Prep sports: Willmar Cardinals are staying prepared, but …
Senior athletes reflect on a season that might never be
WILLMAR — Willmar track and field senior Josh Miley grew up a chubby kid.
While his baby fat took a while to shed, he always had speed.
“When I was little, I was a real chunker,” Miley said. “I was like a really, really chunky kid. But, I was different because I was really fast. Skinny kids usually run fast.”
Initially joining track to meet people, Miley, embracing its competitive nature, dedicated himself to the sport and is now one of the program’s top sprinters.
Miley has been a contributor to Willmar’s run of four straight Class AA state true team titles, which includes last year’s breakthrough. The boys and girls teams each took first.
The chances of the team continuing its run has come to a screeching halt as track and field and the rest of the spring sports calendar remains in doubt due the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Minnesota State High School League has suspended all activities until at least May 4. That announcement from March 25 came after and is in conjunction with Gov. Tim Walz’ directive that school buildings be closed until then.
Without practices to work on their crafts, students have been given home workouts to stay sharp on the chance that sports commence by the end of the spring. As the world continues to wait for life to return to normal, Miley and five other Willmar senior spring athletes discussed how they’re remaining in shape among other items regarding this pandemic.
Last year with the section meet on his home track, Miley fell 0.03 seconds short of qualifying for state in the 200-meter dash. This season, the senior had his eyes set on making it to state, breaking the school record in the 200 and helping new Cardinals head coach Mike Bobbe win a true team title for the first time in his career.
Luckily for him, the track isn’t too far from home.
“I’m still training as if we’re going to have a meet. I live right next to the track, so I run there sometimes, and still do my workouts as if we are still going to have a meet,” Miley said.
For catcher Ashton Gregory, he carries his shortcomings from two years ago into this baseball season.
“During my sophomore year at state, I came up to bat during a big situation and I ended up striking out. So I wanted redemption,” Gregory said. “I believe it was (Tuesday) we were going to get to play at Siebert Field again against Delano, and I wanted to redeem myself there. But if the season does get canceled, I won’t get that opportunity.”
A part of a Cardinals run through the losers’ bracket into the section championship game last season, Gregory has sights set on another deep postseason run. On the time away from the team, he is still working on his game.
“I’ve been trying to get outside everyday, playing catch with my little brother, hit into my bownet,” Gregory said. “And then I’ve also tried to do the many workouts that the coaches have provided as well.
“The workouts are more related to fundamentals, and I kind of make up my own workouts that are non-baseball related. I’ll go for a bike ride or I’ll do some pushups just to make my own routine.”
On the other diamond, senior infielder Ashley Prahl is in her second season as a team captain. A three-year starter, she too involves her family in her activities.
“Well, I do a lot of workouts and just watch softball online,” she said. “And I have a big enough yard where I’ll get my family together; my dad pitches to me and then I’ll hit.
“We have a goal to hit it to the road or over the road, so it’s nice if you can do that.”
Abigail Mathiasen is in her first year as a captain. The senior has been a member of the girls golf team since seventh grade and has been on varsity since ninth grade.
Her workouts are a bit unconventional.
“There’s different drills where you can putt into a little mug, you put a coffee mug down and you can putt into it,” Mathiasen said. “There’s different chipping drills where there’s inside ones and one where you can just go outside and swing your clubs. You don’t need to hit a ball; hittable tasks like that don’t require a golf course or even balls.
“I’ve definitely done the coffee mug (drill). I actually have a little putting green set up in my basement.”
Alec Hovland has been a part of the boys tennis team since he was a freshman. However, his varsity experience is few and far between. With lineups packed with seniors, Hovland didn’t see the court last season, but was ready to step up to a new role.
“I was hoping to be able to play on varsity and just be able to be a leader to my teammates,” Hovland said. “I think that was going to be huge. I really like being able to make everyone else better, not only myself. And I can’t really do that now since we’re all split up.”
Hovland is staying ready with conditioning workouts, but has also found the time to play on a tennis court. The nets at Willmar High School are down, but the nets at New London-Spicer High School are up.
“It’s really interesting to do a lot of these at-home workouts, a lot of them consist of full-body workouts, from back, core, legs, arms, everything, but also mixing in strength with stamina. (Head coach Forrest Rice) has left it all upon ourselves to go out and hit if you can. I found a few friends that, while making sure that we keep social distancing, we’ve been able to get up to New London and hit a few times.”
Ethan Weber has enjoyed his time being a member of the boys golf program, highlighting the comradery with his teammates as a freshman as his best memory.
Teaming with Gregory and Hovland in what was a difficult hockey season over the winter, Weber simply wanted to enjoy himself as a high school athlete one last time.
“I was just hoping to have a fun year. I kind of had a rough ending to my hockey season as a senior and wanted to have a good, solid, fun year of golf before college starts.”
What the players say
About a month after teams have been sidelined, the players commented on some of the challenges they’ve faced life has been like since.
Weber: “I was never really scared of (the coronavirus) necessarily, being a kid. I’m obviously worried for my parents and grandparents so I didn’t think it would start affecting my life a whole bunch. It didn’t really hit me until once school got canceled. It was kind of whatever right away, but not having a graduation or grad parties or a senior golf season is pretty rough. I’m definitely really missing it now.”
Mathiasen: “I personally kind of like (school at home) because I’m a person who likes to work ahead. By doing online schooling, my teachers have prepared a week’s worth of assignments, so I can work ahead in one class and focus on another class another day. ... You can do it on your own time.”
Prahl: “Going to school at home, it’s awful, not fun. It’s hard not seeing your classmates because it's close to the end of the year and with that being cut short, it kind of sucks.”
Weber: “The hardest part is staying busy. They can’t really give you enough homework to fill up the whole day so you try not to go insane sitting in your room.
“It’s pretty easy to stay motivated, maybe not so much with studying, homework or reading about golf, but staying active and working out hasn’t been hard at all. It just gives you something to do, get up and move, and feel a little bit better.”
Gregory: “It is difficult staying motivated just because of the uncertainty. Everything that’s going on, I don’t know if draining is the right word, but it just doesn’t feel normal. So I do try to stay as motivated as possible, but it’s definitely not as easy as it was before this whole pandemic.”
Hovland: “It’s hard finding motivation every morning to get up and do my homework and do everything, but I keep that maintained by making sure I get out of bed by 8 a.m. and eat a good breakfast. I do schoolwork until 1:30 p.m. or 2 p.m. everyday. After that, I work out or go for a run. Keeping a schedule has really helped me.”
Mathiasen: “Personally, my senior season, I don’t see it (happening). It’s really hard for me because I wanted this to be my good season where I was going to come back, I was going to prove myself and I even had private lessons going into it. But now I’m starting to lose motivation more and more as this stay-at-home order drags on.”
Prahl: “(My optimism) is pretty high, just knowing that we have two weeks. But then every time the lockdown moves, the deadline moves and it gets lower and lower. I’m hoping for (a season).”
Miley: “It’s really hard just because track is not just fun because it’s competitive and I like to see my times decrease. I love that aspect of it. But it’s more that I like to be with my friends, going to a meet, getting trophies with them and just hanging with them for hours on end. Just socializing is the best part of it, I’d say. Losing that kind of hurts.”