LOWVILLE — For the first time in a year, Lowville Academy’s turf athletic complex, which sits nestled behind the school, had student-athletes running sprints and working on drills, preparing for a season on the horizon.
Only a week ago it wasn’t a guarantee that Lowville, Beaver River, Copenhagen and South Lewis would be beginning their seasons at all, let alone the first week interscholastic sports are allowed in the state. But, now that it’s here, albeit in an adjusted format, the student-athletes are ecstatic.
“I was more than hyped,” Connor Dickson, a senior on Beaver River’s boys soccer team said. “We’re treating every game like it’s our last. Opening night is going to be senior night for us because we don’t know what circumstances are going to be like.”
Lowville and Beaver River, along with most of Section 10 schools, held their first day of practice Monday. Copenhagen and South Lewis, the only other Frontier League schools that decided to play low- and moderate-risk sports this fall, will begin their practices Wednesday.
With the exception of Copenhagen, the remaining FL schools are conducting hybrid-style learning, which is resulting in split-squad practices for the first two weeks, where only students in school can participate in that day’s practice. In cases like Lowville boys soccer, it’s a fairly even divide, but for Beaver River boys soccer, the split is lopsided.
Beavers coach Brian Zehr will have 11 players Monday and Tuesday and then only six Thursday and Friday.
“Today we played team games that incorporated a lot of skill, team-against-team, and even though we’re socially distanced, we’re able to do, like, races and things like that to pick up speed,” Zehr said. “And we’re not going to be able to do that with six guys. Maybe we can do three guys vs. three guys, but it’s going to be kind of a pain.”
Beaver River tennis coach Rachael Moshier has only one of her athletes in attendance Monday and Tuesday, with another not yet authorized to play. Lowville, with only seven tennis players overall, had three practicing Monday, including last year’s first singles player Jenna Freeman.
“It’s very different, because usually you can do more drills with more people,” Freeman said. “But now you’re really restricted. You get more playing time but less (team) playing time.”
But split-squad practices may not be too big of an obstacle in terms of preparation. The first two weeks of practices are going to be about getting athletes conditioned and in shape.
It could also serve as an opportunity for athletes to demonstrate their leadership skills.
“Coming into this year, I knew I was going to be a leader any ways being my third year on varsity,” said Eliana Bonbrest, a junior for the Lowville girls soccer team. “But definitely in this situation it is more so. Getting the opportunity to lead freshmen and be the role model to them as the older girls were to me in past years. It’s definitely a big task, but I’m excited.”
Bonbrest is beginning her third year on varsity. Olivia Brandal is also a junior and starting her first full year on varsity. Working alongside freshmen in the split-squad practices gives her the opportunity to mentor.
“I’m excited because I get to play with ninth graders, so I get to give them some of my info that I’ve learned throughout the years,” Brandal said. “Especially with the goalies, I get to teach them some things, it’s really fun to do.”
Practices on Monday looked similar to past years. While the Lowville boys soccer team rotated through stations at different points on the turf, the Lowville girls soccer team spread out near one end zone and worked on passing drills. At one point, coach Leo Sammon said “stay away from each other, pull your mask down, take a little break.”
The clearest indication that sports are going to be different this year are the masks that each player and coach is required to wear.
Some donned cloth masks, others wore the blue medical ones, while some had gaiters, scarf-like face coverings that can easily be pulled up over the nose.
For how much players are going to have to wear masks this year, finding one that’s comfortable will be important.
“It’s a lot different, you definitely have to be more fit I guess,” Jeremie Lehmann, a junior for Lowville boys soccer, said about wearing a mask. “At the beginning of the school year I tried the fabric ones, and they were just way too heavy so I turned to the cheaper ones instead.”
Wearing masks will play a key role in keeping students safe and reviving high school sports. Even on game day, all athletes will be required to wear masks; mask breaks will be given by officials during the game.
Once games begin, Frontier League competition will be among the four teams in Lewis County.
“Honestly, I think they just want to play,” Sammon said. “Maybe this year we can get back to the old why you play sports. To go out there with your friends and enjoy yourself. Compete, try to win, but also just do the best that you possibly can.”
Zehr hopes that this spotlight shines a light on Lewis County soccer.
“I think it offers our community a really cool opportunity to come together,” he said. “We as a group of Lewis County schools decided ‘yes, we’re going to go forward with this,’ and I think it’s kind of a cool show of solidarity. We’ve had relatively low (infection) numbers, but I think it offers these kids a really good opportunity to play against kids that they actually know and are friends with. To me, that’s what makes sports great, especially in our area, is having kids play against people they know and are familiar with.”
But competition between all fall sports is not fully defined. Tennis coaches are still unsure if they’ll be competing in doubles competition. FL tennis chair Jim Rhodes sent out text to the Copenhagen and Beaver River coaches to get their opinions.
Cross country competition could be an issue as well. Of the FL teams participating this fall, only Beaver River and South Lewis field cross country teams. After Oct. 19, schools will be able to schedule competition outside of their region, so meets may not be limited to between only those two schools.