The coronavirus pandemic has turned the world upside down.
Take Rick Arnao for example.
“I should be at a game,” the Neptune High School athletics director said, “but here I am in a parking lot with a mask on. This whole thing is crazy.”
Local high school programs have felt the pain and inconvenience unleashed by the illness, which has resulted in the closing of New Jersey schools through at least May 15. Gov. Murphy ordered the closure. The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, the governing body of public and non-public high school sports in the Garden State, issued a statement regarding the situation.
“We have models in place that allow for competition starting as late as May 25, but given the late starting date, tournament play may not be viable,” the NJSIAA said on its website. “Our commitment to conclude the spring season no later than June 30 stands. As the governor noted, we remain hopeful. The return-to-school date and related public health guidelines will continue to determine the viability of a spring sports season.
“As noted, the NJSIAA is committed to doing whatever is possible to provide New Jersey’s student-athletes with some type of spring sports season.”
Arnao said the Scarlet Fliers are using technology to keep their teams sharp.
“Our programs are doing things online,” he said, “and our coaches are keeping in touch with their players.”
Arnao said his teams are unhappy they are not playing.
“Everyone is disappointed,” he said, “but we understand what we have to do. Everyone is in the same boat. Our athletes are very disappointed. Our kids have worked very hard to prepare for their junior and senior years.”
Arnao said Neptune will follow Murphy’s lead.
“We are just waiting for Governor Murphy to tell us what’s next,” Arnao said. “We are playing the wait and see game. The virus is going to do what it’s going to do. People just have to respond accordingly. We want to be optimistic, but we have to be realistic. We all want these kids to play. They are still sitting on the sidelines.”
The pandemic altered the training of the Ocean Township boys lacrosse team.
“As a coaching staff, we have been sending the boys Wall Ball workouts and running and weight lifting plans as well as doing a weekly Zoom meeting where we break down film and discuss individual drills that players can work on at home,” he said. “It is not the same thing as being out on the field and preparing the boys for either a game or a tournament, but we are making the best of a difficult situation.”
The Spartans practiced six times before school closed. The team was scheduled to scrimmage Jackson Liberty on the day school closed.
“We were looking very strong in the practices and were ready to put our team to the test in the first scrimmage,” Preston said. “We wish we could have gotten that one scrimmage in so we could have seen what our team looked like in a game setting.”
Preston said junior captains Logan Bianchi, a defender;, junior midfielder Dale Alto and goalie Garrett Schwab, junior defenders Dan Mayo, Johnny Aldarelli and Ryan Savage, senior defender Jarrett Hauck, junior midfielder Josh Thurman, senior midfielder Jack Nies, junior attackmen Hyatt Lowe and Hunter Lowe and sophomore attackman Michael Terry impressed during the practices.
“Well,” Alto said, “as negative as it may come across for everyone, I still try to find the light and take a few shots in my yard. I am fortunate to have had a wall built for me by some friends of mine.We are all pretty down as we were super pumped for the season, which most likely will be cancelled. We have only three seniors on the team, but I feel extremely sorry for them as they may not get the chance to step on the field this year.”
Ocean senior midfielder Nick Fazio said he is surprised at the size of the pandemic.
“I knew of the virus, but I did not think it would be this big,” he said. “I was sad and angry at first when school was closed as I worked so hard during the off season. I trained and watched highlights of college games to learn more of the game. When the colleges cancelled their seasons, I got really worried as I did not know if we would go back on the field or not.
“In way, it gets grimmer and grimmer, but I try to remain optimistic. The Zoom meetings help a lot. I do my schoolwork to keep my mind off things. Even if we don’t go back, I enjoyed my four years. Playing lacrosse for Ocean is something I will never forget. Our season may be over, but the memories will last forever. The health of the world is more important than a lacrosse season. I think about that each day.”
Preston said coaching the Spartans in a non-traditional manner has not been easy.
“This is not what we sign up for when we look forward to our spring season,” he said. “All you want to do is get back on the field with your guys and get back to work. We were excited to see our team improve this season and challenge some of the better Shore Conference teams.
“Each week that goes by, the more we miss the field, the team–and the game. We try and remain optimistic that we will get back on the field together this spring, but we know the decision is out of our hands. We will continue to stay in shape mentally and physically and prepare for whatever might happen. If the spring season does not end up happening, we will absolutely take part In a summer tournament to make sure we get a chance to play.”
Preston said he agreed with the closure of school.
“The most important thing is the safety and health of the players and their families,” he said. “The state did absolutely the right thing. It has impressed me so much to see ow the boys have faced this adversity and grown from it individually and as a team. The players have scheduled Zoom meetings where they watch replays of NCAA lacrosse games from this season. They have done virtual challenges with each other to keep up the chemistry and enthusiasm of the team.”
