Senior student-athletes painfully absorb losing their final days as Summit Tigers
Tigers coaches ponder possibilities to make up for lost time
DILLON — With her final high school sports season on indefinite hold due to the new coronavirus pandemic, Summit High School senior three-sport star Nicole Kimball has been sure to get in her thousand touches of a soccer ball a day. She’s made time to play games like Heads Up in a friend group jokingly dubbed “Leg Day” via the Houseparty social network application. And she has a career as a rugby star at Sacred Heart University to look forward to.
Weeks of Zoom video chats and group texts could not replace the kinds of senior-year experiences she’d always thought she’d get. So this past weekend, Kimball and her fellow Summit Tiger senior athletes Logan and MacKenna Simson and Breanna Roach planned a summit sunrise hike.
The friend group drove separately and kept their distance from one another as they hiked in the dark. The friends were mostly quiet, each in their own thoughts. Kimball said they reflected on the brutal suddenness and uncertainty of the suspension of the spring sports season and of their final days together as Tigers.
“It was hard to go back down after the sunrise, back to our houses and wait till the next time we are able to get out,” Kimball said.
Though the Tigers players understand the importance of the season postponement, and potential cancellation, in order to combat the spread of COVID-19, it doesn’t dull the pain of losing their final days with teammates — some of whom have known each other since they were toddlers.
“The seniors are devastated,” Summit High boys lacrosse head coach Matty Marks said. “They had put in a lot of work to get to this senior season. Those guys are pretty down in the dumps.”
A month ago, when the Colorado High School Activities Association postponed all in-person practices, games and get-togethers, only one Summit High varsity team — track and field — had competed in an official event. Since then, teams have seen efforts to fight the virus escalate, including several extensions of the ban on high-school athletic activities, which currently is set to end April 30.
Several Summit High players and coaches said Friday that while they remain hopeful for a return to action, they’ve begun to come to grips with the likelihood that they won’t return to school, never mind play in games, this school year.
That grim-reaper-like reality hanging over their heads hasn’t stopped Kimball from kicking the soccer ball around in her driveway. It hasn’t stopped Tigers baseball senior Magnus Crone from digging out the snow in his Summit Cove backyard to play catch with his brother James. It hasn’t stopped Tigers senior track and field captain Jeremiah Vaille from going for 7-mile runs or logging into the virtual social hangouts coach Kristy McClain has set up via Flipgrid to join dance parties with his teammates.
Hope springs eternal, especially for accomplished Tigers seniors like Vaille and friend Max Bonenberger. They still repeat the “take it one day at a time” athlete’s mindset almost a month since they last laced up their running kicks together or buckled the chinstrap of a lacrosse helmet.
But both Bonenberger and Vaille on Friday relented to the apparent reality. Their long runs or trail jaunts up a mountain are now more for their future as cross-country runners at Colorado School of Mines. Each says the guarantee of that future prospect is helping them get through this tough time.
Tigers coaches have channeled a try-to-make-the-best-of-it approach, as well. First-year girls lacrosse coach Samantha Lonsway has set up a virtual fundraiser for the team’s Tiger Card. If people text “BUY” to 833-800-8228, they can purchase the $25 card for discounts at local restaurants and shops, and a player will drop it off on their doorstep. The proceeds will go to fund team sweatpants.
“Something for the seniors to remember their senior season,” Lonsway said.
Crone and fellow baseball senior Ethan Long said Tigers head coach Patrick Stehler has told them that there’s chatter in the state’s baseball community about hosting a summer tournament for seniors to play one last time in the case the season is canceled. Marks said the mountain lacrosse community is considering a similar concept, even if it means making a one-year exception where seniors can play in a Vail tournament that’s not typically open to post-grads.
“Maybe it’ll make up for the loss,” Marks said.
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