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STARTING OVER?

Lynx excited, cautious as they open 2021 season at Humboldt

Webster City’s Lexi Nichols, then a sophomore, competes in the high jump at the Bengal Relays in Gilbert during the 2019 season. The 2020 season was wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic, and Nichols is one of just two seniors on the Lynx girls’ team this spring. DFJ file photo/Troy Banning

WEBSTER CITY — It was one year ago that Webster City girls’ track and field coach Clint Howard gathered his team and commended his athletes for what he thought was a positive first step following an indoor meet in Humboldt.

And then came an attempt at humor that he still regrets.

“I made an off-handed joke hoping we got to run again and not believing for a minute we wouldn’t,” Howard said. “And then everything happened.”

By everything, Howard means the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic that shuttered schools across the country and put all athletics on pause. The inevitable eventually came on April 17 — Iowa canceled the spring season, wiping out the track and field, soccer, golf and tennis seasons.

“I still look back at last year as a crazy time,” WCHS head boys’ track and field coach Chad Hisler said. “I was still hoping quite a ways into April that we’d still have a season. We had a lot of kids that continued to work hard even though we didn’t get to have a season.”

Webster City’s Trey Mathis (left) and Garrett Whitmore work the hand-off in the 4x100-meter relay at the 2019 state track meet. Mathis, now a senior, returns to the track this spring. Whitmore, a 2020 graduate, had his chance at state gold wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic last spring. DFJ file photo/Troy Banning

Hisler’s crew got one meet in, also the indoor at Humboldt. The Lynx track teams were luckier than most; soccer, golf and tennis were scratched prior to the first competition.

One indoor meet — track’s version of a scrimmage, if we’re being honest — doesn’t make a season though. So when you think about it, it’s really been two years since the WCHS spring teams have competed, which begs the question: In some ways, are these programs starting over?

Think about it. All of the programs will be devoid of experienced veterans. This year’s seniors were sophomores during the last official season on the books.

Howard’s squad, which will head back to Humboldt this evening for an indoor meet, has just two seniors on the roster. More than 20 of the team members are freshmen and sophomores, who last saw competition in middle school.

“There’s just a lot of unknowns,” Howard said. “It’s great to be practicing again and competing hopefully the whole season, but it’s unique in that we don’t really know what the younger girls could have developed into last year. So we’re basically using (tonight’s indoor) as a gauge mechanism for where we need to have girls.”

WCHS head boys’ soccer coach Craig Signorin watches from the sideline during a May, 2019 match. DFJ file photo/Troy Banning

The WCHS boys’ team will compete at the Humboldt indoor on Friday. Thanks to the return of a number of varsity team members from the 2019 season, Hisler has a better grasp on his team, but there are still plenty of unknowns.

“We have some good leaders and we definitely have talented people in all areas,” he said. “We have a lot of young kids as well, so to know where we’re at, it’s just going to take a while to sort it all out.”

Losing last season hit Hisler particularly hard. The Lynx boys’ team was in position to have perhaps its strongest season since a Class 3A runner-up finish in 2012. Then senior Garrett Whitmore was a state favorite in the 400-meter hurdles and along with classmate Lincoln LaSourd gave the Lynx multiple opportunities for state medals in the sprint relays.

“I think it could have been the best team I would have had since I’ve been coaching,” Hisler said. “We still have a lot of good kids coming back, but I don’t know that we’ll have the scoring power that we should have had last year.”

The Lynx soccer, golf and tennis teams won’t compete until early April, and they too will have to rebuild things following the extended hiatus.

Longtime boys’ soccer coach Craig Signorin jumped back into it as soon as he was allowed with offseason open gyms. He says losing two months worth of practices last spring was far more detrimental than the matches lost, so he knows it will take time.

“Missing out on that whole year, that’s a huge hit to the program,” Signorin said. “But thinking back to two years ago and the (junior varsity) program, they didn’t lose a game. So looking into future years from that, it’s like we’ve got some guys that can play and some that can win.

“There are going to be a lot of new guys stepping in, names that you’ve probably never seen.”

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