DULUTH – The dance and volleyball teams shared the gym at Lincoln Park Middle School, while the boys’ soccer team scrimmaged on the field outside. A few miles down the road, Denfeld High School’s football team was doing sprints on its home turf.
Despite uncertainty looming over fall sports teams across the state Tuesday morning, students at this West Duluth high school of 1,000 showed up in swarms for their summer workouts and practices.
Many coaches and players said they’ve seen better preseason turnouts this July and August than most any other year in recent memory.
“These kids had been locked inside for so long,” said Pete Stasiuk, the Denfeld volleyball coach. He started holding nine-person training sessions with his players in late June, spending more than four hours on the court each morning to work with them in COVID-approved small groups.
But just when the year was starting to feel more normal, senior volleyball captain Alli Ahlers learned via Minnesota State High School League action that she will spend an autumn without her favorite sport for the first time since seventh grade.
“We’re all pretty bummed,” she said of the league’s decision delay the volleyball season until March. Ahlers later added that she will enjoy getting to watch friends play soccer for the first time.
Many questions remain, said Tom Pearson, the Denfeld athletic director. Will the sports playing this fall have a postseason? How will busing work? Will multisport athletes run into conflicts?
“Your schedule is going to have to be completely blown up,” Pearson yelled to Mike Scrignoli, the Hunters cross-country coach. His team was scheduled to attend a big meet in Milaca this year, but now it will only be able to race against two teams at a time at most.
“I’ll be perfectly honest, I’m just happy we get to do something,” Scrignoli said. “We’re not going to sit here and sulk.”
Scott Anderson gathered the boys’ soccer team’s pinnies for their daily wash. Nobody touched his cones Tuesday, so he didn’t have to sanitize them one-by-one like he sometimes does.
Anderson’s team lost in a section championship last fall and he has high hopes for the upcoming season, with most starters returning.
“This season can affect what I do after high school,” said Owen Wilcox, a senior.
Erik Lofald, the Denfeld football coach, said he wouldn’t be surprised if some of his players showed up at soccer tryouts. He and Hunters baseball coach already posted on social media that they planned to work together to make sure no one is forced to choose between the two sports in the spring.
“Whatever you want to do, we’ll help make it happen. You’ll all be beasts after all the extra time in the weight room,” he said, pointing to the younger players at Tuesday’s workout. “Future beast. Future beast. Future beast.”
The Duluth weather in March could make for snowy practices, but on this sunny August afternoon that seemed far off.
“We’ve got to ask ourselves: How do we respond? How do we become better from this?” Lofald said. “I want to break it down. Hunter Pride breakdown.”
The team put their fists together, cheered quickly, then returned to practice for the unusual season now months away.