It’s 6 AM, on March 2nd. The first day of baseball tryouts has arrived. The pitchers and catchers walk into the gym as the sun peeks over the horizon and glints just over the top of the school. Any drowsiness that the players had quickly vanishes, as the distinct sounds of perfect fastballs cracking into the catcher’s mitts echo throughout the gym. The smell of sweat and leather soaks through their shirts as the morning tryout draws to a close.
The tryouts continue after school for every sport. Time trials, drills, skills tests, and so much more are run by coaches. Sounds of laughter from returning seniors fill the stadium, tennis court, and baseball field, but nothing is more deafening than the silence of the wide-eyed freshmen looking on.
It’s 6 PM, on March 2nd. The first day of tryouts is coming to close for most sports, or for others, just beginning under the stadium lights. As the vivid Colorado sun settles to rest over the still snow-capped mountains, what none of the athletes, the seniors, know, is that the sun is also setting far quicker than they could have ever imagined on their spring season.
Every hour, every moment that all the players have put into their respective sports, and for many of them, what should be the best moment, the best season and year of their lives, is disappearing like that sunset. They can’t control it, they can’t stop it, they can only watch in despair as the sun never rises again on the 2020 spring sports season.
The air smells like spring. The sky is bright as the sun generously pours its rays across the state of Colorado. Big, beautiful cotton candy-eque clouds are gently placed around the sky, each one tossed into place with care. The soft wind passes through the leaves of the trees. The songbirds spin a sweet melody as an eagle soars far overhead.
The day is almost perfect. Except there’s no other sounds. There’s not the far-off laughter of children playing outside the stadium, there’s no whistle from the ref, there’s no roars from the crowd as a goal is scored, a home run is hit, or a race is won.
In a normal year, the following events would’ve happened. But this year —
It’s a 3-2 count in the bottom of the ninth in the state championship game. Erie trails by one and Nash Phillips is standing on second base. Gavin Mendoza is at the plate. The 3-2 pitch comes in and it’s a fastball driven to right cent—
The final event of the state track meet is here. It’s the 4×4 relay. The girls are off, and they’re racing around the track. The first lap ends, and Erie is near the lead. The second and third runners stay with the runners at the front, and Lily Meskers gets the baton to anchor the relay. She draws even with the runner in first with only 100 meters le—
The state tennis tournament is at its height. The 4A 1–Singles championship is over two hours into the match. Julie Bremser wipes away sweat and serves at match poi—
The 4A state golf tournament has gone to a 1-hole playoff. Maddie Cantwell hits a perfect drive down the fairway of the Colorado National Par 3. She knows this hole like the back of her hand. She chips onto the green and lines up the putt for the ti—
The soccer state championship game goes to PK’s at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. The game is tied at 1. Zoe Hatch makes the first three saves. Mariah Veve buries Erie’s fourth PK, and Hatch can’t quite make the save on the other end. She saves the fifth one as Rylee MacLennan steps up for the fin—
The lacrosse state championship game has been back and forth throughout. It’s tied at 5, thanks to excellent defense from Tim Beach and Dalton VandeLune, and timely offense from Adam Bristol and Corby Tecu. Beach makes an incredible save on a breakaway with 30 seconds left and flies up the field. He flips it to Cam Cramer, who has an open lo—
Fairview girls lacrosse has stubbornly hung around in the state title game. The defense from the Welty sisters and Sydney Strejc has been near-perfect with excellent netminding from Thayer Hubbard and the Knights trail 2-1. Emma Grace Cromwell makes a defender miss with under a minute to go and there’s nothing but gre—
— they don’t.
The penultimate moment of each season. Exciting, isn’t it? Well, not without their endings. I can’t say whether or not every team would have made it to the state championship game. The odds of that are admittedly pretty low. But it’s still what every athlete dreams of. And just because it isn’t an Erie (or Fairview) team in the game doesn’t mean that some seniors, on some teams, wouldn’t lose out on a state championship moment like one of those.
Except in any other year, they would have an ending.
I can’t create a magical ending for all of the seven sports — baseball, golf, lacrosse, soccer, tennis, track & field, as well as what would’ve been my “adopted” seventh team in Fairview girls lacrosse. There’s a reason that each moment doesn’t have an ending, because they won’t ever exist.
