Seniors reflect on final sports seasons affected by COVID

Isabella Kneeshaw, Staff Writer

Everyone has felt the disappointments of the pandemic in their own ways. For many high school seniors, mourning the loss of their junior sports season and shortened senior season has been difficult to come to terms with. 

As a high school athlete, there are countless championships, play-offs, celebrations, awards and other occasions to look forward to. This time last year, a lot of those opportunities were taken away, and there wasn’t much hope for a 2021 sports season at all. 

“The pandemic hit around springtime, and playing a fall sport, I thought my season would be saved and that I would be able to have a normal season, but that did not happen,” volleyball player Kylie Zralka commented. “Come the end of summer, masks were starting to be mandated, there was no hope in having a fall volleyball season. Having it be my senior year, all I wanted was a Senior Night. I mean, that’s what every kid looks forward to, playing a sport in high school/college.” 

Luckily, guidance from Governor Kate Brown allowed for a somewhat last-minute announcement from the Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA) that detailed a plan for a condensed 2021 sports season that would fit fall, spring and winter seasons into about a four-month period. 

The unusual circumstances of this past year have been full of ups and downs. After losing an entire competition season to COVID, many felt lucky to even have a 2021 season. The opportunity, though, came with precautions in order to keep athletes safe. 

“During cross country we had to wear masks at practice and during meets,” distance runner Kara Helland stated. “For someone who wasn’t used to wearing a mask while running, and then needing to compete in 5ks with a mask on the whole time, I was concerned about how that would affect the season. COVID restrictions also eliminated many large invitational and state meets. It was a bummer, but I’m thankful that we got the chance to compete in the first place.” 

Seniors planning on competing in college faced more limiting obstacles than normal, since junior sports seasons are typically prime recruiting time; however, that didn’t stop athletes from pursuing their post-high school athletic goals. 

“Recruiting was difficult because I didn’t have any accurate distance times for track races,” Helland, who will be running for George Fox in the fall, said. “Thankfully, as I talked to college coaches one-on-one, they were understanding of the circumstances and took the time to get to know me as a person and athlete without immediately making judgments off of my performances.” 

A rollercoaster of circumstances, waiting, many disappointments and lots of anticipation were all felt by senior athletes this past year, and there is no doubt many of them are grateful to have been able to compete and play the sports they love during such an unprecedented time.

“Having a shortened season made me cherish the times I had in the gym this year,” Zralka noted.  “I didn’t take any practice, game or bonding moment with my team for granted because it was my last season. Not only was it my last season, but with the season being shortened, it made me realize how fast the season can go.”