Area Athletes Discouraged by the End of Sports for the Season

By CHRIS CHRISTOPHER

There will be no home runs. There will be no strikeouts. There will be no goals. There will be no assists.

There will be no sprints. There will be no jumps. There will be no birdies. There will be no pars. There will be no aces.

There will be no kills.

There will be no baseball. There will be no girls softball. There will be no boys lacrosse. There will be no girls lacrosse. There will be no boys track and field. There will be no girls track and field.

There will be no boys golf. There will be no girls golf. There will be no boys tennis. There will be no boys volleyball.

How sad.

Gov. Murphy has cancelled the remainder of the New Jersey academic year because of the death and destruction wrought by the coronavirus. His decision resulted in the cancellation of high school spring sports before most teams played their first regular-season game.

“I feel I have unfinished business, a little bit empty,” Ocean Township senior girls lacrosse team member Allison Stuppi said. “I want to be on the field and play in a couple of games before my high school career ends. I feel my career is incomplete. I feel kind of unlucky and helpless. I wish I could put that uniform on one more time.”

Stuppi disagreed with Murphy’s decision.

“It’s not right,” she said. “Our sport is played outside. I don’t feel the virus affects kids our age. I feel we could have given it a shot, but I understand why he did it and that’s to be safe. Personally, I feel it’s the wrong decision.”

“Following today’s announcement by Gov. Murphy, the NJSIAA has officially cancelled New Jersey’s 2020 high school spring sports season,” the organization said on its website. This decision was not made lightly and we are disappointed for the thousands of New Jersey student-athletes who will be unable to compete this spring. While we remained hopeful to the end and left open every possibility, competition simply is not feasible given the circumstances.

“The last few weeks have been heartbreaking on many levels from the tragic loss of life to thousands battling the virus and to the millions who have suffered emotional and economic loss. It’s been a harrowing time for everyone and we know our student-athletes are extremely disappointed. That said, these unfortunate circumstances may have put an intriguing challenge in the path of our young people. As New Jersey’s own Vince Lombardi once said, ‘It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get back up.’ We’re confident all our kids will get back up and stand tall.

“The NJSIAA will continue developing plans for the potential restarting of scholastic sports during the fall season. Additional information related to both the summer recess and fall will be shared at a later date.”

Stuppi said a friend attempted to practice lacrosse on Ocean’s artificial turf. She said her friend was removed from the field by the Ocean Township Police Department.

“My friend wanted to practice throws,” she said, “It’s pointless to go there as someone will kick you off. School property is closed.”

Stuppi said she has faint hopes of forming a summer league.

“Perhaps I can do that with my teammates,” she said, “but I don’t feel it will be allowed and it could get busted. There is probably not much we can do.”

The Spartans’ bond might take a beating.

“When we learned of the decision, we became very emotional as we were very close,” Stuppi said. “We were upset. A lot of us played together on the team last year. We just want our season back. We feel frustrated, too, as we feel we don’t have a voice.”

Stuppi also played varsity lacrosse as a freshman and junior. She missed her sophomore season because of a stress fracture to her left hip suffered while training for the Spartans’  field hockey team as a freshman. The attack will attend Clemson University where she will major in psychology and compete in lacrosse and field hockey at the club level.

Ocean senior midfielder Taylor Herr, who starred in girls lacrosse, said she is mentally down in the wake of the decision.

“It is really sad,” she said. “I was super excited for my senior year. We all worked hard during the preseason for this season. I know the girls will pick it up next year and get everything that we worked for this year.”

Herr will miss the social aspect of being a Spartan–the gatherings at Zachary’s Restaurant in West Long Branch for half-price pizza and wings and the pasta parties at the homes of teammates on the nights prior to games.

“I will miss the team,” she said. “We did a lot of traditional things. I will miss being able to put that uniform on again. It’s really sad. … lifetime memories.”

Herr will continue her career at Wagner College, an NCAA Division I school.

“I feel bad for the seniors who won’t have the opportunity to play again like I do,” she said. “I feel bad for my teammates who are trying to get recruited for college as they will miss the whole season. The mood of the team is definitely really sad. I feel empathetic for the seniors. We are definitely really bummed out that we won’t get to have the season we hoped to have.”

Herr plans to use her spare time to train for her collegiate career. Her training partner is her sister, Bailey Herr, a former Ocean and Stonehill College player.

“I will do some training and take this as an opportunity to better myself as a player,” she said. “We will work out each day, practicing the draw and shooting.”

Herr said she agrees with Murphy’s decision.

“He had the best interests of all of us at heart,” she said. “He had the right doctors telling him what to do. I trust that he did it in the best interests of all of us.”

Ocean boys lacrosse junior midfielder Dale Alto said the Spartans are going through tough times in the wake of the cancellation.

“It’s tough,” a crestfallen Alto said, “but we were expecting that decision. It was in the back of our minds that it would happen. When it hit home, it made everyone more down than they already were. We are all pretty much down, but we’re hanging in there. We are all still there for each other.

“I feel terrible for our seniors. I feel terrible they won’t get to enjoy their final season on the team.”

Alto said he agreed with the decision.

