It’s only appropriate that on the first day spring sports athletes were permitted to officially practice fully Monday, temperatures soared to 70 degrees.
Fall sports athletes missed chances at state tournaments this school year. Last season, some winter sports teams watched postseason runs halted due to the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic rather than a heartbreaking loss.
No group of athletes and teams missed more than those that play in the spring, however. That’s why Monday was so special, and why the start of competition next week will feel like such a celebration.
Perhaps more than any other season, this spring is a wide-open playing field after the lost season of 2020, making the first week so intriguing in terms of matchups and seeing which new faces are slotting in where.
The fun starts Thursday, April 8, when Faribault's boys and girls track and field teams host Austin and the Faribault softball team welcomes perennial Section 1AAA power Winona to town. After the 2019 graduation of standout battery Makayla Armbruster and Abby Van Ryn and all 11 players listed on the 2019 roster, the Falcons are a book still waiting to be written as they try to maintain the level of play that allowed them to win all but two regular-season games through the last two seasons.
The Faribault baseball team hits the road to visit Winona on Thursday, and are slated to return its man behind the plate — senior Jordan Nawrocki — as well as senior John Palmer and junior Hunter Nelson, who both collected varsity experience in 2019.
In Owatonna, opening day action is highlighted by the baseball team hosting Northfield at Dartts Park. Last season's baseball team for the Huskies was set to feature a huge senior class, and the only two members of the 2019 varsity squad still in school are seniors Payton Beyer and Matt Seykora, leaving plenty of spots up for grabs all over the diamond.
There's plenty of intrigue throughout the Gopher Conference as well.
The Medford track and field teams host United South Central, Maple River and Waterville-Elysian-Morristown on the first day of the spring sports season, and the Medford baseball team travels to defending conference champion Hayfield on Monday, April 12.
The WEM baseball team, the 2019 conference runner-up, starts its season Friday, April 9, at St. Clair and plays at home for the first time April 12 against Maple River, while the defending Section 2A and Gopher Conference champion WEM softball team starts it season Thursday, April 15, at Blooming Prairie.
Speaking of the Awesome Blossoms, their track and field teams start April 8 with a quadrangular at NRHEG that also includes Bethlehem Academy and Hayfield, while both the baseball and softball teams open the season a day later against Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton, with baseball on the road and softball at home.
Bethlehem Academy sees a lot of NRHEG early on, as the Cardinal softball team starts the season April 9 in New Richland and the baseball team hosts the Panthers on April 12.
Before all that, we’ll release our spring sports preview section next week, with baseball and boys tennis previews running April 6, softball, boys golf and girls golf previews running April 7, and boys and girls track and field, and boys and girls lacrosse previews running April 8. We’ll provide full schedules, insight from local coaches about the upcoming season and highlight the athletes that are making up these teams.
More than ever, simply getting back on the field this spring is a win.