Run or kick? Jasper juniors to decide

Photos by Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
Jasper junior Leah Schnell will have to decide between playing soccer or running cross country in separate regional competitions Saturday. The events start at similar times for the Wildcats.



High school years are about making choices. And for Jasper juniors Alyssa Skorge and Leah Schnell, Saturday will bring a big decision for the two-sport athletes.

The girls both play soccer and run cross country for the Wildcats. While this is far from the first instance of students playing more than one sport in a season, both Jasper teams have a regional event Saturday morning.

The Wildcat girls soccer team (13-5-1) will host Class 2A No. 1 Evansville Memorial (15-4) at 10 a.m. in a regional semifinal bout, while the runners will compete at the Crawford County Regional in Marengo at 11:45 a.m.

As a result, Skorge and Schnell are able to choose just one event to participate in.

“I haven’t made any decisions yet on what I want to do,” Schnell said during a Tuesday soccer practice. “But there are definitely different options rolling in the back of my mind.”

“I’ve been weighing the pros and cons,” Skorge added Tuesday. “I’m still undecided. I was just talking to my teammates and asking their opinions because I still don’t know.”

The difficulty in choosing between options — in sports and beyond — is a familiar feeling, especially in one’s adolescent years. That’s how Skorge’s dual-event fall months came about in the first place.

“They’re my two favorite sports and I’m not good with decisions, so I decided, ‘Why not do both?’” she said.
For Schnell, her multi-sport journey started as promise to a friend to run together, and it morphed into a commitment that she has stuck with the past three years.

“I enjoyed playing soccer, and I’m also pretty good at running cross country,” she said. “My freshman year, (senior) Hannah Walsh said, ‘You have to do (cross country).’ So I said, ‘For you, I’ll do it one year.’ And then I just stuck with it.”

Schnell said that she hasn't yet made a decision in which event she will compete in this weekend.

So how do Skorge and Schnell make it work, being in-season with two sports at the same time? According to both girls, they would not have been able to do it without the support of their teammates and coaches.

“They wanted to do both sports, so we worked with them,” said Jasper cross country coach Kevin Schipp. “It definitely takes coaches working together and communication from the athletes.”

Jasper girls soccer leader Michael Donato coached both girls when they were in middle school, and understood their interest in both sports as they entered high school. He said he did not want to hold back the girls from getting into activities they enjoy, especially during formative years of their lives.

“We are pretty flexible with the girls,” he said. “I want to allow them to experience everything they can while they’re in school.”

And for the most part, everyone involved has been able to make the balancing act work. Practice for both sports occurs at the same time after school, so Skorge and Schnell normally opt for soccer since it’s a team sport and requires a certain level of unity between teammates.

They also run on their own later those days to make up for time missed with the cross country group.

Schipp said there have been weeks the cross country team does not see Skorge or Schnell as much, specifically when more soccer games were on the docket. But none of the other runners hold that against them. They are aware of the work Skorge and Schnell put in after soccer events in order to have a positive impact during meets.

“They saw them work their butts off,” Schipp said. “They make us better.”

So choosing between the teams is not new for Skorge and Schnell, but this weekend’s stakes are an extra factor for both girls to consider.

“There’s a couple of times during the season where we have to choose. But our coaches are very lenient, and they let us pick what we want to do,” Schnell said. “This year is really special because it’s the first time in 10 years we’ve had a regional (soccer) game.”  

“I missed a few meets early on in season, but they weren’t really important meets. For cross country, we usually make regionals, but (for) soccer it’s a big deal that we’re making it to regional,” Skorge added. “So this is the first major conflict that we’ve had.”

Even though they are forced to make a tough choice between regional events, neither girl regrets playing both sports. In fact, Schnell believes that, in a way, the two sports complement each other.

“Cross country helps with my endurance on the soccer field, and it lets me play games and not have to come out,” she said.

Skorge frames the shared benefits another way.

“It’s just different aspects,” she said. “Soccer is a lot of footwork and coordination. (With) running, you put in dedication, you get out results.”


With the support of their coaches and teammates, both Skorge and Schnell are still mulling over the postseason choice. But there’s one thing they have decided: If they had to do it all over again, they would still try to fit both sports into their high school lives.  

“There’s a lot of time and stress involved, but I love both sports,” Skorge said. “I still can’t pick which one I like more. I love them equally, so I would still do both.”

“They’re pulling me both ways,” Schnell added. “Each person from the soccer team is like, ‘Come to soccer, you can do cross country next year.’ And everyone on the cross country team is like, ‘No, come to cross country, you can do soccer next year.’ So I think I’d do both.”

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