Winter sports: Coaches excited to get going

Winter sports are ready to come back when the state gives the green light, and area coaches are excited to see what their teams can do.

Osakis boys basketball coach Matt Hoelscher directs his team against Perham on Feb. 8, 2020. Hoelscher was named the Section 6AA Coach of the Year by the Minnesota Basketball Coaches Association after guiding the Silverstreaks to a 25-3 record. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

Whether it takes weeks or months, the winter sports athletes are likely going to get a chance to play.

The Minnesota State High School League approved a series of sports calendars that will allow teams to start playing once the state-wide pause ends. The earliest of the start times for practices would be Dec. 21, while other start dates of Jan. 4 and Jan. 18 are on the table if an additional executive order was to come in response to large numbers of COVID-19 cases statewide.

MN Gov. Tim Walz put the four-week pause in effect on Nov. 21, which put a hold on all high school and youth sports around the state. However, the recent MSHSL board meeting vote has area winter sports coaches excited.

“I'm really excited and so are the players and coaching staff,” Osakis head basketball coach Matt Hoelscher said. “Getting back into a normal routine is something we all look forward to doing, but we need to do so in a safe environment. Based on the MSHSL plan that was approved, the fact we still get to play 18 games regardless if we start on Dec. 21 or Jan. 18 is encouraging. We want to get back and play but we don't need to rush it if it means a possible shutdown for our team or the state.”

With the uncertainty around high school sports since the COVID-19 pandemic caused nationwide cancelations in March, some coaches have always been skeptical about having a season.


“I think it's human nature to think about the negatives that could result when a decision like that is made, so I was a bit concerned right away,” Brandon-Evansville girls basketball coach Zach Traphagen said. “But I also saw how the MSHSL was able to come to a resolution for a partial fall sports season this year, so I became more confident that something similar could happen for winter sports.”

Brandon-Evansville head coach Zach Traphagen calls out a play from the sidelines during the Chargers' game at West Central Area. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

Some teams already got a head start. The Alexandria girls hockey team played some exhibition games in the weeks leading up to the pause. Head coach Molly Arola believes that time on the ice was critical heading into a promising season.

“When you get something taken away, you gain a new appreciation for it,” Arola said. “I think our girls are getting a better understanding of just how much of a privilege it is to play and have that opportunity to make memories with their friends and teammates. We are beyond thankful to have received the help we did from our hockey families in providing the coaching and opportunity for our girls to have had that exhibition season.”

Even though winter teams are going to get the chance to play, there’s always a chance the season gets pulled early. Hoelscher understands that reality after he saw the Osakis football players miss out on a Section 6AA championship-game experience.

“It was nice for the football players to get one more game before their season ended,” Hoelscher said. “You feel bad for the seniors because they didn't get to experience a normal season, but it helped to end the season on a win. Not too many teams in the state get to do that, so the fact they were able to go into the game knowing that was it for them helped soften the blow of their high school careers coming to an end. I know they would've loved a chance to play in the FargoDome again, but luckily they got to experience that last year.”

While teams aren’t able to practice right now, there are chances for athletes and coaches to put in work virtually.


“We are doing zoom meetings and some virtual stuff to help get the girls into basketball mode,” Traphagen said. “There is only so much you can do, but I think it is really important to have that virtual contact piece with the team right now to keep building team chemistry and culture.”

Alexandria's Hadlee Hansen (18), Marki Oberg (10), Anna Doherty and head coach Molly Arola react to the Cardinals getting a second-period goal against Moorhead on Nov. 14, 2017. Arola is excited to get the 2020-21 season underway follwong the MSHSL winter schedule approval. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

The soonest teams could potentially play games would be Jan. 4 after the minimum two weeks of practice at the start of the season. However, with the holiday break looming, coaches fear that might delay the season even further.

“I don't think we will start Jan. 4 due to the Christmas break and New Years being so close to that time,” Hoelscher said. “I can foresee the decision being made to wait until a later date so people can self quarantine. I'm hoping COVID-19 numbers go down these next few weeks, and individuals do their part in following guidelines so we start on the fourth. If it's not safe to begin our season at that time, we will get ready and look forward to starting on the 18th.”

For now, the extent of postseason play is up in the air. While fall sports ruled out state tournaments, there’s still a chance winter teams can compete for the state's top prizes. While several programs in the area have aspirations of winning a section championship, the goal remains to get these players back to doing what they love first.

“We are beyond excited for these ladies to have an opportunity to play together,” Arola said. “This is a group that has grown up playing together all through youth hockey, and have experienced the highs and lows together. We are ready for them to continue their memories together, and we could not be more excited to be on the ice with them.”

Jared Rubado is the sports editor for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and the Perham Focus. He moved to the area in September of 2021 after covering sports for the Alexandria Echo Press for nearly three years. Jared graduated from the University of Augustana in 2018 with degrees in journalism and sports managment.
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