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‘Sports is everything for me’: Local high school athletes react to canceled spring season

  • Dylan Vaillancourt, Mascenic baseball. “There’s people that have it a lot worse than I do,” Vaillancourt said. “I’m blessed.” Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Abby Drew, Conant track and field. “After I had my surgery and was back to sports with no brace on, I worked out every day to get back in shape for track season, and now it’s gone,” Drew said. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Taylor Burgess, ConVal tennis. “The worst part about all of this is that I played my last athletic sporting event without even knowing it,” Burgess said.  Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Julia Donovan, ConVal lacrosse. “Sports is everything for me,” Donovan said. “As a teen with ADHD, it’s difficult having an offseason.”  Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Marina McMahon, ConVal lacrosse. “This is definitely really sad,” McMahon said. “I am heartbroken over it, but I am thankful that my family and friends are healthy.” Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Abby Dowling, WLC softball. “This year we were coming back to defend our championship for softball,” Dowling said. “I’ve been practicing all year and looking forward for another go at attempting to keep it.” Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Lily Bower, Conant tennis. “Tennis season was something I’ve been looking forward to all year,” Bower said. “And to know that I won’t get to play with my team this year is truly devastating!” Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Alleigh Lapinsky, Conant track. “As a sophomore, I’m really upset that I can’t have this season with the team that I love like a family,” Lapinsky said. “When the seniors leave, it’ll be so much different, and I don’t have that last spring track season with them.” Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Avery McClain, Mascenic softball. “As a senior, it really hurts to know our last season came and went without us ever getting to step onto the field,” McClain said. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The ConVal girls’ lacrosse team huddles during a game in spring of 2018. Local high school athletes were devastated after the 2020 spring season was canceled. Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 4/19/2020 9:03:56 AM

The moment dreaded across the state finally came Thursday afternoon, as the NHIAA officially canceled the spring high school sports season on the heels of Gov. Chris Sununu’s decision to continue remote learning for the remainder of the school year.

Mascenic baseball coach Jalen Rines said he was holding out hope for a spring season right up until Thursday’s announcement, as NHIAA executive director Jeff Collins was doing everything in his power to get kids on the field if at all possible.

“He was pushing for it,” Rines said. “That’s the only hope we had.”

But, minutes after Sununu’s announcement came Collins’; the high school athletics year, as it turned out, had ended unceremoniously back on March 12, with the winter tournaments incomplete and spring still a glimmer.

“I feel horrible for the kids,” Rines said. “I couldn’t imagine it. I was at high school games when I was four years old, watching my dad coach. It’s all I’ve ever known.”

As the NHIAA began shutting down athletic competition to slow the spread of the coronavirus in mid-March, Rines himself was starting to feel the symptoms of COVID-19; he’d test positive and ride it out at home in quarantine.

“I guess I was lucky,” Rines said, “because you see how bad it is affecting other people.”

But after that experience, it was back to preparing for the baseball season, where the Vikings hoped to ride the momentum of the school’s three state championship appearances this school year.

“We did have a lot of expectations because soccer, volleyball, basketball all made it to the finals,” Rines said.

Mascenic looked good, with ace pitcher Shea Zina looking to wow some scouts in his junior year, lone senior Dylan Vaillancourt holding down the infield and nearly every starter from last year’s young team returning.

“Catcher was our biggest thing [to replace],” Rines said. “I guess we don’t have to worry about it now.”

Vaillancourt, a fiery competitor, has been remarkably level-headed throughout his senior year, with all its joys and tribulations. He and the Vikings were a sudden-death shot away from a soccer championship in the fall and a few hours away from playing in a basketball championship in the winter; now, his high school career is over, his final game already a month behind him.

“It kinda stinks, but it’s nothing compared to what people are suffering through right now with this virus,” Vaillancourt said. “I would rather look at it as them keeping us safe and looking out for us ya know?... It’s just a bad situation and complaining about it isn’t gonna make it go away. There’s people that have it a lot worse than I do. I’m blessed.”

Despite missing out on his senior season, Vaillancourt said he hopes baseball is always part of his life, through helping out at practices and coaching youth teams, to spread his passion to a new generation.

“The love for baseball is dying across America and I want to fight it,” Vaillancourt said.

High school athletes around the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript’s coverage area saw the spring season they prepared for all year go up in smoke.

Conant senior Abby Drew missed the entire winter ice hockey season after surgery put her in a walking boot. She was cleared to return to athletics in time for spring track, where she is a back-to-back long jump state champion and school record-holder.

“After I had my surgery and was back to sports with no brace on, I worked out every day to get back in shape for track season, and now it’s gone,” Drew said. “It’s sad to say I won’t be able to play one of my favorite sports. No more big team piles, taking naps during meets, rolling our muscles out till we can’t walk, singing to our favorite songs on the bus, making new friends from new schools... I’m going to miss all my teammates and going to miss all of the memories that we would be making already.”

ConVal senior Taylor Burgess knows he had a successful high school career as a member of the back-to-back champion boys’ soccer team and this winter’s awarded co-champion boys’ basketball team. However, he said, he had his sights set higher. With expectations high for the Cougar boys’ tennis team, returning their entire ladder of strong players, a state championship was not out of the question – which would make Burgess perhaps the only athlete in ConVal history to win three championships in one school year (fellow senior Del Bonsu-Anane could have equaled the feat with an individual sprinting championship in track this spring).

