On Hold: Local soccer squads staying ready in face of COVID-19 postponement

Photos from file

High school spring sports are a small part of the world that got turned upside down 10 days ago when the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic began. But unlike a lot of aspects of the sports world that were outright cancelled, VISAA and VHSL spring sports were put into a kind of suspended animation, with no finality but also no chance for teams to stick together and practice while they hold onto hope of playing again. 


We reached out to a number of local soccer players and coaches to get an idea of how they’ve handled the announcement that now indicates they won’t play until mid-April at the earliest and what they’ve done while trying to keep hope alive. Considering that Central Virginia produced four state titles last spring — the Charlottesville boys, Albemarle girls and Western boys and girls — there was a lot of optimism and excitement around this spring’s campaign.  


Western Albemarle’s girls squad won its third straight championship last year. With a number of key players back from that squad including midfielder Ellie Cox, goalie Bailey Wood and midfielder Erin Meier, the Warriors were poised to try and defend their state title with a solid lineup that would’ve added several other players to the mix including Cat Domecq who was injured during her freshman campaign last year. The announcement that the year was being put on hold was an emotional moment for everyone involved.


“I was absolutely devastated,” Western’s Molly Gobble, another key component back in the fold for Western, said via email. “As a senior, I was beyond ready to embrace every moment of my last high school season. when i realized that i don’t know how much of my season was being yanked away from me, i would tear up every time.”


Instead of gearing up for games that were scheduled to start already, like everyone else, the Western girls have only been able to work out individually on their own, with fitness and soccer skill training suggestions each day from the Western coaching staff via emails authored by coach Jake Desch and assistant Taylor Holder.


The Western boys were similarly looking to defend their title with standouts including forward Joey Paulson, midfielder Colby Wren, defender Lachlan Murphy and goalie Jack Frey slated to be back, the Warriors would be in strong position to take on a state title defense, even with Charlottesville — who boasts a group led by Malcolm Brickhouse, Oliver Barcia and Said Osman — moving down into Class 3.


“My initial response to the cancellation was disappointment and disbelief,” said Wren, who’s headed to Dickinson College next year to continue his career. “Personally, I’ve been looking forward to this season for four years. I know that a lot of other seniors on the team were really looking forward to making this our team and taking leadership. Having that taken away was hard for us.”


In the meantime, Wren and his teammates have turned to individual workouts. 


“Since then we’ve been training individually and staying in shape and hoping that there’s some change,” Wren said. 


The Albemarle girls squad was set to defend its 2019 state title with key players like Savannah Alexander, Kora Jillions, Madeline St. Amand and Avery Dougald. Dougald, a senior, found some solace in the moment in an optimistic message from coach Amy Sherrill and her teammates.. 


“When I first heard the news I was obviously devastated,” Dougald said via email. “Being a senior is especially challenging because we don’t get a next season if things don’t work out. It is really easy to fall into a pessimistic way of thinking when you face adversity, especially of this level. But my teammates and coaches were very quick to shed light on the situation and come up with a way to combat this challenging time, so my sadness was overcome with optimism almost immediately.”


Fluvanna County may not be defending a state title, but there was a lot of reason for optimism for the Flucos too with Hampden Sydney-bound Emory Davis and fellow senior Bradley Holtz back in the mix. 


“When I first saw (the announcement), I was very surprised and then really disappointed,” Davis said. “I was really ready to play my senior year with some of my friends I’ve been playing with my entire life.”


The unprecedented nature of this postponement of the season and school at the same moment left a lot of coaches scrambling, especially early on. 


“As a school we decided Friday afternoon to cancel and as teachers we have all been at work trying to wrap our brains around the transition towards distance learning,” said Covenant coach Bryan Verbrugge Tuesday via email. “Our strength and conditioning coach gave us some workouts moving forward in hope that we’ll be able to play in April. We’re all hoping the situation will reverse course and we’ll be back in mid April for a good month of soccer.”


Covenant seniors have spent time keeping the squad connected and working out and one of the Eagles’ most experienced players has found a social distancing-friendly way to stay sharp mentally soccer-wise. 


“I’ve been going to the park by my house to shoot and practice and my sister and I have been playing a lot of FIFA,” said Covenant senior Claire McCartney.


Just a week into this postponement, there is still a lot of hope in the local soccer community that the 2020 season is still going to happen.


(I’m) hopeful that proactive measures are being taken so that we can have a season,” said Albemarle girls coach Amy Sherrill. “My outreach to our team has been to stay ready.”


Sherrill points to a quote from U.S. Women’s national team member Ali Krieger: “If you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready.”


Through individual workouts, physical fitness and even a little FIFA, it’s clear that local squads are staying as ready as they can be given the circumstances.