As much as I wish that I could, I can’t change that. I would sign up to be quarantined with our broadcast crew in a split second. I’d self-quarantine for two weeks in my Jeep if it meant that I got to go to three or four(teen) more games. I’d camp at Colorado National just to stand 10 feet away from Erie golfers while taking pictures and wearing a mask to cover three golf tournaments. Simply put, I’d do almost anything to get spring sports back. But since I can’t do that, I can do what I’ve done for the past four years for one final time. I can tell the stories of the other seniors that are hurting, of the coaches and underclassmen that empathize with them in ways they never imagined they would have to.
This is Lost Season.
When I first sat down to write this story, I anticipated writing about each sport individually, talking to all the athletes, my friends and classmates, and sharing their stories, sport by sport. Then I started to talk to them, and realized that even though they were divided by what sport they play, they were united by all being a part of the Class of 2020, and the quarantine has only strengthened the bonds and relationships among all of us.
On the now infamous day of March 12th, everyone heard the news in a different way. Many seniors and players reacted in similar ways. But they were still unique in their own ways.
The reaction that immediately stood out to me the most was that of Tim Beach. The senior lacrosse goalie is committed to play at Delaware next year (go Blue Hens lacrosse!). Beach displayed something that no other athlete did — faith. “I know that God has a perfect plan and I know somehow this was the best thing made to happen for us.”
His authenticity and faith is rare for most people, let alone a high school senior, and it’s something that we could all use more of now.
Beach, as well as several of his lacrosse teammates, including senior defenseman Dalton VandeLune, were stunned. “I was in shock” said VandeLune. “I started to think about the season being over before it really began.”
Tennis player Nisha Shrestha shared that sentiment. “I honestly couldn’t believe it. I didn’t even believe it at first. I’d never heard or seen sports getting suspended.”
The most common reaction among senior athletes, though, was overwhelming emotion. “I was heartbroken. I was heart broken for my teammates, I was heartbroken for the school, it was just super saddening. This season was probably what I was looking forward to most this year. After the run we had last year I knew we were poised for something special. We all grew so close and we had one mission and that was to go out and win a state championship. It was devastating when we heard it was suspended,” said baseball senior Gavin Mendoza.
It was much of the same for soccer senior Rylee MacLennan. “It was heartbreaking. After scrimmaging against Legacy and beating them, I had realized the true potential of our team and it was just taken away. Personally playing soccer is my life and my Senior (season) was stripped away which was sad for both my family and me. But most of all I miss my team and the friendships I had during the season. I know it’s keeping us safe, it’s just the timing was very unfortunate.”
If the emotion wasn’t heartbreak, it was disappointment. “My reaction was disappointment. I was unable to participate in track last year due to knee surgery, so my senior track season was something that I had been training for, and looking forward to for a whole year prior. I have the privilege as a senior to not only be led by Coach Havard and his outstanding coaching staff, but to be surrounded by a group of runners who are talented, and some of the hardest working athletes I have ever been around,” said track senior Elaina Dwinal.
Golf senior Mara Wissman added that “I was super disappointed because April 18th (when sports were suspended through the 18th) is only a couple weeks before we were supposed to have our regionals. As a senior, it’s even more devastating to think about not being able to possibly have regionals (and) a chance of going to state.”
No group of emotions would be complete without tears, and there were certainly plenty of those. “After hearing about the first suspension I cried for a good hour,” said lacrosse senior Cam Cramer.
Fairview girls lacrosse senior Sydney Strejc noted that “It’s been nice to know that I’m not the only person who has shed tears over this though.”
When you play a sport for most of high school, or for most of your life, you’re bound to develop some good memories, though, and that was certainly the case for several seniors. Track senior Adam Huonder’s favorite memory of track was “at the state meet last year where my 4×800 team placed 3rd with a PR of 8:01, and my good friend Jamison finally broke 2 minutes.” For golf senior Maddie Cantwell, it was the bond that she created with her teammates. “Some of my favorite memories include just hanging out at practices. Doesn’t matter what the condition is outside, you can count on us laughing at each other and ourselves. I have so many memories of bad shots, but I was able to get over myself quickly because my friends were laughing behind me (not in a mean way at all). Freshman year, I accidentally snapped my club in half on a tree, and the moment was a thousand times more funny because I had my team laughing at it with me. If any of us had a bad day at school we are able to come to practice, relax, and have a good time!”
