This year’s seniors have not played since 2019, and they want to make the most of their final days of prep soccer.
The last time that Sophia Timm-Blow and Lindsay Heise took the field for Okemos High School varsity girls soccer, they suffered a heartbreaking loss in district finals as sophomores.
Since that game almost two years ago, Timm-Blow and Heise, the senior captains, have not been able to suit up again for the Chiefs. Their junior season was canceled during tryouts because of the COVID-19 pandemic, cutting a year off their high school soccer careers.
Timm-Blow was devastated when her junior season was canceled and will do anything in her power to ensure that they can have a full season this year.
“So obviously that does really motivate me because we don't know like games could get canceled this year, or if things could potentially change suddenly,” Timm-Blow, a center back, said. “I feel really motivated this season just to work really hard every game, and really just be there for my teammates, because we don't know, like, how the season’s going to go, or if any one game could potentially be our last.”
Okemos has worked hard to help guarantee that it will be able to have a season during the pandemic. This includes offseason workouts over Zoom, outdoor workouts when the weather is nice enough, and participating in weekly testing for COVID-19.
“I think we've all just been working so hard because we want this season so badly that we've been putting in the work offseason by ourselves, even though we weren't allowed to meet,” said Heise. “We've been having online zoom sessions with our assistant coach Nicolette and we've just been, like working hard to make sure we can have a season of any sort.”
Heise and Timm-Blow have had the extra challenge of trying to build team chemistry as captains with all of the girls in the offseason when the team couldn’t meet. The problem was compounded, because many of the girls never played high school soccer before.
“I think the hardest part has been getting to know all the new girls, especially because we have like a huge freshman class and we have a lot of girls last year who were freshmen who are now sophomores who didn't get to play last year,” said Timm-Blow. “So, it's kind of been hard to adjust and learn everyone's name and get everything organized. But I feel really optimistic because there's a lot of talent.”
Heise said the lack of in-person team bonding has made their job more difficult as a captain but also made the time that they can spend together that much more important in the preseason.
She said she has to work harder to make sure that girls are spending time bonding with each other outside of practice and making sure everyone stays focused on their team goals.
“I think it also makes the moments that we are able to train together that much more meaningful because we finally get to know each other,” said Heise. “Like, I don't know, we learn each other's names and what they like to do and everything, like it's so much more meaningful now.”
The conversations between the team and the captains and coaching staff in the offseason have been focused on personal responsibility and accountability according to Head Coach Darus Ward. He said the goal, no matter what, is to have a season to provide closure for the seniors that couldn’t play last year.
“Well, those are things that we really want to ask the kids to be mindful of, if they go out like, remember who you're with, or if you choose to do something, just know that it could potentially end your season,” said Ward. “So how do you manage those responsibilities? It's going to be difficult, and that's something that every week we'll revisit with them, just to make sure they it’s fresh in your mind about ‘Hey, remember, our number one goal is to have a complete season.’”
Timm-Blow echoed that sentiment from her coach, saying that as a captain, she is going to make sure that the team can stay on the field and play as much of the season as possible. She said she wants to have closure to her high school career unlike her friends that graduated a year ago.
Heise said that the season would be a success in her mind if they are able to play a full season uninterrupted. She wants the team to make the most of their time together when they practice and play and enjoy the fact that they have a season this year.
“I definitely miss the connections we make with all our teammates,” said Heise. “Like, that's something I've missed the most, even though we won't be able to do as many team bonding things, just like being out there with everyone is why I play basically. It's fun to win and, like, win championships and everything, but it comes down to the team. That's the best part of the whole thing.”
The pandemic has caused a disruption in the life of all high school athletes, especially spring sport athletes like Timm-Blow and Heise who lost a year of their high school career. Getting back to the field is the main goal for them, and they have made it clear that they will sacrifice what they need to have a positive senior campaign.
“Soccer is a place for me to relax and be just with the team,” said Timm-Blow. “Of course, we have the safety measures, which, like, makes me feel much more comfortable about playing, and it really just allows me to like relax and enjoy playing. And that's really what it's all about for me. Of course, school is hard and kind of that COVID adds that stressful element to it. But I'm just really excited to get back out on the field and really focus on improving my skills as a player and as a leader to have a good final season after we didn’t play last year.”