Team resilient in return from quarantine

Photos by Corey Stolzenbach/The Herald
Forest Park Junior Claire Eckert shoots a ball in practice Friday at Cedar Crest Intermediate. Eckert had two assists on Thursday in Forest Park’s 10-0 season opener against Southridge. The Ranger girls soccer team had games canceled due to being in quarantine for exposure to COVID-19.

By COREY STOLZENBACH
sports@dcherald.com

BRETZVILLE — It’s a nice, sunny afternoon with blue skies and modest wind at Cedar Crest Intermediate. Forest Park’s girls soccer players are masked up, laughing and having a good time before getting to the grind at that day’s practice. Many are wearing tie-dye shirts, talking about things people that age usually talk about, such as their plans for that night’s football home opener against Tell City.

But it wasn’t that long ago that those conversations didn’t happen.

Players had close contact with one of their teammates who tested positive for COVID-19 in August. None of the players who spoke to The Herald were infected; but the team had to quarantine and games were canceled as a result. They dealt with the hardship of being away from one another and not being able to practice together.

“It just wasn’t right not playing games like normally we would in the middle of August,” junior Claire Eckert said.

“Just sitting at home, you just know what you’re missing,” senior Linda Jacob added. “You know what you could be doing right now. We were all sitting at home, knowing we could be playing soccer, knowing we could have been together, having a good time, but we were at home.”

Forest Park coach Brad Weyer described himself as “cautiously optimistic” going into the season, and once the quarantine happened, it felt like a kick in the gut to him.

But he knew the players would come back and things would proceed as normally as possible. The team kept in contact on video conference calls during the quarantine.

Weyer told the Rangers there was nothing they could do about this — they could only move forward.

“We would meet once or twice a week, I would just talk to them, just try to keep their spirits up, keep them positive,” Weyer said.

Weyer always tells his players that, be it in soccer or in life, that it’s not about what happens, but how they react, and he thought they handled the situation “magnificently.” He couldn’t give them any workouts, due to Indiana High School Athletic Association rules. So, members of the team took it upon themselves to stay conditioned.

“They went out, they maintained their fitness on their own, which I’m really proud of them for that,” he said. “I didn’t ask them to go out and do anything, but they ran every day, they had some small training sessions and it just goes to speak volumes about their character and their commitment to this team and their commitment to getting better.”

Junior Abi Jahn made sure to run a mile nearly each day with her teammates once they all knew they tested negative in order to be ready for their return, but many of them were worried they wouldn’t have a season.

Nevertheless, they found themselves trying to pick up the pieces when they returned to practice on Aug. 27.

“It meant a lot,” Eckert said. “We really just focused on getting back to the fundamentals and working together as a team,” Eckert said.

“To stay focused at practice,” senior Katie Russell added.

Weyer knew how good it felt to be back. The team doesn’t always practice at Cedar Crest to keep its playing field in order, but he knew the Rangers would be there that first day back at practice. He praised them for how hard they trained their first three days back. None of them were winded, none of them asked to stop. Weyer thought it was like they never stopped in the first place.

Junior Madison Wathen, left, eyes freshman Ashlyn Dilger during a drill at Friday’s practice.

“It was a beautiful day, I remember,” Weyer said of the first day back. “Everyone was smiling, everyone was happy. I said, ‘This is what it’s about.’ We’re here because we love the game. We’re here to have fun, and that’s we did. We played some jams, we had a good, hard training session, followed by another one the next day, and then we had a three-hour session on that Saturday, and it was just phenomenal.”

Weyer had missed seeing them laughing, joking, smiling and having fun with one another. He wanted them to have that kind of fun when they took the field Thursday for their season opener at home against Southridge, but even then, adversity still looked them in the eye when four players were quarantined due to a separate incident. Forest Park learned one of its players would be out the day before the game, and three of them the day of. This resulted in some players having to be shuffled around the field.

“It took the first probably 20 minutes or more for me to really get a feel of the position,” said senior Ava Hamilton, who went from being a defender to an attacking midfielder on Thursday.

However, they managed to adjust. The Rangers had a burst out for a 10-0 win, including eight goals in their first half of play. Junior Abbie Jahn had a hat trick, Russell had two goals, Eckert and senior Sara Hamilton each had two assists.

“We played for ourselves and the ones out,” Russell said.

Athletes are often told to play every game as if it’s their last one. Weyer told the same things to his players before their season opener, and they’re making note of that upon their return.

“It’s taken more to heart than any other year ever and more serious now, considering we just had one game and it could have been our last game already,” Jacob said.

The players know to take the virus seriously, and they vow to never take anything for granted ever again. The thought lingers that their season could once again be taken from them.

The Rangers now look to win their next game, which is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. today at home against Tell City, and they know they’re ready for it.

“We don’t want to be put on hold again,” Jacob said. “It was nice and we’re just hoping for the next.”




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