The hidden moments of high school athletics

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If this coronavirus pandemic has taught me anything, it’s the fantastic ability for high school kids to handle disappointment, grief and letdown with such a positive attitude.
This week launches the first of several stories featuring spring sports athletes who had their final seasons of high school sports cut short and the emotions of dealing with everything along with it.
I’ve spent the past couple weeks trying to invade seniors’ quarantine from all four area schools to have them share their feelings on everything from the emotion of missing state track to what’s occupying their newfound free time.
This was supposed to be a special season for the Aurora girls soccer team. Much like their boys team counterpart, this was to be the fourth season of existence, meaning this year’s seniors would be the first to come through as four-year participants.
One of those seniors was Taryn Smith, who was excited about the prospect of beginning a new sport and enjoyed every bit of it along the way.
Even from the first game Aurora ever played against Schuyler in 2017, I was always captivated by Smith’s talent on the soccer pitch.
She had a knack for the ball that’s not easily replicated while also being difficult to coach. More than anything else, it was obvious she enjoyed the game.
The wildest part of all that is she told me that she had never even touched a soccer ball before the Lady Huskies had its first practice four years ago.
That’s crazy!
“It is cool to see how far the program has come since it started my freshman year,” Smith said. “I remember coach (Micayla) Dunn lining us up only a foot from the net just hoping we would not trip over the ball when we kicked it.”
She could have fooled me, because even from that first game I had her pegged as one of the best players out there.
While she didn’t join up with the soccer team until her junior year, Paxtyn Dummer found a love for the game from the goalkeeper position.
“I know this season would’ve been great for us as a whole,” Dummer said. “So many people had so much confidence on the field which may not have been there in previous years, and I really think coach Dunn played a big part of keeping everyone at ease and willing to continue to learn and grow without winning seasons happening yet.”
Fellow senior Makayla Eberly enjoyed the family atmosphere of the soccer team and be part of growing a new tradition at Aurora.
“It’s been incredible to be able to play just a small part in a rising culture and love for the game within our school,” she said. “The community has really rallied around us and it’s great to see Aurora invest in such a rewarding program.”
However, with no soccer games to play and not even allowed to go back to school, the seniors have had plenty of time to themselves.
Smith has honed her cooking and baking skills through quarantine, sharing recipes with her friends as a way to stay connected.
Dummer must be one of Smith’s friends sharing recipes with each other, because she also noted she discovered her own set of skills. That is, in between her broken sleep schedule.
Could I get some cookies?
For Eberly, the extra time with her family has been a blessing and something she won’t take for granted before leaving for college in a few months, given college classes happen in person.
The trio of seniors have accomplished their fare share of accolades not only on the field of play, but in the classroom, too.
After not playing one match of soccer before high school, it became one of Smith’s biggest passions with no shortage of memories.
She played an assisting role in the Lady Huskies scoring its first-ever goal during her sophomore season and not long after that, Aurora’s first win as a program.
“These are memories that will always stick with me because I know all of the hard work that we put in to achieve those goals,” Smith explained. “The first win was especially memorable because we had gone our whole first year without one. We were even more proud of it because it was in a double-overtime game.”
A big moment for all three girls was Aurora’s first home soccer match last season. They were looking forward to a complete slate of home games, including conference, as seniors.
“It was so cool to see the home crowd that I’d see in all my other sports,” Dummer said. “It’s hard to break down one moment from something I’ve done for so much of my life.”
Her senior years of volleyball and basketball were special and pointed out a particular hoops game this winter where she snagged 12 boards in a game the day after her grandfather passed away.
Those are the stories that just hit a bit different.
Eberly’s first goal scored was something she thinks about a lot and will remember for a long time.
One thing a lot of kids remember from high school athletics isn’t even the games. It’s the practices, bus rides, locker room antics and bonding you don’t get anywhere else.
Although, defeating your high school rival time and again is fun, too.
“Never losing to York in my four years of volleyball is pretty great to be able to say, too,” Eberly finished.
Leave ‘em on top.
RICHARD RHODEN can be reached at

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