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Written By Ink Free News / Sports on Thursday, March 18, 2021

Rex Kirchenstien and Tippecanoe Valley track will be one of the first true spring sports to start, hosting NorthWood next Tuesday as the spring calendar opens up for the first time since 2019. InkFreeNews file photos by Mike Deak

By Mike Deak

WARSAW – “The coming back of a true companion makes your day. You coming back completes my world.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

When something is taken from you, often human nature is to realize how much you miss it. In March of 2020, the sporting world realized what often is taken for granted. It wasn’t just a basketball tournament in Indiana, but all that followed. Baseball. Softball. Track. Golf. Tennis. Bowling. Competitive Eating. Poker. All of it was shut down.

Locally, the Northern Lakes Conference tried to figure out ways to get some of it back, but nothing seemed to work. It’s attempt at a singular track meet in May fell through. A one-day softball tournament didn’t even see the ink dry before it was ruled out. The state did put on a mock golf state finals in June, allowing anyone interested to play in area tournaments and qualify up the ladder. It wasn’t official, but it showed the spirit that was ripped from our lungs for months.

The resilience we have shown in the past 12 months in returning to organized athletics has been inspiring, to say the least. While some will easily say, “there’s more important things we could be doing with our time!”, there are also those who see the value athletics have brought to our continued healing and rebounding from a time unseen in this generation.

To that notion, spring sports are on deck. After a year of not competing, the sound of baseballs and softballs on aluminum bats in the cage have been therapeutic. For a couple area coaches, coming back couldn’t come soon enough.

Kiaundra Olson and Wawasee softball will be eager to get back the diamond after a two-year hiatus.

“For the most part it’s been positive,” said Warsaw baseball head coach Andy Manes on getting back to work. “Players are excited just to be back on the baseball field after not playing last spring. Spring always is a time where the players are pumped to be outside and on the field, but even more so this spring.”

Added NorthWood softball head coach Mandy DeMien, “My staff and I are approaching this season with an open mind. We realize and understand that a lot of our players do not have any high school experience. Our freshmen and sophomores have not played a game in high school yet. We just have to focus on the basics and keeping our girls healthy enough to compete.”

DeMien touched on an issue a lot of coaches, both big schools and small, are dealing with in return. Not having a 2020 season makes the senior class just sophomores if and when they last played. Sophomores now and freshmen haven’t played a second of a spring sport at the high school level. The transition should, and likely will, display a lot of growing pains as competitions unfold.

“I feel like it is unchartered territory going into this season,” said NorthWood tennis coach Tif Schwartz. “With not having a season last year, there are so many new girls that will be joining us for their first season. It’s almost like starting over. In years past, as a coach you have an idea of what your team will be like, and what your opponents have coming back. This year, you have no idea how the underclassman will align for their teams. We do have a great group of seniors that will be stepping into leadership roles, but they did not get to witness the emotional support that comes with being a junior and learning those leadership roles. Luckily, our seniors this year are natural-born leaders that will stand up well to the task.”

For coaches of two programs, like Jenny Moriarty for boys and girls track at Tippecanoe Valley, she lost not only one group of athletes, but two. The rebound for Moriarty has been good, and the value of ‘family’ has only increased.

“Yes, last year just plain stunk!” offered Moriarty. “We were one day away from our first indoor meet at Purdue when it all went to muck! I think for the positive side I have a lot more kids out this year. They didn’t get that season in last year and really missed it.

“I always believe you have to miss a sport to know how much it means to you,” continued Moriarty. “With season last year cancelled, the kids were chomping at the bit to have this season.”

One sport that didn’t see a precipitous halt was golf. While high school golf was canceled along with everything else, actual course golf opened back up in April. Golfers could still get out and play, and tournaments were going by the summer. For coaches like Wawasee’s Steve Coverstone, this is a huge advantage in comparison to other sports.

“The game of golf in general might have benefitted, it is a relatively pandemic-proof activity,” Coverstone said. “The courses were very busy as people looked for safe activities to do together.

“We are focusing on the process instead of the outcome,” continued the longtime Wawasee golf boss. “While we can all stick with the process, we can’t always control the outcome. And the rust might lead to some negative outcomes. But we are not going to worry about it, as long as we are following the process.”

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