Teams will occasionally take out of state trips, and last year’s lacrosse trip stood out to John Cousins. “Since it was our first season ever playing with each other, we didn’t (know) everyone on our team very well and on that trip in Utah we really found out who we were and I feel like everyone on the team had a stronger friendship after we got back.”
It doesn’t matter what sport it is — great coaches can help to make the best of memories. “It would have to be the car rides to and from tournaments and going out to do stuff with the team. With a not so popular sport and a small number of girls it’s easy to do stuff with the whole team. We would all sing the whole way to Fort Morgan and back last year and we all had such a bond we could talk about anything and be there for eachother. I have to thank Coach Bird for that, he encouraged us to be goofy and would sing with us and dance whenever a good song was playing. He made all of my golf seasons something to look forward to,” said golf senior Madison Martinez.
It quickly became evident that the seniors cared deeply for each other, their coaches, their teammates, and for their sports. And their underclassmen teammates and coaches care just as much about them as they care, and the bonds between seniors and their younger counterparts create the best of memories for the younger athletes.
“I’ve gotten close with Nash, Nolan, Brandon, and Myles. My best memories with them have been all of us wanting to grind for the same thing and working hard to get to the same spot. They’ve all been really cool to me and welcomed me in, even off the field and practice when we hangout or see each other in the halls, we always joke around with each other which is really fun, and also Gavin, we’ve been really good friends since I was young so from growing up with him to now playing with him is amazing,” said baseball sophomore Blake Schalk.
Madison Tallman’s favorite memories of the soccer seniors came on the field “I always enjoyed watching Macie Fambrough on defense. I also enjoyed combining with all the other seniors on offense especially Rylee MacLennan as we combined for 10 goals and 15 assists last year. I enjoyed every practice and game with the seniors and they have made me a better player.”
It was much of the same for track junior Blake Donaldson. “They always made sure we were one team, and they always helped us remember to stay in our own lane and focus on the big goal. I really felt the family feeling with them as they made sure we were always in our best mindset and they always involved us as underclassmen.”
Even though girls lacrosse freshman Mia Welty didn’t spend a large amount of time with the seniors, they still made an impact on her. “Mackenzie and Sydney both are great leaders. They were both really kind and I was excited to play with them.”
Having seniors as role models is often helpful for younger athletes, and Lily Meskers is no exception. “They were all so kind and it was just really cool to have them as people who I could look up to”
Like others, girls lacrosse sophomore Ava Welty connected with her teammates as friends on the field. “This will be my first year playing with Mackenzie but she brings such a positive energy to the team and is a really strong defender. Sydney and I played last year together. She sets a great example as a communicator and was already doing so much to bring the team together. I am so excited to have her as one of our captains this season because of her leadership as a teammate and a defender.”
For golf sophomore Madison Gambon, the best memories came when the team was having fun. “During all the bus rides and car rides to tournaments, we just blasted loud music on Mara’s speaker and annoy (Coach) Bird as he’s trying to drive the mini bus, and it’s just so fun to get all hyped for tournaments that way. All four of the seniors, especially Maddie Martinez, were so quick to help me with any questions I had and they all became my friends so quickly.”
Playing with the lacrosse seniors was fun for Fairview sophomore Thayer Hubbard, but the best memories came off the field. “We only have 2 seniors on roster for varsity this year, but some of my favorite memories have been off the field. Whether it’s goofing off with Sydney cracking jokes about my horrible dance moves or ganging up on other teammates, or talking basketball with Mackenzie… every memory is a good one.”
She also summed up what every underclassmen has probably thought this spring “I love those girls and I’ll be really sad if I don’t get to take the field with them this year.”
It isn’t just the underclassmen that have great memories of the seniors. Their coaches have them in spades.
Lacrosse coach Nick Mandia noted that “the seniors this year are fun loving, hard working teammates. I was excited to see them take the helm and continue building on what we had created last year. In the last week of practice, before the season was suspended, I had witnessed them lead in a number of ways. The practices were better every day, and we felt we were ready to open the season against Ralston Valley.”