“Despite the fact that I was so close to another incredible accomplishment, the worst part about all of this is that I played my last athletic sporting event without even knowing it,” Burgess said. “I understand that this has to be done, but I would do anything to finish basketball and complete the tennis season with the boys.”

ConVal junior Julia Donovan is a three-season athlete who has played soccer, volleyball, basketball and lacrosse in her high school career.

“Sports is everything for me,” Donovan said. “As a teen with ADHD, it’s difficult having an offseason.” Normally, Donovan would go straight from the winter basketball season into spring lacrosse and then into summer basketball and preseason volleyball; this spring, she’s been at home, restlessly remote learning and awaiting a decision on ConVal’s lacrosse season.

“It has taken away an outlet for me to let my energy out,” Donovan said. “I find myself with a lot more energy on my hands at home. There are also so many more distractions at home, making it hard to focus on school.”

ConVal senior Marina McMahon did it all in her high school career – cross-country, track, skiing – but this year, it was all about that final spring lacrosse season.

“The girls’ lacrosse team was going to be a playoff team this season,” McMahon said. “We had a lot of talent and a lot of hard work put in during the offseason. We were all really excited.”

Junior teammate Emily Donovan had her hopes similarly high.

“I was very excited for this spring season in particular because I had a feeling we were going to be great this season!” she said.

But like every other high school team, the Cougar girls won’t find out how good they could have been and how far they could have gone.

“This is definitely really sad,” McMahon said. “I am heartbroken over it, but I am thankful that my family and friends are healthy. I especially feel for all the seniors who really looked forward to this season. ConVal girls’ lacrosse has easily been the highlight of high school for me, and I am grateful for all the support from my coaches and am very thankful that I played three great seasons with the team.”

Abby Dowling of Wilton-Lyndeborough, who won a softball state championship as a middle-schooler last spring and hoped to lead a title defense with her dad Scott as new head coach this year, said the news was “really upsetting.”

“This year we were coming back to defend our championship for softball,” Dowling said. “I’ve been practicing all year and looking forward for another go at attempting to keep it.”

Mascenic freshman Michael Ferullo has to wait another year to try out for the Vikings’ baseball team.

“Pretty mad about no baseball,” Ferullo said. “First year in high school, and if I made the team, woulda been a hell of a year.”

Conant sophomore Kaia Colby was looking forward to competing for the Orioles in both track and tennis this spring.

“It honestly breaks my heart that our seniors aren’t able to compete their last time,” Colby said. “We were so hopeful for this season. Tennis and track were going to be the best and we were going to show other teams what we have to make a name for ourselves.”

Tennis teammate Lily Bower said she wanted to improve upon last year’s finish, a Division III semifinal loss to eventual champs St. Thomas.

“I’m heartbroken to know that my sophomore year tennis season has been canceled,” Bower said. “This was gonna be our year. We came so close to winning the championship last year. We were ready to work even harder than last year and do everything it takes. Tennis season was something I’ve been looking forward to all year. And to know that I won’t get to play with my team this year is truly devastating!”

Conant sophomore Alleigh Lapinsky and the Oriole track team were primed for what could have been a monumental season given the well-rounded depth of both the girls’ roster, who’d finished third in the division last year, and the boys, who were a couple footfalls away from an all-time finish in cross-country last fall.

“As a sophomore, I’m really upset that I can’t have this season with the team that I love like a family,” Lapinsky said. “When the seniors leave, it’ll be so much different, and I don’t have that last spring track season with them. I know how upset they are too, not being able to have that last chance to make a difference, to get some medals, to win, and most of all, have fun. It’s more than just the sport, it’s about the memories, the team, the coaches, the fun times and even the times you were disappointed. For the seniors, they don’t get their last sports awards night, and they barely even got recognized for their awards during winter sports. They were just handed to them and there was no celebrating, no hugging of teammates. So yes, I’m not loving that we don’t get that this season. There is no season.”

Mascenic senior Avery McClain was looking for one last shot at redemption on the softball diamond this spring. The perennially dangerous Vikings ended their previous four seasons with heartbreak in the postseason; this year, heartbreak came in April.

“As a senior, it really hurts to know our last season came and went without us ever getting to step onto the field,” McClain said.

But just as the spring flowers fight their way out from underneath an April snowstorm, hope springs eternal even in the darkest times.

“The underclassmen have a lot of talent though and I can’t wait to see them back out on the field again next year,” McClain said.

“It is what it is I guess,” Colby said. “It gives underclassmen more time to hone their skills and technique for next year. Other teams will be looking out for us next year, believe it.”

“All I can say is, I’m going to keep running,” Lapinsky said, “keep what I have, so I’ll be ready for fall sports.”

“It’s unfortunate, but there’s always next year,” Dowling said. “It just means we get to hold it down another year and hopefully bounce back twice as hard to fight for our title!”

“The only positive is that I know we’re still going to be good next year,” Rines said.


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