“I think keeping schools closed was necessary,” he said. “They were all going to be closed until May 15 at the least. A month and a half of school reopening is not much of a reward considering the safety risk. Reopening school would result in a huge risk that the virus would spread.”

Alto said the Spartans hope to play during the summer.

“Everyone should keep a stick in their hand,” he said. “We’re looking to join a tournament as a team. It would be the same one we played in at St. Rose last summer.”

Ocean boys lacrosse coach Kevin Preston said his Spartans were unhappy to learn their season was over.

“The boys are disappointed,” he said, “but the cancellation was a foregone conclusion for a few weeks now. They are taking it in stride. They continue to work on their individual skills. They take part in Zoom meetings and volunteer their time.”

Preston said he had high hopes for the Spartans.

“I was very excited to see how we could improve as a team so it’s disappointing we never got a chance to prove ourselves,” he said. “We grew closer as a team during this time period and I am really happy about that.”

Preston feels a deep sense of sadness for the team’s seniors.

“We have only a few seniors,” he said, “but I feel awful for them to not have their final opportunities to get on the field. They all put in a great effort during the offseason and were ready to take their individual games to the next level. It would have been amazing to watch them play. Hopefully, if things get better soon, we can take part in a summer tournament as a team and get our seniors a chance to play.”

The Spartans remained unified despite the loss of their season.

“We have been doing weekly Zoom meetings to go over our playbook,” Preston said. “We watched films from last season. We watched replays of 2020 college games and just stayed in touch to keep our spirits and chemistry high. We have used social media to run team challenges all spring to keep ourselves motivated.”

Monmouth Regional baseball coach Paul Crivello said his Falcons took the cancellation hard.

“They are feeling pretty discouraged and down right now, especially the seniors,” he said. “It’s just a very emotional time right now for everyone. I know they were hoping to get an opportunity to prove to everyone that they belonged at the top of their division and the Shore Conference. They were very hungry coming into the preseason excited to show that they could compete with anyone.

“Words can’t express how I feel for these kids and every other high school spring athlete who has had their season taken away from them. It’s a very sad and emotional time for everyone, but in the end it’s completely out of our control and for the best interest and safety of everyone. At first, I probably felt just like every athlete or coach in a way as I thought it was going to get cancelled, but I was really trying to be optimistic that it wouldn’t, especially with my players.

“I thought Gov. Murphy and the NJSIAA did a good job of extending the timeline to give everyone hope and a chance. Unfortunately, now reality has hit and you realize that all the hope and chances are officially gone. So now I feel terrible for all of the athletes, parents and coaches during this difficult time.”

Crivello has faith his seniors will grow in the face of the adversity.

“I feel confident they will become stronger from this experience,” he said, “and although it’s very hurtful right now it will help them become successful in their futures. I truly believe that with this group. I feel very sad and have a lot of empathy for them right now. I have been in touch with them and am grateful to have coached these young men.”

Despite the pandemic, the Falcons managed to stay together.

Their coaching staff used Google Classroom to provide individual workouts on a daily basis. Fielding drills for every position were provided on Mondays and Thursdays. Batting drills took place on Tuesdays and Fridays. Strength and conditioning exercises were done on Wednesdays.

“On top of that,” Crivello said, “we met with our players on Google Meet weekly to talk and focus on Mental Awareness, also to receive feedback on their E-Learning and see how they and their families were doing.”

Crivello said he was impressed with the play of junior first baseman-pitcher Brian Yadlon, junior pitcher Dominick Santaniello, sophomore shortstop Aiden Denton, sophomore outfielder-pitcher Christian Zito and sophomore outfielder-pitcher James Kelly during the Falcons’ preseason.

“The cancellation really impacted our sophomores and juniors,” Crivello said. “They have the ability to play college baseball. This was the year that really could have helped them with getting seen and recruited. On top of that, they would have gained a ton of experience this year by competing at the varsity level. So I know it’s tougher on them right now as far as their futures go.

“In our senior class, there are two players who will play baseball in junior college. They had that idea prior to the season. The cancellation did not impact them as much as it did our sophomores and juniors.”

The Falcons’ scrimmage scheduled for March 13 against traditional power Toms River South was cancelled because of the pandemic.

“We did not get the chance to scrimmage against another team,” Crivello said. “We did, however, get the chance to scrimmage against ourselves. That is always fun and a great evaluation process.”

In football:

No game: The 43rd annual Shore Sports Network All-Shore Gridiron Classic, scheduled for July 15 at Toms River North, has been cancelled because of the pandemic.

It will mark the first summer without a Classic, played for the first time in 1978 at the Wall Stadium Speedway in Wall Township.

The game was to have consisted of the best senior players from Monmouth and Ocean counties. Ocean’s Nasir Thompson and Brian Fisher were the players chosen from The Coaster’s coverage area to play for Monmouth, which leads the series 23-18-1. Monmouth has won the previous three games.

The Classic is scheduled to be played at North on July 14, 2021. The Shore Coaches Football Foundation and the Shore Sports Network partner to stage the game. The Classic has provided contributions to the Challenge Sports League and the 1st Lt. Brian Brennan Stands Alone Foundation.

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