BILLERICA — Monday afternoon brought a welcome sight to the Shawsheen Tech campus, as well as many other schools throughout the state of Massachusetts. Instead of the empty athletic fields that have been a common sight throughout the state ever since the cancellation of the spring season and the delay to the start of the fall season, Shawsheen's beautiful new Charles H. Lyons Athletic Complex was bustling with activity, as sports, at least on a limited basis, returned to campus.
It's not perfect. Football is of course still on hold, delayed until the newly implemented "Fall II" season, which will get underway in February, as is volleyball. But for a high school athlete, or fan, or reporter for that matter, Monday was a sight for sore eyes. A beautiful, bright sunny days, and athletic fields filled with high school athletes eager to get their seasons started.
The Shawsheen athletes were undoubtedly feeling a lot of the same things that many athletes throughout the state were feeling, namely a great deal of excitement, mixed with a little trepidation about the uncertainty that lies ahead in what will be an abbreviated fall season.
Stephany Krusper, a senior from Tewksbury, is a member of the Rams Cross Country team. She is also usually a member of the Rams Girls Lacrosse team. That of course was not the case this past spring season, so she is one of many who is very happy to be back with her teammates.
“I am pretty excited, just because I didn’t get to see all of these people in the six months we were gone," Krusper said. "It is a weird adjustment to be back, and especially with the masks and everything, but we are happy that we are getting to have a season.”
Krusper was also sympathetic to those seniors who missed out on their final season in the spring and is grateful to have the opportunity to compete in her senior season.
“Being a senior is very different than being an underclassman, because you have the senior night and things like that, so it is exciting to have that to yourself, and I am looking forward to that," Krusper said.
Many of the athletes are simply looking forward to competing at all, after missing out on that opportunity last spring. For senior Paul Tower of Tewksbury, it is great just to be back after losing out on competing with the Rams Spring Track team. He does, however, also have some concerns
“I am excited to be competing again, but it is a little weird with the mask,” Tower said. “We are supposed to wear them when we are running, unless we are separate enough from each other, so during the races it is going to be kind of weird doing the final sprint with mask on. It is going to be harder.”
Emily Pinto, a senior from Wilmington, had planned on beginning her spring track career this spring after having already three years with the cross country team. Obviously, that did not work out, making her all the more eager for the upcoming season.
“I was really looking forward to spring track and working with (Coach Jeff) McGrath, because I had been working out with him in the preseason,” Pinto said. “So, hopefully we do have that in the spring and hopefully it will be a full season, instead of something cut short like this. I feel very fortunate that I even have a season, even if it is kind of cut short. It is still an opportunity to get one last time in for hopefully all of the sports I do at Shawsheen (swim-and-dive, spring track).”
Despite her eagerness to get started, Pinto does acknowledge that it might take her a little longer to get into top condition this season.
“It was definitely more difficult to get ready for the season. I was prepared for the season, but we didn’t know if we would be starting on time or moving to Fall II or whatever, so it was very hard mentally to get into that state of getting ready for the start of the season,” Pinto said. “The possibility of not having the start of the season was kind of hard.
“Also, I build off the support of my team when I run. It is harder just pushing by myself. But now that we have a season, it will definitely be easier to be more motivated, so I am very happy about that.”
Pinto was not alone in her concerns about a possible slow start. Jessica Scholl of Tewksbury, a senior member of the Rams Girls Soccer team, says that preseason preparation for this season was unlike that of any other.
“It was definitely harder getting ready for the season, because we had a period of time where we were just sitting at home doing nothing,” Scholl said. “It was definitely hard to get back into going out and doing stuff, getting ready for the season.”
But now that the season is actually here, there is no trouble at all getting ready for Scholl or the rest of the Rams.
“It’s good to be back,” Scholl said. “It’s good to see everybody and to have a chance to play soccer, even though it is different because of the pandemic.”
Scholl’s teammate, senior Kayla Ward of Wilmington, shares Scholl’s enthusiasm for the season getting underway, but does also admit to having a harder time getting ready for this season, mainly due to the uncertainty as to whether or not there would be a season.
“It is exciting to me. I know everything is different, but I am just glad we got to play at all, and it looks like we have more games on the schedule than I thought we would have,” Ward said. “For most of the off-season we were just kind of aimlessly getting ready for who knows when. Everything was up in the air, so we did not know anything. But now that we have started it I very exciting.”
One of the biggest issues facing soccer teams this season is the many rules changes to the game, including no shoulder to shoulder contact, no slide tackles and no deliberate heading of the ball, among other things. Both Ward and Scholl acknowledge that there will be a learning curve for the new rules at the start of the season.
“I feel like it could be really hard, because people have their habits because we have been playing soccer for so long,” Ward said. “I feel like we will forget about a lot of the little rules while we are playing the game, so we my get a penalty or something, so that could be hard.”
Scholl added, “I think it is going to be way harder, because the whole concept of soccer is running up to someone and stealing the ball, and making a play, and now you can’t even do that because you have to social distance yourself. It will make defense kind of tough, but I am sure coach will tell us what to do and we will figure it out”
On the Boys Soccer side, the Rams can’t wait for the season to get started, although they know it will be a different season than they have seen in the past.
Devin Almeida of Wilmington is a senior with the Rams Boys team. While he doesn’t play a spring sport at Shawsheen, he did miss out on his club soccer spring season this year due to the pandemic.
“We’re excited. It is definitely different, but we are looking forward to it,” Almeida said.
Fellow senior Joe Hansen of Wilmington also missed out on his club soccer season, but he is eager to make up for lost time with the Rams this fall.
“I have been dying to get back on the field, ever since they canceled my (club soccer) season in the spring,” Hansen said. “I usually play soccer all year round, so it has been a struggle with everything going on. But I am super excited to get back going for one last year and play with everyone again. It should be good.”
Another Wilmington senior, Tyler Newhouse, missed out on his season with the Rams Tennis team this past spring, but like Hansen he is looking forward to making up for lost time.
“I was disappointed to miss out on tennis, but it feels good to be back playing soccer again and we are just excited to get going,” Newhouse said.
He also dispelled any notion that his team might have trouble getting up for the season with no state tournament berth to play for.
“We will still be playing to win every game,” Newhouse said. “I know there is no tournament, but we will still come out and give one hundred percent whether we are playing for the tournament or not.”
Tyler Archibald, a senior from Wilmington may have summed it up best in describing the opportunity he and his teammates, as well as all Shawsheen athletes have in front of them this season.
“It’s awesome to be back and see all the kids. We have to stay six feet apart, but that’s good enough for me,” Archibald said. “It is definitely a blessing to be back for senior year. I would have really missed not being back at school and not being able to play soccer with my teammates. I can’t wait for the season to start.”