Lexi Rodriguez and the rest of the Sterling volleyball team will get a chance to win their third straight Class 3A state title, but it won't come until the spring of 2021 after the IHSA moved volleyball, football and boys soccer out of the fall season and into the spring for the upcoming school year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lexi Rodriguez and the rest of the Sterling volleyball team will get a chance to win their third straight Class 3A state title, but it won't come until the spring of 2021 after the IHSA moved volleyball, football and boys soccer out of the fall season and into the spring for the upcoming school year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

If these were normal times, Lucas Healy would be a couple of weeks away from starting soccer practice.

These are not normal times. These are the days of pandemic, when everything has been upended and, instead of preparing for the next soccer season in the heat of August, he and the Dixon Dukes will be preparing in what might be the snowy, blustery days of late February.

"It will add to the fun of it, but I'm sure it will hurt the day after," Healy said.

For football and volleyball players as well, the wait for next season will be longer than they thought as those sports now are pushed to the spring.

Golden Warriors volleyball coach Dale Dykeman is thankful there will be a season, even if it has to wait.

"We just want a chance," Dykeman said. "We just want to go out and play and do that. If we have to play in late winter and early spring, that's when we'll play. These kids are competitors. You tell them when to compete, they're going to show up and compete."

Forreston football coach Kyle Zick also is thankful that there will be a season.

"That alone is great," Zick said. "I think it will bring challenges, but looking at the alternative, I think all coaches in the area will be fine with playing in perhaps cold weather to start, maybe a lot of snow. That's a better option than not playing at all."

The IHSA would not commit 100% to there being a state tournament, although the association said it would do everything it could to schedule one on a sport-by-sport basis.

For some athletic directors, there still are unanswered questions.

"The two sports, cross country and golf, I told them 'You're on, you can just keep going.' What they've been doing, they can continue to do within the restrictions and guidelines," Rock Falls athletic director Rich Montgomery said.

"I told the other coaches, they should probably just shut down and then after Labor Day, which is the next time we can start contact days, by then we'll have clarification on what can take place."

There even are questions remaining about what exactly a spring football season might look like.

"What I'm reading from the IHSA is that there would be seven regular season games," Dixon coach Jared Shaner said. "So obviously there's still some question marks there that I know will be answered in time. Will those all be conference games? Will they be district-format games? Are we responsible for scheduling them? Will the IHSA do it?"

Shaner also pointed out that in a lot of the traditional spring sports, teams are lucky to get outside a few times a week early in the season, when the snow lingers and games and practices can get rained or snowed out. That is what football and boys soccer teams will face in spring 2021.

That makes Sterling AD Greg King thankful for the turf field at Roscoe Eades Stadium and Newman AD Mike Papoccia thankful for its indoor multipurpose gym.

"I know what spring softball and baseball's about. You're lucky if you go 2 days in a week without rain," Papoccia said. "It's going to make it interesting."

Should things go back to normal for the 2021-22 school year, that leaves football players wrapping up one season in May, attending summer camps and seven-on-sevens in July, and heading back onto the field for the next season just months after wrapping up the last one.

"It's going to be different," Zick said. "I have no concept of what strain that's going to put on kids, the community, coaches, coaches' wives. You're going to go straight through, because you're still going to do the spring [sports] seasons in the summer, and so it is going to be different. … but if that's the dilemma we're facing in June, that's a good problem to have, because it means we got to play football."

Some fall sports are on as scheduled, although coaches and athletes in golf, cross country, girls swimming and girls tennis will have to adapt to some changes. It is likely that some of the larger meets will have to be dropped from the schedule.

"Right now, I would doubt we would have any big invites," Montgomery said. "Everything's going to be, for cross country it will be duals at best."

The limitations on larger events could extend into the winter sports. Bigger wrestling invitationals might not be possible, and the major holiday tournaments in basketball might be off.

Schedules also are going to need to be rethought, with some of the longer nonconference road trips having to be called off and athletic directors having to reconfigure things.

"That will be priority No. 1 beginning [Thursday] morning for me," Shaner said. "We do travel outside our COVID region, as well as outside of our conference, primarily for cross country.

"We've been very fortunate to have good coaching and good kids for quite a while and competed in Peoria and other places, and we won't be able to do that, so I'll have to start getting with coaches and calling other schools."

For a lot of teams, the restrictions will mean some changes in who they play in other ways as well.

Sterling, for example, was travel to Iowa to face North Scott. That football game can't happen now, since Sterling's season is going to begin months after North Scott's will end.

"They're down to a seven-game schedule [in Iowa] but they can schedule more if they want to," King said. "They wanted to play and we wanted to play, but it's not going to be an option now."

Sterling's volleyball team was planning a trip to a high-level tournament in Nebraska as well as a trip to Pleasant Valley in Iowa. Those trips also are off.

As much change as there was for the schedule, many area athletic directors saw the silver lining in the IHSA's plan.

"The biggest thing is, our kids are going to have an opportunity to participate," King said. "That's the best part about it. Is it ideal? No. It's kind of frustrating when states around us are going on with their seasons, but it is what it is."

Healy also plays for the Dukes boys tennis team in the spring, and will see his junior season in that sport run through May and June next year; he also plays basketball.

"Busy from January on," he said.

For more local news, visit SaukValley.com at https://www.saukvalley.com.

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