WATERTOWN — With soccer as her primary athletic endeavor, Katharina Probst can’t wait to play the sport at the varsity level during the rest of the year.
Though the prospects of a high school season are still uncertain, taking part in the Immaculate Heart Central Summer Soccer Camp right now is the next best thing.
Probst, entering her sophomore year, has transferred to IHC from Alexandria, where she played varsity soccer since the seventh grade.
“Considering soccer is the only sport I play in high school, it’s one of the highlights. It feels good, I’m excited and I’m looking forward to it,” Probst said.
“It’s just nice to get back outside here and get back at it,” said IHC girls soccer coach Kurt Robbins, who runs the summer camp as well as the Black River Valley Soccer Academy.
In a normal season, teams would already be several weeks into preseason practices, with some kicking off the regular season with games soon.
But amid the coronavirus pandemic, the start of high school sports has been pushed back to Sept. 21, when teams can begin practicing.
Though soccer is one of the sports that will be allowed to play in the fall, along with cross country, swimming and tennis, there is uncertainty as to when their seasons will start — and if they’ll ultimately be allowed to do so.
“It’s been interesting,” Probst said. “I was preparing for the season and I play for a club team in Syracuse as well, so during the pandemic we were doing Zoom meetings, so I was still running and staying active and preparing for the fall season.
“So I was kind of disappointed the way that it didn’t really happen the way we wanted it to, we’re not really sure how it’s going to start and everything, with everything that’s going on.”
IHC girls soccer team originally was to start its regular season with a game against rival Watertown next Thursday, but now the date of their season opener remains “up in the air,” according to Robbins.
“I was definitely looking forward to soccer season,” said IHC sophomore Emily Bombard, who made her debut with the varsity last season. “And now with it getting pushed back and maybe not even happening, that kind of sucks because I do like soccer a lot.”
Robbins said he is somewhat frustrated about the lack of guidance concerning the upcoming soccer season.
“It’s just bizarre, we don’t have an answer yet about what we’re doing or how we’re doing it,” Robbins said. “(Gov. Andrew) Cuomo came out and said there could be sports and then he passed it back to the superintendents and basically said ‘if you don’t want it, you don’t have to have it.’
“So nobody knows and there’s no direction again, it’s just tough trying to plan anything or do anything. I wouldn’t want to be an athletic director or an administrator right now.”
After Cuomo issued guidance Monday, the New York State Council of School Superintendents sent a letter to Cuomo on Wednesday asking that he reconsider his decision, asking that these sports be postponed until Jan. 1.
“There’s part of me that agrees with the superintendents ... you need to get the kids back into school, you need to get them set up the way that they’re supposed to,” Robbins said.
He continued: “They’ve got to give us some guidance on what we’ve got to do. I know about the COVID-19 thing, but I don’t want to take kids into a game that aren’t prepared physically to play. So the uncertainty, if you just come out and say ‘yes or no.’ If you say no, it’s no.
“If you say ‘yes,’ then tell me how we’re going to do it, what you want us to do to proceed.”
As chairman of the Frontier League girls soccer committee, “I’m getting a lot of questions, like from coaches,” Robbins said. “But I say ‘I can’t answer your questions for you because I don’t have the answers yet.’ I know that we have a schedule in place if we go and that will be different because we have to play 12 games in four weeks. My last game would be Nov. 4 if we follow the schedule, and there could be two feet of snow on the ground by then.”
Robbins feels IHC has a good plan of how to handle athletics amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, but wishes there was more feedback from the New York Public High School Athletic Association as well as Section 3 on how to proceed with the season.
“So it’s a tough situation, I think our school is very organized of what we want to do,” Robbins said. “We have a sheet of guidelines that our AD has come up with that are even more than what the United States Soccer Federation saying or what the state’s saying and we’re going to keep doing that until we find out exactly what we have to do. I’d rather err on the side of more cautious (than) less cautious. Because the last thing in the world I ever want to see is some kid get sick.”
The Black River Valley club has been able to travel to compete in a pair of tournaments in the Syracuse area this summer.
“We’re following all the rules with the social distancing and wearing masks and trying to make it work,” Robbins said.
The IHC soccer camp is usually held in July, according to Robbins, who said he received clearance to host the event earlier in the month, making sure guidelines set by the state on holding camps and clinics were adhered to.
He said about 35 girls have signed up for the four-day camp, which includes competitors from ages 11-to-17.
On the camp’s first day on Friday, about 20 girls participated, including players from Sackets Harbor, LaFargeville and Watertown, as well as from IHC.
“Definitely it helps,” Probst said of the camp. “You keep active, you keep moving, it will help players when we finally do get to play because they’ll be ready to go.”
“Definitely, being able to actually get out and actually play soccer is fun,” Bombard said.
The camp features four different training stations on the field, where participants work on passing, skills, speed training, as well as headers and dribbling, with small-sided game toward the end of the camp.
Social distancing guidelines are followed during the camp, which will be held for three more days through Monday.
“We’ve got X’s on the ground where kids can put their bags and stuff so we can start doing our training,” Robbins said. “And their social-distanced apart, they’re eight feet apart and the kids all stay in one grid and we move the coaches, so the kids are never moving or changing.”
“You have to wear masks and we have to be more spread out and worry about all the guidelines and everything, so you can just go and train,” Probst said. “But it’s still better than nothing.”
Now Robbins hopes to receive encouraging news on the high school sports front soon.
At first, the longtime coach wasn’t optimistic over the summer that there would be a scholastic sports season in the fall.
Now he’s hopeful, but stresses he puts the safety of everyone involved first and hopes more guidance is on the way.
“Of course I want soccer to be played in the fall,” Robbins added. “But I want it played safely and make sure we do the right thing.”