MONTVILLE, NJ - The thought of what could have been will be wondered for a long time when reminiscing on the lost 2020 spring high school sports season in Montville.

Coming off a fall season which saw the football team return to the state playoffs and the first-ever sectional title for boys soccer, followed by a winter season which included the wrestling team's first-ever group state title and girls basketball's first-ever Morris County title, Montville was already having one of its most memorable athletic years.

Going into the spring, there were high hopes for the baseball team which was coming off a sectional final appearance in 2019, and all the other spring sports appeared to be poised for big years as well.

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But the COVID-19 pandemic stopped the season right in its tracks, causing teams to halt practice just one week into the pre-season. It was unclear if or when it would be safe for schools to re-open, which goes hand-in-hand with the resumption of athletics as per NJSIAA rules. Teams have spent nearly two months hoping to receive the all-clear, while still meeting with each other virtually despite not being able to hold practices.

That uncertainty turned to disappointment on Monday afternoon, when New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced schools would remain closed for the remainder of the academic year, which was followed by the NJSIAA's official statement later on that the spring athletic season would officially be canceled. 

“Following today’s announcement by Governor Murphy, the NJSIAA has officially canceled New Jersey’s 2020 high school spring sports season," the NJSIAA announced in a statement Monday afternoon. "This decision was not made lightly and we are disappointed for the thousands of New Jersey student-athletes who will be unable to compete this spring. While we remained hopeful to the end, and left open every possibility, competition simply is not feasible given the circumstances."

It marked a heart-breaking end to the careers for Montville's senior spring athletes, who won't get one last opportunity to be on the field with their teammates.

"It's a range of emotions for everyone, we're gutted for the seniors because this was the culmination of everything they put into the program," Montville baseball coach Ian Schwindel said. "It was their turn and their team and to have it taken from them by something so far out of their control is just devastating. We were also looking forward to contributions from some underclassmen who will lose that year of experience and exposure.

"In my letter to the parents, I stressed that what hurts the most is that these younger players lose out on the impact I knew this great group of 11 seniors was going to have on them. Their work ethic and attitudes were nothing short of exemplary and that experience is going to take a lot of work to make up for. Our program now goes from a ton of returning experience, to none. It will be as tall a task as any for our staff and underclassmen, and they're going to have to step up and be as ready as humanly possible. And they will undoubtedly shoulder the job of honoring the legacy of these seniors by working to finish what they started."

The girls lacrosse team, led by sixth-year head coach Julia Happe, had its sights set on a breakout year with a strong core of players returning, led by juniors Maddy Kelly and Julia Bruno to go along with seniors Livia Shine and Reese Henderson. 

"Honestly, it was very tough. We had started probably the best preseason we have ever had," Happe said. "The girls had been training together all winter, and they hit the ground running from day one. They were bought in, working hard, and ready to compete. Then, all of a sudden, I had to tell them to grab all of their equipment and that the season was paused the day before their first scrimmage. I was able to send a longer email with workouts, videos, etc later in the weekend, but we didn’t really get to say “goodbye,” or I guess I should say, “see you later” in person.

"That was a heartbreaker just because this team was already so close and so invested, then it all just stopped."

While teams won't get to play together this spring, that has not stopped them from sticking together, even if they can't physically be together in person. The girls lacrosse team, for one, has been holding meetings over Zoom and Google Meet throughout the last two months. It has been doing a "virtual team challenge" on the team's official twitter account, which began with Happe issuing challenges to her players, and has now evolved into the athletes challenging each other to do certain activities and workouts.

Day 8 of our Virtual Team Challenge comes from junior Julia Kelly! #AloneTogether #MustangPride #StrongerTogether

— Montville Girls Lacrosse (@MTHSGLAX) May 4, 2020

It certainly isn't the ideal way to spend the spring, but the team has made the best out of a very difficult situation.

"Regardless of whether it’s safe to step on the field or not, this team has learned much bigger life lessons than any team prior," Happe said. "They’ve learned what it means to truly lean on their teammates, and they’ve learned how much sports can have a lasting impact on their lives. They’ve learned to communicate better, have self-discipline, and find the good in bad situations, and most of all, their outstanding level of commitment during our “virtual season” has set a new standard for future Montville girls lacrosse teams to come. I couldn’t be prouder of them, and especially the seniors and the legacy they have left, regardless of whether we get on the field together again."

The baseball program has also managed to stay in touch through a group chat, which Schwindel and the coaching staff used to keep their players posted on the information that was available on the ongoing situation at the time. The team ran a simulation through an app of what was supposed to be the team's Opening Day game against Randolph in early April, with the results posted on the team's Twitter account.

"From a practice standpoint, the message was find a way and do what you can," Schwindel said. "Get creative and find ways to get your individual work in. We set up a Google drive folder with a bunch of resources for at home drills and baseball philosophy as well as our playbook. Our outstanding Strength Coordinator, Nick DeChino from Precision Sports Performance has also set up at-home workouts for three-week intervals. He also does a weekly live Zoom workout for all athletes which we encourage our players to attend. I've taken part and the workouts are just awesome."

The senior athletes are without question the ones who are hurt the most by this. But the Montville athletics Twitter account, run by Athletic Director Wayne Guarino, has been doing daily "Senior Spotlight" posts highlighting all senior spring athletes across all sports. 

The account reacted to Monday's news of the season being canceled with the following statement:

Today, is a very tough day for all spring athletes - especially seniors. Watching you compete the past few years and represent the community with both dignity and class is something that fills me with great pride. You will forever be part of the Mustang Family. #ForeverAMustang

— MTHS Athletics (@MustangsMTHS) May 4, 2020


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