A-K Valley teams disappointed, not shocked by high school sports shutdown

Thursday, December 10, 2020 | 7:46 PM

Over the past few weeks, coaches, athletes and administrators from around the Alle-Kiski Valley have been battling the unknown.

With the coronavirus pandemic looming large and cases continuing to spike in Allegheny and Westmoreland County, the outlook for the winter sports looked bleak and teams were preparing for the worst.

On Thursday, there was no more unknown. Gov. Tom Wolf shut down all sports at public and private schools and club, travel, recreational and intramural teams until Jan. 4.

“I told (players) that there was a good chance that we were going to get shut down, so we were kind of prepared for it,” Springdale boys basketball coach Aaron Epps said. “Our kids are a little disappointed, obviously, because they are ready to go and they’ve been practicing a lot without games, but to be honest, I think it is in the best interest to move it back.”

Wolf’s announcement was the news that everyone had braced for but didn’t want to hear. Since Nov. 20, teams have been preparing for the upcoming season, knowing that at some point the season could get postponed.

Teams couldn’t just sit back, though. If there was a chance they could play, they had to get in shape and prepare for the upcoming season if they still wanted to be able to compete.

“Something we’ve always tried to relay to our players is it’s always a one-day-at-a-time mentality, and this situation kind of fit right in there,” Fox Chapel boys basketball coach Zach Skrinjar said. “We stressed every day that you never know when this season could be taken. So, we attacked every day and approached every day like it could be our last game or practice and put forth the effort we could.”

The news came on the brink of the winter sports season starting Friday. Several teams were slated to play in tipoff basketball tournaments or wrestle in tournament settings. Now, with the new restrictions going into effect on Saturday, all of that is up in the air.

Kiski Area girls basketball coach Nick Dizon confirmed that his school’s boys and girls basketball games would not be played Friday. It was the day they’ve been preparing for, but now, without being able to practice, the Cavaliers will have to adjust their approach.

“We’re going to make sure we’re still doing the right things,” Dizon said. “There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and we are going to get to play. This isn’t the end of the world. Us dwelling on something we can’t control isn’t going to change the situation. We can learn to adapt and figure out the best way for us to remain ready to go. We’re going handle this like we’ve handled everything else up to this point.”

The shutdown affects some of the year’s biggest wrestling tournaments.

The Monroeville Mat Madness wrestling tournament, scheduled for Friday and Saturday at the Monroeville Convention Center was cancelled.

Tournament and organizer Frank Vulcano said he was disappointed that Gov. Tom Wolf didn’t make this decision Monday. Vulcano is also the Canon-McMillan athletic director.

“I’m disappointed he made the call the night before winter sports were to begin,” Vulcano said. “A lot of planning and time was spent to make sure things were in order. It doesn’t seem fair for the athletes.”

The three-week shutdown also affects the Powerade and Southmoreland Holiday tournaments that were scheduled for Dec. 28 and 29. Organizers said efforts will be made to reschedule them.

Ever since the end of the fall sports season, it’s been an ongoing battle between staying ready and preparing for the worst. The Apollo-Ridge girls basketball team had just started practice Wednesday after a delayed start to the season, and senior guard Morgan Gamble called the situation frustrating.

“We’re going to have to go back to square one with some things like conditioning,” Gamble said. “It’s going to be a matter of everyone keeping themselves in shape. Come Jan. 4, we’re going to have to be ready. It’s not something that we can take lightly.”

Some teams didn’t even have the opportunity to get started.

Earlier this month, the Highlands School District postponed winter sports until Jan. 15. At a school board meeting on Monday, the school board voted to resume winter sports. Teams were slated to start practicing at some point this week.

“It was good news when we got the word from the board to continue winter sports, but we knew (a shutdown of athletic activities) always was a possibility,” Highlands athletic director Drew Karpen said. “From the beginning of the pandemic, we knew this was always a possibility. It’s not just us anymore. It’s something that is out of our hands right now. When we’re told we can come back, if it is Jan. 4, we’ll be ready to finish our required practices and then get going with competition.”

All along, coaches, players and administrators have been looking for an answer to the unknown. Now, after a few weeks of practices and training, they have it. Everyone is on the same page and will be on the same page moving forward.

“What we were just looking for was an answer. I think a lot of coaches were just tired of, ‘Oh, we’re practicing this week. We’re off this week.’ Then you hear all the rumors,” Epps said. “At least right now, we know exactly what is going on.”

Now they just have to stay ready.

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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