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March 2, 2021 Martin Halo

High school athletes, coaches happy that fall sports season has begun

By Roger Rubin, Owen O’Brien and Mike Ruiz

The rest day of the reimagined public school fall sports season was met with enthusiasm across Long Island, along with some challenges that teams don’t typically encounter when they start in September.

Heavy rain swamped parts of grass fields, outdoor courts were slow to dry and gymnasiums were cold rather than sweltering.

The grass boys soccer field at Half Hollow Hills West was a mess, so the team split time on the artificial turf with the football program. The Syosset girls tennis team caught a break with late sun to dry its courts.

Weather was less of a factor for an East Islip football team looking to go a step further than its 2019 run to the Suffolk III title game or for a Massapequa girls soccer team looking to repeat as Nassau County champion.

“I’m excited to get back out on the field,” East Islip junior wideout/defensive back Derek Burrell said. “Last year [in 2019, actually] we practiced up until Thanksgiving and it got even colder than it is now… I honestly didn’t think we would be out here, but I’m glad we are.”

Massapequa senior defender Kaylin Ricci said: “We just want to stay positive and show people anything is possible… playing in times like this. Our goals are obviously to win our conference, county and Long Island.”

A scenario for a Long Island championship is still undetermined but, hey, spring — or in this case fall — is a time for hope.

In both Nassau (Section VIII) and Suffolk (Section XI), there were first practices in football, boys and girls cross country, boys and girls soccer, field hockey, girls tennis and girls swimming. Nassau also started boys and girls volleyball and boys badminton and Suffolk opened in boys golf.

As Plainview-Old Bethpage JFK boys badminton coach Jenna Cavuto sees this out-of-place fall season, conditioning and accountability will be two of the most important things.

“These kids usually begin practice after being outside and physically active all summer, but starting at this time, many have not been able to be outside and active,” she said. “Once our tryouts are over, conditioning to build up to playing a full match with a mask on becomes a high priority.”

Syosset tennis coach Shai Fisher said, “Some of it will vary from program to program, but where the girls were optimistic there would be a season — like ours — the conditioning seems to have followed.”

Hills West boys soccer coach Doug Gannon found a few players short on conditioning, but said there is enough time to be in game shape and added “good programs will adapt to a short preseason and we believe we are one.”

Hand in hand with fitness is an increased risk of injury for teams that haven’t played in more than a year. Pregame and pre-practice warm-ups aren’t the same in September and March.

“You have to be aware of your own body,” Massapequa senior girls soccer player Nicole Romeo said. “If you feel fit — which everybody should be for a season like this on a team like this — you have to warm up enough when it’s cold.”

And naturally, every team’s goal will be to avoid a coronavirus-related stoppage such as the many seen in winter sports.

“It’s more important when they are away from us — it’s the bigger concern,” Massapequa girls soccer coach Bruce Stegner said. “I’ve seen other teams have problems because they had team parties or people got together socially. Next thing you know, they had an epidemic of kids getting the virus.”

“As for team health and avoiding stoppages, that’s every member of the team being responsible to each other,” Cavuto added. “We want the whole six-week season.”