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Q&A with some of the Blue Water Area’s top athletes

By Calli Townsend

Between pole barns and Zoom calls, athletes across the Blue Water Area are getting creative as they prepare for their postponed basketball seasons.

For many of the area’s seniors, they know what it’s supposed like this time of year: they dig deeper into conference play and begin to gel with teammates, their plays come together, they see the vision for their seasons, and they play each game to win.

But right now, they’re just trying to stay in shape, both physically and mentally, as they await updates and permission to get back on the courts. Here’s what some of them have to say:

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Emma Gillies — Senior, Armada

What was it like for you when you found out your season would be delayed?

“It was really hard. I wanted to play after high school and I got a trainer to help me with basketball. I still do want to play and I have opportunities, but it’s hard not being able to get more film to send them.

“It’s my last year, and that’s kind of what everyone looks forward to: the last first game, the last team dinners, and now we can’t do that. I’m not getting my hopes up until at least January. But I’m going to try to keep myself in shape until then.”

What are you doing to stay in shape and prepared for the season?

“Fortunately I have workout equipment in my basement. And I love running. I also do track, and one of my biggest regrets was not doing cross country. I try to run a couple miles everyday.

“We have a buddy system where we partner up Monday through Wednesday and do workouts together whether it’s over Zoom or just making sure they did something.”

What’s something you’re grateful to have learned through all of this?

“Quarantine taught me a lot about myself. I got into working out a lot more and I ended up losing like 10 pounds. That was great and it taught me how important it is to put yourself first.”

Number 11 Emma Gillies shooting a three against Richmond last year.

Connor Mackenzie — Senior, Armada

What was it like for you when you found out your season would be delayed?

“We didn’t get anything. We were supposed to start tryouts that Monday, and then we got the word. Honestly, I wasn’t too hopeful in the beginning. I was still preparing though, and coming off cross country I was still in shape and I was working on getting my shot back.

“It sucked, but I wasn’t surprised. The same thing happened with football in the summer where we could practice, then we couldn’t. I already kind of experienced it, and I’m definitely still hoping we’re starting again soon. Hopefully by the new year.”

What are you doing to stay in shape and prepared for the season?

“I’m still focused on the upcoming season. I’m still training a fair amount and trying to be ready for when we do get to play. It was a huge change though, going from two sports non-stop to nothing.

“I haven’t really seen too many people at all, so it’s been tough. I’ve been running and lifting when I can at the neighbors, and I have my hoop in the driveway.”

Perhaps the hardest thing for Mackenzie and the rest of the Tigers is knowing that his nine fellow senior classmates might not get a chance to play together again.

“As a team we haven’t really done a lot. We’re going to have 10 returning seniors, so we’re all pretty close and have played with each other forever. This was supposed to be the year. We’ve been playing together all these years, and this was supposed to be the year.”

What’s something you’re grateful to have learned through all of this?

“I think you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. I just try to live in the moment and absorb everything. I always thought I could tear my ACL and lose my senior year, but I never imagined it would be because of a global pandemic.

“Practice is practice and it’s sometimes not fun, but I’d take the worst practice over sitting in my house right now.”

Parker Lewis — Senior, Imlay City

What was it like for you when you found out your season would be delayed?

“We started conditioning like two weeks before tryouts. We were excited and ready to play, and then the night before it was known that all the schools were going to be shut down.

“Our coach texted us that the season was being postponed, so I took it optimistically, like maybe if we have more time we can keep practicing on our own and prepare more.”

What are you doing to stay in shape and prepared for the season?

“I moved a portable hoop into an insulated barn and moved a heater in there, so I’ve started to play in there. I got a membership at Planet Fitness too. I’ve definitely been playing more than working out, but I go over there sometimes too.

“The way I think of it is that there’s probably other teams in the area doing the same thing, and I feel like if I don’t play or if I don’t workout, everybody’s going to get better than me.”

What’s something you’re grateful to have learned through all of this?

“Until they tell us our season’s actually over, I believe it’s still on and I believe we’re still going to have a season. I’ve learned to not see the bad in everything and still continue to prepare for the season.

Number 23 Parker Lewis shooting a jumper against Cros-Lex last season. - Photo by Rod Soule Studios
Number 23 Parker Lewis shooting a jumper against Cros-Lex last season. – Photo by Rod Soule Studios

Madison Ross — Senior, Imlay City

What was it like for you when you found out your season would be delayed?

“For me it was extra disappointing because I actually had COVID so I couldn’t be at tryouts. It wasn’t too bad, just a cough and a runny nose, so my coach sent me some workouts that I could do on my own.”

What are you doing to stay in shape and prepared for the season?

“Every now and then we’ll do a Zoom that’s just for film, but usually we do a workout and some ball handling. The majority of us have hoops or we can workout in our basements, pole barns, garages, whatever we can do.”

Ross and her teammates have plenty of reason to stay motivated in preparation for their season. In the spring, for the first time in school history, the Spartans had advanced beyond the District tournament, making it all the way to the Regional final.

“It really sucked. It didn’t get canceled until a couple of hours before the game. At first it was only immediate family, then parents, then one parent, and then just players. And then they canceled it.

“We just keep thinking about getting back there. We only lost three seniors and we have some pretty good freshmen that came up, so it’s really exciting to have that opportunity again.”

What’s something you’re grateful to have learned through all of this?

“I think this has brought our team closer together. We’re relying on each other more than before and on our Zooms we try to make them interesting. One time we did a Christmas scavenger hunt where we posted things to Facebook or we a read short Christmas story. They’re just fun little things to do.

