HUDSON -- Liz Collinson missed her freshman year of soccer to a broken leg. Now she’s losing her senior year to the coronavirus. And while her disappointment runs deep, she has some encouraging words for her teammates.
“Life is what you make it,” she said. “That’s what I’ve taken out of Hudson soccer and this year in general. When I was a freshman and broke my leg that was hard. But there’s a lot of tough situations going on right now. And we still have a lot of power to make our lives OK.”
Collinson has been looking forward to her senior season since the final whistle blew in the Raiders’ 1-0 double overtime loss to Appleton East in last year’s WIAA sectional semifinals. She said she was sad for the seniors on that team, but immediately began preparing to take over that senior leadership role this year on a team that would feature four returning all-conference players and a host of talented underclassmen.
“We did a lot of work coming into this season,” she said. “And I think a lot of underclassmen especially just stepped up and brought a really good work ethic. So our team had really come together even before the season even started. So it was kind of cool to see that.”
River Falls’ baseball player James Westhoff also spent the offseason preparing for his senior year as a Wildcat.
“For me this season was going to mean a lot,” he said. “Not only finally being able to say I played my senior year, but I wanted to spend a lot of time with my teammates. I really wanted to be a role model for them to look up to. I’ve been waiting for that.”
When Gov. Tony Evers issued his safer at home order closing all schools the week before practice was set to start, Westhoff figured it was just a little bump in the road.
“I think everyone thought that,” he said. “When they first sent out the email I think we thought it was just going to be for a week, maybe an extra week, then we’d be back for tryouts. But after that second week came and they said they were closing schools through at least April 24, we started second guessing. Then they finally hit us with baseball is canceled, and everyone just got bummed really fast.”
Collinson said she began to worry when she heard the NBA was suspending its season.
“My first thought was, if the NBA has it, what’s going to happen to soccer?” She said. “And then slowly but surely school got canceled and I guess everyone knew there was a really unlikely chance of us coming back. But no one was really ready for the hit when it for sure wasn’t going to happen. All of us seniors got on our returning varsity group chat and just started crying because it was just devastating.”
Collinson immediately began thinking of her fellow seniors, many of whom have played together the past nine or 10 years. And how even though they didn’t get “the cherry on top” in the form of spending one last season together they had plenty of good times to look back on.
Still, she said she’ll miss the bus rides and time spent together off the field.
“That’s just priceless,” she said. “It’s something that comes along and makes soccer so much more than a game.”
Westhoff can relate.
“When it hit me, I was just really bummed out,” he said. “I was thinking about bus rides we’d take with the team, and how much time we’d be able to spend together. And it all hit me at once and I went to a low spot. I think everyone did. We just thought about how much we’re going to miss the high school season.”
There’s still a chance Collinson and Westhoff will get one more chance to wear their respective team jerseys. While the WIAA has canceled the spring sports seasons, it did give schools the opportunity to allow 30 days of practice or competition this summer if they include seniors and restrictions on assembling in groups are removed.
Collinson, who plans to attend the University of Alabama to study engineering in the fall, said she’s holding out hope she can take the field as a Raider one last time.
“Right now, a lot of the tough part about being home is not being able to be with your friends,” she noted. “So I think if we could at least have some soccer -- some practices or maybe even a couple friendlies with some other conference teams -- that would be something special.”
For Westhoff, there’s also the chance to play American Legion baseball. He’s already enlisted in the U.S. Marines, but put off his departure date until the end of the summer so he could play one last season with the River Falls Post 121 team.
As of Monday, May 4, no decision has been made by the Wisconsin American Legion regarding playing the regular season and state tournament even though the regional and national tournaments have been canceled. The Wisconsin Legion season is set to begin in June.
“If Legion doesn’t happen that’s going to be a real buzzkill,” Westhoff said.
Still, he said he and his teammates are learning a lot about themselves during this crisis.
“It not only made us persevere a little bit more, but it made us really appreciate that you can’t ever take anything for granted,” he said. “You have to always work for it because you never know what’s going to happen.”
“Keep your head up, keep working and push through it,” the future Marine concluded.