Champlin Park softball is one of many teams that lost a promising season before it began.
The Rebels came into 2020 with high expectations after taking runner-up in the 5AAAA section and having the winningest season in school history last year, but the COVID-19 pandemic crept into the United States with the first confirmed case in February, and less than a month later, the side effects of stay-at-home orders were felt with the cancellation of all Minnesota State High School League spring athletics and activities.
For softball, this week would have been the beginning of the section tournaments with the state tournament scheduled for June 4 and June 5 at Caswell Park in Mankato.
Champlin Park had a strong returning class despite the graduation of now Miami-Ohio University freshman and All-State selection Holly Blaska.
Seniors Abby Gilk, Hannah Noah, Emma Berge, Piper Otto, Molly Trullinger and Leah Jones; juniors Lexi Steffes, Erin Reardon, Kiarra Harris and Taylor Kordiak; and sophomore Alyssa Blaska and Riley Leonhardt were all expected to help lead the Rebels, which entered the season as one of the favorites to compete for titles in both the Northwest Suburban Conference and the section.
“They worked really, really hard and had positioned themselves to be one of the top teams in the state obviously,” Woodley said.
There were around 1.43 million confirmed cases and over 85,000 deaths in the United States as of May 13, and those numbers are rising.
In Minnesota, there were over 15,000 confirmed cases and over 700 deaths as of May 18.
To help limit the spread, there were several steps taken, including the closing of in-person learning at schools. And that led to lost spring seasons around the state.
It began in March when the MSHSL first canceled the last few days of state girls basketball, all of state boys basketball and adapted state floor hockey, and the next few weeks brought the suspension of spring athletics and activities.
That lasted for about a month until everything was officially called off on April 23.
During that month of unknown, Woodley said that the coaches and players held out hope until the end that the season could have a modified schedule.
Woodley had constant contact with players, and when the official cancellation came, it was a sad feeling.
They did have a couple of Google meetings to see each other face-to-face following the announcement, but it was tough even with most of them knowing that it was most likely coming.
“It is really devastating for those seniors but also the kids that were a part of this team as section runner-up,” Woodley said. “And now looking at it to the situation where they very well should have competed to get back to that section final again and possibly have gotten to state for the first time in school history.”
Champlin Park had all pitchers returning in Otto, Leonhardt and Trullinger. Otto allowed 26 earned runs on 87 hits and 39 walks and struck out 110 in 111 and 1/3 innings.
Leonhardt allowed 30 earned runs on 41 hits and 20 walks and struck out 25 in 31 innings. Trullinger allowed five earned runs on 24 hits and six walks and struck out four in 19 innings.
Woodley said that Otto, who is going to the NCAA Division III Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter for softball, was ready to compete at a high level, and Leonhardt worked hard in the offseason to get ready to pitch. Trullinger was another pitcher who worked hard and was ready to contribute.
Noah completed the battery as the catcher and Woodley said she was one of the better catchers in the area. She is headed to the NCAA Division III College of St. Benedict to play softball in the fall.
Offensively, the Rebels had a lot of firepower coming back.
Gilk, who played third base, belted out seven home runs last season and was 33-for-82 with eight doubles, two triples, 29 RBIs and 27 runs scored. She was expected to be one of the top hitters again and is headed to NCAA Division II Augustana University (Sioux Falls, South Dakota) on a full-ride softball scholarship.
Berge, an outfielder, had two home runs and was 27-for-90 with six doubles, a triple, 22 RBIs and 19 runs scored.
Reardon was 29-for-79 with six doubles, 13 RBIs and 13 runs scored. Alyssa Blaska was 41-for-86 this season with nine doubles, a triple, a home run, 21 RBIs and 23 runs scored.
For the six seniors, they finish their high school careers without playing a game in their final year. Woodley said he is going to miss their leadership and seeing how hard they work every day.
“The tough part is that the younger kids will not be able to see what these girls do on a daily basis and how hard they work to become leaders in their craft and how good of a player that they came due to their hard work they put in and their effort,” Woodley said.
There is still a strong core expected to come back in 2021 with six players that helped last season, and Woodley said that they continue to work out and are doing what they can in their backyards and houses.
Woodley said they are focused and know what it means to win, but there are still some question marks with whether any summer seasons will happen. He also feels for the players in the recruiting process that are losing a year of work to be noticed by colleges.
“They’ve watched Holly and Abby and some of these other kids growing up, and so they do have that knowledge of what it does take to be highly competitive,” Woodley said. “The hope is that they will be able to get their summer seasons in and they will be able to get the work in that they need to be highly competitive.
“Hopefully, we will be able to put it all together again next year.”