“It’s taught me to keep working and to stay positive. I don’t care if it’s not even a full season, I just want to play at least a little bit.”

Ross and her teammates exercising over Zoom.

Kyler Kolakovich — Senior, Cros-Lex

What was it like for you when you found out your season would be delayed?

“We started basketball for about a week, which is normally when we would have tryouts. But we couldn’t really determine our teams because a lot of the girls were quarantined. We just scrimmaged and did drills together instead.

“Leading up to tryouts we could do our normal morning practices. They had to really push to be allowed to do that, but we did have the gym and we had like three morning practices, where the posts went three times and the guards to go to three times.’

What are you doing to stay in shape and prepared for the season?

“I’m still working out and Coach Bombard sends us workouts every week. We’ve been having Zoom meetings every Tuesday. We talk about how’s school going, what we’ve been doing to work out, and just talking with each other and staying in touch.

“Our coaches are still really hopeful and enthusiastic that we’re going to have a season. I think they’re excited. I’m ready to go back. I was super excited for sports this year. We were lucky enough to have a volleyball season. It wasn’t the same, and I know basketball won’t be the same either, but it’s my last one and I definitely want to play.”

What’s something you’re grateful to have learned through all of this?

“I definitely took being able to see my friend every day for granted. Online school takes up so much more of my time, you wouldn’t think it’d be that way, but for me it’s not the case. So I took being in person for granted.”

Kyler Kolakovich and the Cros-Lex Pioneers celebrating after a game last season.

Hunter Soper — Senior, Cros-Lex

What was it like for you when you found out your season would be delayed?

“I was disappointed. It was kind of the same feeling as we were about to go to Districts and it got canceled after all of that work we’d put in.

“I had been doing a lot of weightlifting and when I could I was going to play against some AAU teams at the Oakland Fieldhouse. It’s hard knowing we might not have a season after all of that. I haven’t played a scheduled game since July when I went to Indiana to play in some games.”

What are you doing to stay in shape and prepared for the season?

“I get motivated when I hear about others getting offers and I talk to coaches and think about scholarships and playing at the next level.

“I saw something the other day that said you spend 99% of your time preparing to play, and the other 1% you actually get to play. I’ve always been doing that and preparing. I lift at my house or go out to our gym and shoot. ”

What’s something you’re grateful to have learned through all of this?

“I’m optimistic. You have to stay optimistic. I feel like I’ve gained more confidence in myself and just thinking about all the work I’ve put in that maybe others aren’t.”

Number 2 Hunter Soper dunking the ball against Richmond during a game last season.

Hayden Holdburg — Senior, Marysville

What was it like for you when you found out your season would be delayed?

“With football having been postponed already, we could see it coming. Now it’s just a matter of playing the waiting game.”

What are you doing to stay in shape and prepared for the season?

“Some of my teammates and I have played pickup games and done special workouts Coach Schunk had given us. I’ve also been able to lift and do different agility drills.

“I’ve just been trying to stay motivated by listening to Coach Schunk and just playing the game.”

What’s something you’re grateful to have learned through all of this?

“It’s definitely not how I imagined my senior year, but I have to make the best of it. I have some idea of what I want to do in the future, so hopefully everything will work out in the end and hopefully we can get back in school.

“A positive thing I’ve learned is that I can get through everything. I meant there has been so many different things going around and just being able to spend time with my family friends makes it worth it.”

Ally Shagena — Senior, Northern

What was it like for you when you found out your season would be delayed?

“I committed to play at Wayne State, so it does make it a little easier knowing I have four more years after, but at the same time, it’s still tough knowing I might not be able to play my favorite sport this year.

“We only lost one person from last year, so we have pretty much the same team and we were super excited for this season. When we got shut down we were actually at practice. We’re still very excited and we’re all ready to hit the ground running when we can.”

What are you doing to stay in shape and prepared for the season?

“We’ve all been sending pictures to each other to show what we’ve been doing to hold each other accountable. A month ago we met outside on that one warm day and worked out. We try to stay in shape and help each other stay positives when we start we’ll be ready.

“Personally, I’ve been doing outside to shoot. That’s something I need to do. I can’t go over a month or two without shooting. I know a few other girls are shooting outside and I train in a gym with one on one coaching because we can do personal training.”

What’s something you’re grateful to have learned through all of this?

“I’m just trying to stay as positive as I can. It’s hard because you never know what tomorrow holds. I’m ready for whatever happens this basketball season and I’m ready to finish my senior year.

“I’ve definitely learned to not take any day for granted. I actually broke my hand during a basketball game so you never know when your last game could be. I think a lot of people have learned that this year.”

Number 21 Ally Shagena dribbling past an opponent in a game last season.

Ryan McNeill — Senior, Northern

What was it like for you when you found out your season would be delayed?

“The only thing I can think of to describe our season getting postponed is heart breaking. We play the game because we love it, and it was just taken away form us.”

What are you doing to stay in shape and prepared for the season?

“In the past, I would have been playing hockey and that gets me in shape, but this year it was different. Recently, I’ve just been going on lots of runs and doing push-ups, sit-ups, and jumping exercises at home.

“I stay motivated by watching sports. It gives me the urge to go out and try to make an impact on my team, regardless of what sport I’m playing.”

What’s something you’re grateful to have learned through all of this?

“I’m super excited to hopefully get back on the court soon and to see what this season challenges us with. One thing I’ve learned is whatever life gives you, you have to make the best out of it. Seeking discomfort is the best way to better ourselves in the long run.”  

Number 33 Ryan McNeill shooting a free throw in a game last season.

Photos provided by athletes.

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