Ocean girls lacrosse coach Heather Krueger said she misses guiding the Spartans in her traditional manner.
“Lacrosse is my favorite sport to be a part of and coach and it is disappointing to miss this time with my players,” she said. “They have worked so hard to prepare for the season and to have it cut short is upsetting. Not only do I miss coaching, but I miss the memories and experiences of coaching the team in the usual manner.”
Krueger said she has maintained contact with the team via Messaging, Google Classroom and Twitter.
“We have also set up challenges with other Ocean Township High School teams, sharing spirit days and game day quotes,” she said.
Krueger said the Spartans got together prior to the school’s closure.
“We had six practices,” she said. “Most of the practices were tryouts. There were no scrimmages.”
Krueger said senior midfielder Taylor Herr, freshman midfielders Jane Alto, Ellie Martle, and Jordan Dobin, junior goalie Amber Kilroy, senior attack Allison Stuppi, junior attack Margaret Mulvaney and sophomore defender Liz Krenkel impressed during the Spartans’ workouts.
“Promising freshmen were brought up to our varsity team,” Krueger said. “They looked to make an impact on our varsity squad. I would love to have the opportunity to meet with the team for at least one more time to give it closure on the season, especially the seniors. I would love to have them receive the opportunity to play in one final game of their careers. I think that would mean a lot to them.”
Herr has signed a National Letter of Intent to play for the Wagner College women’s team.
“It is really weird and it’s sad to process that my senior season might be gone,” she said. “This pandemic could impact the statistics of the other girls as they try to build their stats to be recruited for college. I am in the best case scenario as I will be at Wagner. I feel badly for the other girls who are trying to be recruited to play in college.”
Herr said the Spartans are optimistic the season will resume.
“We are all pretty hopeful we will have some sort of a season,” she said. “We are trying to stay positive.”
Herr said she feels the closure of school is justified.
“The people who closed school know it was the right decision,” she said. “It does stink as it’s my senior year. It’s sad it had to happen, but those who made the decision are working in the best interests of all of us. This is something bigger than all of us.”
Stuppi said she misses the experiences of playing lacrosse.
“It’s tough as you always look forward to your senior year the most,” she said. “We were developing close relationships and looking forward to game days and team dinners. I am bummed about missing my senior year. The mood of the team is pretty positive. We send conditioning and other workouts to each other. They include stick skills. We text each other to see if everything is OK. The team is still communicating, which is pretty important.”
Stuppi said she is in favor of schools being closed.
“If school reopens, parents will be concerned with their children being in classrooms full of kids,” she said. “I don’t know if that will work. I am trying to stay positive and keep myself going each day.”
Stuppi, who also played field hockey for the Spartans, won the Shore Conference Girls Sportsmanship Award for the 2019-20 school year. She said she will attend either Clemson University or Indiana University. The aspiring psychology major hopes to play lacrosse and field hockey at the club level.
“I feel pretty thankful that I was given so many opportunities to win this award,” she said. “I am thankful to say the least. It is not easy to practice good sportsmanship. I think about my younger teammates and try to set a good example. My mentality on the field sets an example. One of the toughest things is to maintain a good attitude as games can get crazy, especially when there is a big rivalry. You have to maintain stability. That is really important. I try to focus on staying strong mentally and on the basics of the game to win the game.
“Being a good sport is not easy.”
Trinity Hall girls softball coach Bob O’Brien said his Monarchs have worked with Zoom from his house.
“We use Zoom to conduct team meetings,” he said. “We have had Zoom sessions with the athletes from CBA (Christian Brothers Academy). We meet with their spring athletes and talk about motivation and nutrition. Our kids are on Zoom four days per week. We talk about different situations in the game. Our pitchers talk about what goes through their minds so that our hitters will know what pitchers think about. We do Zumba workouts so that the girls have fun and stay together as a team.
“We want to keep the girls engaged.”
O’Brien said his team practiced for several days before school closed.
“We had five or six practices with the girls,” he said, “and then it was over. The mood of the team is a mixed bag. Some of the girls have handled the situation well. They are upbeat. Some are down in the dumps and don’t want to be on Zoom.”
O’Brien said the Monarchs, who were 13-11 a year ago and set the program’s single-season wins record, hoped for another winning season.
“I am holding up fine,” he said, “but I wish we were playing. We were going to have a good team this year. During the first five days of practice, our girls said, ‘We will build on what we did last year.’ I am retired (from private business) so I was looking forward to spending time on the field with the girls. I am really missing it, but you have to be positive with the girls. I would much rather be out there throwing batting practice and showing the girls how to hit. No question about that.
“A lot of people are going through disappointing times. It’s part of the learning process.”