The Lost Season
Editor’s Note: Over the course of the next couple weeks, the Daily Sentinel is paying tribute to the Class of 2020 spring athletes across Plymouth County who didn’t get a farewell spring sports season due to the coronavirus pandemic. In our third article of the series, we highlight the seniors in track and golf at Gehlen Catholic.
LE MARS — The spring sports seasons were cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving athletes and coaches disappointed for what could have been. For seniors though, it was even worse as it was their last chance to compete in those sports at the high school level, and maybe, for the rest of their lives.
Gehlen Catholic had their sights set on competing for a few track and field titles at the state meet. Girls Track and Field Coach Travis Westhoff said he thought he had a solid group of girls who could have competed at a high level.
“I am very disappointed that this group did not get to run this year,” Westhoff said. “I believed we had a very complete team, and I was expecting us to have a special season. Especially with the seniors we had, there was quality leadership to go with their talent, and they were all willing to step into a mentor role to bring the underclassmen up to their level.”
The shuttle hurdle relay team has represented Gehlen at state every year for more than three decades. The streak was up to 31 consecutive years heading into this season, but it wasn’t a fall that would derail or at least postpone the streak, but a global pandemic.
The Lady Jays were set to return all four of their legs from last year’s Class 1A state runner-up relay including seniors Sydney Livermore and Kate Hill. It’s difficult to speculate, but the state record of 1:05.44 set by another Gehlen squad back in 2012 may have been within reach.
“With the history we have in the shuttle hurdle, and the fact that we placed second last year and we had the same team returning, we had a good feeling that we would represent well again this year,” Livermore said.
Livermore and Hill were also hoping to return to state in other events. Hill was also part of the 4x200, 4x400 and sprint medley relays. Livermore was a member of the 4x200 and 4x400 teams and finished fourth in the 1A 100 meter hurdle finals a year ago.
Other senior members of the track team included Allison Ruden, Kennedy Ruhland, Addison Weber and Chloe Bunkers.
“I was really looking forward to my senior season,” Livermore said. “We had a great team and I think that we could have done great things this year. It pulls at my heart not being able to compete to get back to the Blue Oval because I know the hard work and dedication that it took to get there the past three years.”
As a collective, the senior girls Class of 2020 at Gehlen will go down as one of the most decorated in school history as their trip to the state basketball tournament just a few weeks before the shutdown capped off a year where the Lady Jays also made state trips in softball and volleyball.
“It will be difficult to replace all this group of seniors brought to our team, and they will be greatly missed,” Westhoff said.
Girls golf coach Kathy Neary was hoping some of the success of the Lady Jays in other sports would spill over to her team as well. The team made it to last year’s regional final round and they returned three of their top four scorers from that meet including seniors Harley Foreman and Madeline Begnoche.
“The seniors were looking forward to this year,” Neary said. “They had set their own personal goals and goals as a team. We were hoping to have a good season this year with qualifying for 2nd round regionals and a possible trip to state.”
The Gehlen boys golf team had just one junior last year. Isaia Lammers looked to be the lone senior leader for a team trying to climb the ladder in the War Eagle Conference.
Back on the track, the Gehlen boys were set to rely on a group of eight seniors. Having such a large group of seniors made it especially difficult to hear the cancellation news for Head Coach Jeremy Schindler.
“When the decision to cancel the 2020 sports season was announced our whole team was devastated,” Schindler said. “We had been working hard to accomplish some lofty team goals and it’s unfortunate that we won’t get a chance to accomplish those goals. We wanted to bring home a state team title and I believe we had the talent to do it.”
Being in the running for a state team title is a goal most teams would like to accomplish, but few are lucky enough to actually attain. Gehlen’s goals of doing so had some merit to them after finishing 16th out of 60 scoring teams in 1A last year.
Will Roder tallied all 15 points for the Jays last season and was out for even more this year.
“My personal thoughts are that this season was prematurely cancelled and the cancellation of the season is extremely unfair to people like me and my teammates who have been pouring out their hearts and souls for this sport just to have all the off-season go to waste, especially on a season where we would have our best team in decades,” Roder said.
For Roder, the loss of the season means a missed opportunity to prove to the rest of the state his deservingness of the title of state champion. Last season’s 3200 meter race was marred by controversy when the final lap bell rang a lap early. While Roder’s name is listed as the state champion in the IHSAA record book, it also includes an asterisk with no official times given and indicating the results of a seven lap race. The IHSAA also later presented another first place medal to competitor Joe Anderson of George-Little Rock. Seeing businesses reopen and other restrictions lifted a week before the state meet was supposed to be held adds a further sting for Roder as the gates of Drake Stadium won’t reopen to let athletes compete for state titles.
“I just hate that I’ll never have a chance to go to state with my team again and prove myself after last year,” Roder said. “I personally spent many mornings at the YMCA swimming, recovering from several stress fractures I got during state cross country.”
While Roder won’t have a chance to repeat as state champion, Schindler said last year’s controversy shouldn’t take away from what Roder was able to accomplish.
“He earned it and no one can ever take that title away,” Schindler said.
The Jays also had individuals returning in other events. Isaac Vaske and Ethan Peters were seniors hoping to return to state in their individual events of 400 hurdles and high jump, respectively. Those two were also members of the 4x400 team while Roder and Peters were members of the distance medley team. Carson Tesch was set to be the lone senior of a 4x800 team which was going to bring back everyone from last year. Vaske was to be the lone returning senior on the sprint medley team which was going to return two other members.
While Gehlen’s athletes won’t get to see the fruits of their labor this year, the coaches are thankful for the work put in by the athletes, especially the seniors, during their careers.
“I am so proud of all the hard work this team put in before the cancellation was announced,” Schindler said. “I want to wish the seniors best of luck in all of their future endeavors. They have been a key part in helping rebuild our boys track program.”
Livermore said she hopes Gehlen’s success won’t fizzle out because of being sidelined by the pandemic.
“The 2020 track and field team may not have had a chance to showcase our talents this year, but come next spring Gehlen will be back and better than ever,” Livermore said.
The word or phrase is how their coach described them:
Chloe Bunkers- Committed
Kennedy Ruhland- Versatile
Allison Ruden- Resilient
Addison Weber- Positive
Kate Hill- Dependable
Sydney Livermore- Determined
Ethan Peters- Smooth
Jacob Nemmers- Talented
Wyatt Tesch- Unselfish
Chris Holzman- Committed
Isaac Ellensohn- Competitor
Carson Tesch- Determination
Isaac Vaske- Leader
Will Roder- State Champion
Madeline Begnoche- Committed
Harley Foreman- Determined