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“Better than nothing”: Freeze basketball teams respond to returning to the hardwood

Gavin Hockstedler holds the ball as teammate Tommy Hanson (facing away) defends him during a drill directed by Freeze Boys’ Basketball Head Coach Sean Spilde (far left) at practice on January 7. (photo by Ryan Bergeron)

Freeze Boys’ Basketball players (L-R) Everett Nelson, Gavin Hockstedler, Jaxon Klegstad, Bradyn Swenson, and Jace Pietruszewski hold their arms out and tap their feet quickly on the floor during a drill at practice from Tri-County High School on January 7. (photo by Ryan Bergeron)

Braxton Boe looks on the action and Austin Kautzman and Jackson Spilde talk during a Freeze Boys’ Basketball practice at Tri-County High School on January 7. The team began practice earlier that week. The team opens the season on the road in Greenbush versus Badger/Greenbush-Middle River on January 15. (photo by Ryan Bergeron)

Isabel Pearson follows through on her shot during some warm up shooting prior to practice on January 7— the team’s first week of practice. (photo by Ryan Bergeron)

Sunny Edin takes some practice free throw shots prior to the Freeze Girls’ Basketball practice from Marshall County Central High School on January 7. (photo by Ryan Bergeron)

Katie Longerbone goes in for a layup during a drill towards the beginning of the Freeze Girls’ Basketball practice on January 7. The Freeze Varsity and Junior Varsity open the season on the road in East Grand Forks versus the Sacred Heart Eagles on January 14. (photo by Ryan Bergeron)

As allowed by the state, the Freeze boys’ and girls’ basketball teams returned to the hardwood for their first day of practice on January 4, over a month later than usual. As mandated by the state, it returned to practice wearing not only the customary basketball gear, but a mask as well— something they will have to wear during both practice and game play.

The first couple days of practice proved difficult wearing the masks.

“It’s not fun at all,” Freeze boys’ basketball player Jackson Spilde said. “You get light-headed after a couple of sprints.”

But, overall, as players from the girls’ and boys’ teams explained, they are getting better used to wearing them, knowing, as a couple Freeze girls’ basketball seniors explained, that it will be a process.

“It’s getting better. As we’re running, we’re finding that we can go a little bit farther every day,” Freeze girls’ basketball senior Brooke Fredrickson said. “But yeah, it will still take some time to get used to especially figuring out what masks work and which masks are going to fall down.”

Freeze Boys’ Basketball Head Coach Sean Spilde, Freeze Girls’ Basketball Head Coach Matt Nelson and some Freeze basketball seniors from each of their teams discussed the upcoming season. They discussed their reactions to the season starting, practices, the precautions in place, their thoughts on this season and their team, and their hopes and messages during a unique season.

Coaching nine years as the Freeze girls’ basketball coach, Coach Spilde made the move back to coaching boys’ basketball this season. Prior to the nine years as the girls’ coach, he coached 12 years of boys’ basketball— 11 of those years when the team was just Tri-County and the final season in the program’s inaugural season as the Freeze.

When Coach Spilde heard this season was officially a go, he initially just hoped that his team didn’t have to experience any more pauses— able to continue with practice every day and not have game postponements or cancellations.

“I would like to see the kids have a normal season now even though it’s been shortened by six weeks,” Coach Spilde said. “But let’s just finish it out as normal as possible.”

Freeze boys’ basketball player Jaacks Spilde seconded that thought, but was also excited, as was all his other fellow senior teammates with the season beginning.

“I was just kind of hoping that once it gets started it just keeps rolling,” Jaacks Spilde said. “We don’t just kind of get teased a little bit and get it started and then it just shuts down right away.”

Jaacks Spilde is one of six seniors on this year’s team. The other five include: Braxton Boe, Jackson Spilde, Jake Knutson, Tommy Hanson, and Keaton Klegstad.

Once Jackson Spilde heard that the season was officially a go, he turned to getting ready for it.

“It was go time,” Jackson said. “It was time to start preparing for it.”

As for the girls’ team, Head Coach Matt Nelson has been coaching in the Freeze girls’ basketball program as either a C-team or JV coach since approximately 2009 before stepping into the head varsity team coach role. He also has had experience coaching Freeze eighth grade volleyball and coached JV boys’ basketball and football before coming to the Freeze. When he heard the season was officially going to happen, he was excited, but also had the same hope as Coach Spilde.

“We’ve been waiting to see what was going to happen. You just never know. And like the volleyball season and football season, it was kind of off and on,” Coach Nelson said. “So we just didn’t really know what to expect. But we’re excited to get going now and it looks like we have a lot of games. Hopefully we can play a lot of them.”

As for his players’ thoughts when they heard the season was a go, Freeze girls’ basketball senior Harley Olson wondered how it would all play out, including travel to games. Several other seniors expressed some happy feelings.

“I was excited that we were finally going to be able to do something,” senior girls’ basketball player Eylie Homme said, “instead of having our senior year not be(ing) able to do anything.”

Fellow senior Katie Longerbone seconded that feeling.

“No matter if we had to wear masks or whatever the limitations would be,” Longerbone said. “I was just excited that we’d be able to go on the court one last time.”

The Freeze girls’ basketball team has five senior players, including: Fredrickson, Homme, Longerbone, Olson and Zoey Magner.

Besides wearing masks at all times— outside water breaks— the teams have other precautions in place. Coach Spilde and Coach Nelson mentioned various precautions, including players having to answer health-related questions, staying home if sick, social distancing as much as possible, using sanitizer, getting their temperatures taken, sanitizing areas, such as basketballs and bleachers, having assigned bus seating, and, as Coach Spilde added, keeping the seventh to eighth grade players and the ninth through twelfth grade players as separate from one another as possible.

Regardless of what this season may look like— mask or not— as Knutson said, “It’s better than nothing.”

To see the complete story, read the January 14 issue of the North Star News in print or online.

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