May the odds be ever in these athletes’ favor as they continue to navigate a high-school sports landscape with a schedule scorched by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Following cancellation of the remainder of the 2019-20 season, COVID-19 outbreaks continue to mar the prep sports slate — now an absolute free-for-all where no one knows what will happen next.
The seasons have changed so frequently, coaches and parents have to do mental aerobics just to keep track of the madness.
In any normal year, the winter season — which features boys and girls basketball, ice hockey, skiing, girls swimming and diving, and wrestling — would be at full tilt.
This year, however, those won’t start until later, and athletes can’t practice, try out, scrimmage or compete until Jan. 4, 2021, according to Colorado High School Activities Association guidelines.
“It’s hard for us to keep up with what the protocols are on a day-to-day basis,” said Harrison wrestling coach Chris Mason. “Our athletes are dealing with the fear of getting ready and preparing for a season they may not have the ability to participate in.”
The Panthers wrestlers haven’t touched the mats since February, and have resorted to weights and conditioning training to remain fit. Mason understands there’s a challenge in shifting his athletes’ attention.
“Our skills and technique will be rusty,” he said, “but what I feel confident in is since we’ve been in the weight room taking care of our bodies more, we’ll be stronger and have more speed and flexibility on the mat.”
Nestor Torres, a Harrison High School senior wrestler, got creative to keep his mat awareness sharp. Along with extended weight training, Torres said he pores over wrestling clips and UFC bouts to add to his arsenal.
“I started watching videos of Khabib [Nurmagomedov] to see how he moves,” Torres said. “He has great moves, and I look up his wrestling takedowns and tricks to see how he moves. I know my opponents won’t expect what I have in store for them.”
Returning to normal practices isn’t the only obstacle Torres faces. The senior also plays football.
This year, Torres will wrestle first, which might overlap with football. The Panthers play football in Season C — which starts Feb. 25, 2021 — and state wrestling concludes March 6, 2021.
“One of my coaches asked me if I was ready to practice for both sports because right after state [wrestling], it’s going to be our first [football] game the next week,” Torres said. “I’m a guy who likes challenges. I think I’m ready.”
Basketball players can access courts despite the pandemic.
Sierra’s Arianna Reyes took advantage of the luxury to prepare for Season C. The Stallions girls basketball captain said she lifts, does cardio and does dribbling and shooting drills after she finishes her school assignments.
“I know some of the [Stallion] girls aren’t here anymore, but watching our games gives me a heads-up of what to expect this year,” Reyes said. “I get to study how we moved on the court and study teams we might play. Watching and learning how they play helps me prepare for them right now.
“I’ve been ready [to play] since November started. I know I have to do my part to stay in shape so when the season does arrive, I’m ready to go.”
Basketball athletes have other avenues to hone their skills also. Organizations such as Players Like Us Take Over train local athletes in various on-the-court skills.
Lacey Pollard, girls program coach for PLUTO, said the organization seeks to highlight basketball players in Colorado Springs, showing their abilities at their best for collegiate scouts. The club provides coaching and training for ball handling, footwork, passing, post-up work and more, while also adhering to COVID-19 guidelines.
“You have to wear a mask when you enter the building and we honor social distancing as best as possible,” Pollard said. “Of course, when the girls get on the floor they touch. But we encourage them to take care of themselves on and off the court.”
Whether or not the high school season takes place, PLUTO seeks to extract the best from the athletes.
“This is a way to get them in a competitive atmosphere and for them to showcase themselves,” she said. “We’re here to help out, but we want to see how far they’re willing to go so we know how far to push them — so they’re ready.”