“This senior class is a special class” said track and field coach Brandon Havard. “There are so many memories from this class that I could never name them all. Having the opportunity to coach my son all the way to the state meet in triple jump and 4×400 stands out from the perspective of a father but there are so many more memories. Having one of the best 4×800 teams in the state for 3 years with seniors Adam Huonder and Alex Walker there every step of the way, taking these seniors on their first out of state track meets to Kansas and Texas and watching them run against and out perform some of the best in the nation. Watching my senior distance crew grow from a bunch of shy guys who barely talked to true leaders on the team who give their all week in and week out. Having the valedictorian Alex Walker on the team and watching him solve a Rubik’s cube in under 13 seconds for the first time. Watching Elaina and Meredith work so hard to come back from injuries that put them out their junior year and seeing them get better week after week.”
It’s impossible to understate what a tumultuous day that March 12th was. Tennis, baseball, and track and field were the only sports that competed on the 12th. And each athlete gave it their all.
For Cassie Mahakian, it took time to sink in that they could be on their way to her final match. “At first, I was in denial. The day we found out we had only our second match of the season, and it didn’t sink in until I was on the bus that this could be my last match ever.”
The looming suspension of spring sports motivated baseball seniors Nolan Marthaler and Alex Cito in a way that not much else could. “I think knowing that it could’ve been our last game, we knew that we had to lay it all on the field and that’s what we did we all did our part, which made the game pretty emotional and that made us unstoppable,” said Marthaler. Cito added that “I feel like everyone was kinda in disbelief, but we definitely played with a chip on our shoulders which is how we play best.”
The track meet on Thursday was supposed to be a JV meet, but the host school in Lyons allowed varsity athletes to come with the looming threat of a canceled season.
“My first thought was that I need to get as many varsity athletes to run at the JV meet in Lyons that Thursday before the suspension starts as possible just so they have at least one meet under their belts. After the chaos of getting so many athletes to a meet that they did not plan to go to the reality of the situation sat in,” said Coach Havard.
Meredith Olson was one of the seniors that wasn’t able to make it to Lyons. “I was really looking forward to running my senior season after having to quit last season because of an injury. It was something I had been looking forward to all year and now I won’t be able to get much better.”
Besides everything else that’s been said, there’s one thing left that we can do. We can give them a semblance of a virtual “senior night”. So, without further ado, here is every spring sports senior:
Fairview Girls Lacrosse
Track and Field
This “senior night” was different, though. It wasn’t in a stadium, or on a court, or a field. It was in a list of names accompanying a story about the season they lost. Maybe the Class of 2020 will get more than just that list. They certainly deserve it. But this year their parents didn’t get to beam with joy over their children’s accomplishments as they walked with them, their underclassmen teammates and coaches didn’t get to struggle between celebration for what they’d done and sadness as they realized they’d never play at home with the seniors again. Their friends didn’t get to cheer at the top of their lungs from the bleachers. If anything, this epitomizes exactly what this spring has been, and will forever be remembered as. A lost season.
After Governor Polis made the announcement that schools would not go back in-building for the rest of the school year, CHSAA officially canceled spring sports. They held out for as long as they could, as over 30 other states made the call before they did, but the cancellation still hurts more than words can express. No amount of tears and disbelief can bring this season back.
With this, there’s no finality. I never expected that the last story on Erie sports that I might ever write for the Tiger Times would be about a pandemic cutting my senior year short. But here I am, writing my last story covering Erie sports for the Tiger Times about a pandemic that has cut this year short.
This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. We were supposed to have our storybook endings, or face raw, bitter heartbreak as the final seasons of sports end. Every movie, every book, no matter how it ends, does end. Imagine watching a movie or reading a book that ended before the final battle, or before the last chapter. Preposterous, right?
This year didn’t end.
It stopped, dead in its tracks. And there is no ending. No storybook, no heartbreak, just, nothing. We were supposed to get something. Every scenario that began each chapter, the penultimate moment of each season, those were supposed to happen. The calls, the stories, they weren’t supposed to be cut off without an ending.
But they were.
Now, this is truly a lost season. Every memory that would have been made, all of the hopes and aspirations that every senior, every athlete had for this season, will never be more than dreams.