SPORTS

Picking up where we left off

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Last week I began making my rounds to local practices to do some previews, discuss the return of high school athletics, all of that good stuff.

Things went well, it was nice to be back out there and to reconnect with the coaches and athletes, it was great to see kids playing sports and having a good time.

On the drive home though, it hit me. We were back to normal.

Sure, kids have to wear masks, coaches have to do temperature checks, adhere to social distancing, blah, blah, blah. You know the drill.

Note: I am not mocking the restrictions, but we have all gone over them a million times.

Anyway, while driving home, it really hit me how normal things felt. I didn’t feel like I was watching kids go through extensive protocols, I didn’t feel like the flow of the practices or the gameplay of each sport were affected. Pretty much everything felt normal. To be honest with you, I was even having trouble sticking to the COVID-19 topic. It’s obviously important and relevant so I ultimately did, but I really could have found stories within each team completely unrelated to the pandemic.

It was really just a breath of much-needed fresh air. It was a familiar air that I had lost touch with for nearly six months. Sure, Little League and youth sports returned, but of course, you cannot replicate high school sports and that atmosphere.

On the way home, I did not feel like it was my first day back after six months, I did not feel like I had just covered something different, it just felt like another drive home, which was an unbelievable feeling. We are back.

When talking to Toll Gate girls soccer coach Lonna Razza, one thing she said stood out to me. She said that she feels a level of pressure since her team is one of the first clubs back. It is going to be on them to make sure the return of sports gets off on the right foot, and one slip up could spell doom for the winter and spring seasons.

Not to be doom and gloom here, this is as optimistic as I have felt since March, but she is correct in saying that.

I’m sure kids are not thrilled about some of the rule changes and restrictions, in fact, I know they are not after talking to some of them. But it is going to be up to them to make the most of them and to take that first step.

Also, don’t get me wrong, the kids are ecstatic to be back and are happily obliging to the guidelines, I am just saying that it is not a perfect world and they are experiencing that.

So my point being is that I wish the kids the best of luck this fall, I can't wait to cover them, and I am rooting for them to have a great season both on and off the field. As I said in a recent column, it will also be up to spectators and the media to adhere to these rules as well. It really will be a community effort to get things back to the way they used to be. I’m excited to take this first step.

Now, there are plenty of teams that are intriguing to me going into the year, and I will be sure to touch on them in the next couple weeks whether it be covering them or mentioning them in this column.

To start, I want to take a moment to discuss the Bishop Hendricken cross country team.

Two years ago, the Hawks won the state championship and placed fourth at the Nike Nationals. It was one of the greatest accomplishments in the state’s high school sports history.

Last year, the pendulum swung in favor of rival La Salle, who edged the Hawks at states and then had a marvelous performance in Oregon. The Rams are also ranked the No. 2 team in the country heading into the fall.

Like every season, Hendricken faced some roster turnover, including losing individual state champion Luke Henseler. There are still some All-State runners coming back, including captains Evan Reynolds and Ryan Dyer. Coach Jim Doyle has also praised the younger kids in the early going and feels that we could see some underclassmen make an impact.

It will be interesting, I expect it to once again come down to the Hawks and Rams. I mean, I guess I will say the Rams get it done since they are ranked higher and have a few more returners, but it is never wise to count out Hendricken. The Hawks will be ready to go at states, and I can’t wait to see it.

This weekend will feature the opening days for both cross country and girls tennis. Get out there and support your local teams. They could use it now more than ever.

Before I sign off here, one last item I want to touch on.

This past weekend, Patriots quarterback Cam Newton came back down to earth and had a rather weak performance. Sure, the Pats won and all is good in the world. However, I do think we may look back on that performance as a good thing.

Week 1, Newton looked sharp and carried the Patriots offense. Week 2, the Pats fell to the Seahawks, but once again, Newton looked great.

Do I think Newton entered Week 3 cocky? No, but I do think his stock was a little too high and the hype was becoming a real story. I am rooting for Newton to succeed, he’s too talented not to, but I feel like a poor performance pays dividends from time to time.

This week will be the toughest opponent yet: the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.

It will take a perfect outing for Newton and the Pats to win, so let’s see how he bounces back.

sports, pitch

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