Adapted athletes lose their state showcase

Ben Dilley of the Dakota United CI Division adapted floor hockey team plays the puck during a regular-season game. The Hawks lost their chance to play in the state tournament because of the COVID-19 virus shutdown.

Floor hockey tourney canceled; spring softball season delayed

The early end of the high school winter sports season might have been toughest on adapted floor hockey players, whose state tournament is their one and only showcase.

They play in anonymity during the regular season, with games attended primarily by family members. The state tournament is competition to be sure, but it’s also a chance for players, coaches and parents from throughout the state to mingle and celebrate. That opportunity was lost when the state tournament, scheduled for March 13-14, was canceled because of the COVID-19 virus outbreak.

“It definitely was a weird week,” said Brett Kosidowski, coach of the Dakota United CI Division team. “Right up until the day before the tournament, we thought we were going to play. But, as everybody has said, it was a fluid situation. The last time we practiced I was asked about it and told the players, as far as I know we’re still playing. Then we got the word from the Minnesota State High School League.”

The high school league spent the week looking for ways to save its remaining winter state tournaments amid the rush to close businesses and schools, cancel events and discourage large gatherings in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Options the MSHSL considered included holding events without fans and canceling consolation and third-place games. Ultimately, the MSHSL decided the only option was to cancel all its events, an action taken by almost every other high school association in the country.

One of the MSHSL’s reasons for canceling the floor hockey tournament was concern for the athletes’ potentially compromised immune systems, which is why Kosidowski said he supported the decision.

“We were practicing all the way up until we were told the state tournament was canceled,” said Dakota United PI Division team coach Brett Sadek. “Our kids were disappointed, but I think they also understood this situation was bigger than the state tournament.”

Dakota United, a cooperative program that includes Apple Valley, Eagan, Eastview and Rosemount high schools, is a regular presence at adapted sports state tournaments. The Hawks were the No. 1 seed from the South Conference in the PI (physical impairments) Division tournament. Dakota United’s CI (cognitive impairments) Division team was a No. 4 seed in its tournament. The Burnsville/Farmington/Lakeville Blazing Cats also qualified for state in the CI Division.

Dakota United’s PI Division team finished third in the 2019 floor hockey tournament. Since then, the Hawks have won PI Division championships in softball and soccer, and were 11-2 going into the floor hockey tourney. Both losses were to two-time defending PI Division floor hockey champion Brainerd, although the most recent loss was 5-4.

The Hawks had allowed fewer than two goals a game since a Jan. 21 loss to Brainerd. Chair defender Alex Jorgensen was one of the defensive standouts and players such as Cooper Wilson, Blake Jackson and Samuel Gerten helped lead Dakota United to the adapted soccer championship in the fall.

“We didn’t have a kid like (recent DU star) Grayson Nicolay, who we knew would score several goals a game,” Sadek said, “but we had several kids who could score. We had a balanced team that defended well.”

The CI Division state tourney brackets suggested Dakota United would be underdogs against undefeated Anoka-Hennepin, the top seed from the North Conference. Kosidowski said the Hawks still felt good about their chances. First-round games at the state tournament are crossover matchups between North Conference and South Conference teams, and “in the soccer state tournament, all the South teams won,” Kosidowski said. “I think we were set up to do well in the state tournament because of our numbers. We had 21 kids who were good varsity players, and 30 more on our JV. We had enough for two JV teams.

“It was fun as a coach to have that many kids because you can think about how you’re going to match them up. We had four solid lines, and that would have helped us in the state tournament where you might play three games in 24 hours. We don’t usually do that in the regular season.”

Ten players on the Dakota United CI Division floor hockey team are seniors. A large group returns next season including junior Ashton Parupsky and seventh-grader Greidin Corley, top players on the Hawks’ adapted soccer team from last fall.

Kosidowski is still waiting on word about the adapted softball season. Teams were allowed to begin practice March 2, and they might find out from the MSHSL this week how much longer their season will be on hold.

“What I’ve been hearing is late April at the earliest,” said Kosidowski, who’s head coach of Dakota United’s defending state champion PI Division softball team. “But if we can get it started in late April or early May, hopefully we can salvage the season.”

A few days after Kosidowski spoke on this subject, Gov. Tim Walz issued a new executive order requiring school buildings to close until May 4 (school districts will implement distance learning procedures in the interim). The Minnesota State High School League then announced spring sports would be suspended until the school closure declaration is lifted.

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