The year that could have been

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Bolivar High School soccer seniors Ashtynn Russell, Maude Henenberg and Madison Austin take part in the high school’s “Be the Light” event, waiting in their vehicles as supporters of the team drive by and honk Friday, April 10.

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Annie vanHoornbeek and her senior teammates on the Bolivar High School girls soccer team lined up at the field Friday night, April 10. The stadium lights shone down, as bright as they’ve ever been. 

But the Lady Liberators, some of whom had been playing together since middle school, didn’t take the field. With all Missouri schools closing last month due to concerns with the spread of COVID-19, the Lady Liberators’ 2019-20 season ended this year before it started. 

BHS, along with other schools across the country, lit up their sports fields on Friday as part of Be the Light, a nationwide celebration of the 2020 senior athletes who will miss their final seasons due to the pandemic.  

A Missouri State High School Athletics Association policy canceled all sporting events and practices as long as schools are closed. Gov. Mike Parson’s Thursday, April 9, order to extend school closings to the end of the academic year effectively canceled all seasons, the association announced the same day. 

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Bolivar High School tennis players Draeden Thompson and Caleb Webb pose for a photo at the middle school tennis courts Friday night.

“None of us seniors were prepared for this,” vanHoornbeek said via email. “... I know we were looking forward to having that closure with our teammates, and to think we might have already played our last game together is truly heartbreaking.”

The Lady Liberators would have contended for their fifth consecutive district championship this year. 

Teammate Ashtynn Russell, a fellow senior, echoed vanHoornbeek’s thoughts. 

She said the team had put in several solid practices and was looking forward to the year. Until the last second, she said, she and her teammates held out hope they’d get to play. 

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A message posted in the middle school parking lot thanks seniors.

“We go on spring break and we’re still playing a couple times, and then it just stops,” she said. “We were just told our season is on hold. Coach (Steve Fast) would send us videos of training drills to work on so when we got back on the field we wouldn’t lose touch, so we felt like the season would be back eventually. It’s crazy that it’s just over.”

MSHSAA’s announcement also ends any hope of a postseason for all 2019-20 sports.

“This decision is very difficult for all involved, especially given the impact it will have on our students, parents, coaches, teachers and administrators throughout the state,” MSHSAA Executive Director Kerwin Urhahn said in a news release. “We thank all of the participants, the coaches/directors/advisors, the administrations, the parents, and everyone else who has dedicated tremendous amounts of time, passion and effort to these events.”

Also hurting is Pleasant Hope softball coach Kevin McVey, whose team would have started its second spring season on the field earlier this year. McVey’s Lady Pirates earned a district championship, advancing nearly to the state title game, last year. 

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Bolivar High School soccer seniors pose Friday, April 10, for photos at Be the Light, a nationwide event honoring 2020 senior athletes who will miss their final seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Not being able to play this spring has been disappointing,” McVey said. “We had the potential to have a very good season, and we were really looking forward to it. I feel bad for my five seniors.”

Aside from the missed opportunities, McVey said he just misses his team.

“I miss not being with the team, seeing them improve throughout the season and being successful — the joy of winning, as well as the sorrow of losing,” he said. 

Like Fast, McVey said he’d set up a Google Classroom to provide exercise and conditioning drills. It’s been effective, but it’s not the same as being on the field with them, he said. 

“I have tried to encourage them to keep practicing,” he said. “I'm trying to be their coach even though I cannot physically be there for them.”

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Bolivar fans celebrate from their vehicles while seniors take in the support.

Bolivar track coach Daniel Bayless said he’d also been communicating with his team online. 

“It’s different without a coach there to lead it,” Bayless said. 

Bayless said the feedback he’s received from his athletes has been frustration about missing their season. Bolivar athletes earned multiple medals at the state meet last year. 

“I’ve been involved in athletics since I was 8 years old. I’ve never been off for this extended amount of time.” Bayless said. “This is my 20th year coaching track and field, and I’d say it’s the best team I've ever had, and we’re sitting on the bench.”

Looking ahead, for some

Russell, a multisport athlete, signed earlier this school year to play soccer and golf at Evangel University. She said she’s one of the fortunate ones.

“It is still upsetting to not be able to step on the field with the girls I’ve been playing with since sixth grade,” she said. 

Until then, she said she and her teammates and will have to cope with the year that could have been.

“Spring season has always been my favorite time for sports,” she said. “Looking back at it, we have been successful, and it does hurt knowing that we didn’t get to see how far we could have made it with this group.”

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The Bolivar High School baseball field is illuminated to honor the team’s seniors. 

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