)

During that first week of practice sessions— September 14 to September 17— senior Gator Football quarterback Kasen Swenson was just glad to be back with his teammates, working hard and doing what they love, at the time knowing the actual football season had been postponed until the spring.

Then the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) approved bringing volleyball and football back to the fall season on September 21.

What did he feel when he found out about the football season restarting in the fall? The emotion turned for gladness to joy, particularly for the opportunity to build off last year’s double overtime loss to the North Central Stars in the Section 8 Nine-Man semifinals in Kelliher back on October 26, 2019.

“We have something on our back, kind of like a target where we need to be a little bit better than we were last year,” Swenson said, “to see (if) we can get to the (Fargo)Dome (for the section championship game).”

Initially, besides postponing the football and volleyball seasons to the spring, the MSHSL did approve volleyball and football teams to have fall training seasons. As part of this approval, volleyball and football could practice up to 12 times between September 14 and October 3. The MSHSL also allowed spring sports, such as baseball, golf, softball, and track and field, to practice up to 12 times, but between October 5 and October 24.

Gator and Freeze athletes and coaches responded to the announcement of volleyball and football seasons restarting in the fall instead of the spring and described how the mood changed in their practices since that announcement.

Before the MSHSL’s most recent decision, Freeze Head Volleyball Coach Melissa Thompson was bummed about her team not having a fall season, feeling bad for the seniors. She was okay with having a season in the spring.

“I was looking forward to I guess whatever, whenever we could play,” Coach Thompson said.

Freeze Volleyball senior Brooke Fredrickson echoed her coach’s feelings about the fall practice sessions— glad to get to practice and improve as a team, despite not being able to play against other teams at that time.

“They’re good practices,” Fredrickson said about the practices before the MSHSL’s most recent decision. “It was really different not… knowing if you get to go play the next day but it was still nice to have something.”

As for Gator Head Volleyball Coach Stacy Dahl, she and her coaching staff looked at the three four-day-per-week practice sessions as an opportunity to reconnect with the athletes, and to show that they care about them and that they still love volleyball.

“We wanted to kind of focus on just the normal of volleyball, and we kept it really fun,” Coach Dahl said. “So our first week’s theme was fun and games, and we did a lot of competitions or different games, fun games. Sometimes it wasn’t necessarily even about volleyball, but it was just about working with a team to get the job done.”

As for football, Freeze Head Football Coach Adam Gast described that first week of practice sessions, prior to the MSHSL’s most recent decision, as a time to just work on fundamentals and position playing.

Even though much remained unknown about the season, Freeze football senior Adam Maurstad said he and his teammates still worked and practiced hard during this first week of practice sessions.

“We were just going to scrimmage against ourselves, so we didn’t really think too much of it,” Maurstad said. “But we were still practicing like there could be a potential of something happening.”

Gator Head Football Coach John Lee echoed what Coach Gast said about this first week of practice sessions in that the focus of them was on “learning the game, having fun, and getting together as a group.” He wasn’t too optimistic about his team getting game action in during the spring.

“I assumed that we would probably only be getting those sessions in because it’s not very practical for us to be playing football on March 15, up here in Northern Minnesota,” Coach Lee said. “And so I felt really bad for the seniors, but I wasn’t going to make it sound like there was no hope.”

Senior Gator Football player Garrett Undeberg prayed that his team would have a football season eventually. This hope, this prayer would quickly become a reality when the MSHSL announced the restarting of volleyball and football this fall.

The newly restarted football and volleyball seasons will each look a little different.

According to a press release from the MSHSL, the MSHSL plan is to have an approved football season that begins on September 28 with the first of six regular season games scheduled for the week of October 5. A planned two-week football postseason would begin the week of November 16.

As for volleyball, it will begin an 11-week season on September 28 and schools may play their first matches on October 8. As part of the plan approved by the MSHSL, two weeks of postseason play would begin the week of November 30.

As for fans, according to Gator Activities Director Sharon Schultz, football games will be allowed to have up to 250 fans and volleyball is being allowed none.

As for all these teams, the players and coaches said a mood change occurred in practice when they heard of the season restarting in the fall, using words such as “excited” and phrases such as “working hard.”

This fall opportunity is giving these teams the chance to now build off previous successes, such as that Gator Football postseason run Swenson referred to, and compete against other teams, but it also represents something else, as Gator Volleyball senior Erika Howell pointed out.

“It’s just good to get back to something normal, or sort of a normal schedule… Everything’s so strange right now, so some normalcy is good.”

To see the complete story, read the September 30 issue of The Tribune or the October 1 issue of the North Star News in print or online. To read about the athletes’ and coaches’ expectations for and messages to their teams for this season, the precautions these teams are putting in place, and volleyball’s response to having no fans, read upcoming issues of The Tribune or North Star News.

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