Monti Knewtson has been looking forward to her senior season since she first stepped on the varsity girls tennis court as a seventh-grader.
After placing second at the East Region and state tournaments that year, the West Fargo Sheyenne senior clinched her first state singles title two seasons later as a freshman, and won the state doubles title the following year.
Knewtson was headed for a successful senior campaign before the season was put on hold.
“Ever since seventh grade, I've been excited for my senior season because it’s when emotions are high,” Knewtson said. “It’s your last shot to try to reach your goal. I was definitely bummed about it, because it’s been such a good journey for me and Shaelyn (Johnson), (Shanley’s) Anna Frie, Madi Bell (Davies).”
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the North Dakota High School Activities Association suspended all spring sports seasons Friday afternoon, March 13.
Knewtson heard about the suspension through a text from longtime friendly rival Johnson of Grand Forks Red River, who topped Knewtson last year in the singles championship.
“It was a bummer,” she said. “When I saw that, a lot of girls started texting me saying, ‘Is this actually happening?’ or ‘Are we actually not going to have a season?’ It was a little sad. I know a lot of girls were heartbroken because they’ve been practicing a lot this winter.”
The NDHSAA said Monday, March 16, it would continue to suspend all sports and activities indefinitely, which includes practices. As of Monday afternoon, the indefinite suspension was still in place.
“I feel so sorry for the seniors that have worked so hard for so many years,” Sheyenne girls tennis coach Chad Anderson said. “Because it's their last year, they're not going to have a state tournament or state championship.”
Two of Anderson’s top three players are seniors.
“Not just athletics, they're not going to get to finish the school year out,” Anderson added. “They're not going to get to go to prom and all these things that we take for granted.”
When Anderson initially found out about spring sports being put on hold, he said “suspended” wasn’t a big word yet.
“When I got to talk to (the team), it wasn’t, ‘This is done.’ Because of that, it wasn’t quite so bad,” he said. “But now, it doesn’t look very promising.”
Due to restrictions on personal contact and instruction with players, Anderson has had to communicate with his team through the phone.
“That makes it really difficult, to not see them in person and have a meeting to talk to them and kind of get through this,” Anderson said. “That even leaves more anxiety of, gosh, there’s nothing I can do. I wish I could do something.”
North Dakota K-12 schools are closed indefinitely as the number of positive cases of the coronavirus continues to climb in the state.
“Who would’ve ever thought something like this would ever happen where they would not be able to participate?” Anderson said. “It’s pretty devastating, these kids have all worked so hard. Especially the seniors, there’s no going back.”
Knewtson remains buoyant as the status of her senior year and season are up in the air.
“There’s a lot of other people that are dealing with much tougher things than not being able to go to school or play a sport,” she said. “I think people realize that.”
Across town, West Fargo High School’s track and field team was gearing up for their first meet of the year when they were informed their season was suspended, and the following day’s competition was off.
The Packers had been practicing for a full three weeks when their season came to a screeching halt March 13.
“It’s hard to believe that our season has been suspended indefinitely,” West Fargo head track and field coach Darin McKinnon said. “With the unknown ahead of us, I think it just becomes that state where you're just wondering what's going to happen next. It’s tough.”
The only situation comparable is the 1997 flood, when everything seemed to stop, said McKinnon, who has been at the helm for over 20 years. But unlike 1997 or 2009, where there was more of a lull in the season with a belief the year would be finished, with this, “you just don’t know,” he said.
“We always knew there would be something at the end, we just didn’t know what that would look like,” McKinnon said. “It’s so unprecedented I don't know how to really compare it.”
West Fargo track and field seniors are wondering whether their high school careers were wrapped in those three weeks.
“We have two really good teams and we’re happy with our returning kids,” McKinnon said. “We were looking forward to the season.”
Now, the team is in a holding pattern.
“You want your players to get to that competition,” McKinnon said. “But then at the same time, I also see it as someone who teaches civics and American history, and it’s about the fact that we have a responsibility to one another to ensure that we are safe.”
McKinnon said his message to his kids has been to stay positive and focus on the things they can control.
West Fargo’s softball team was supposed to start practicing Monday, March 16.
Packers head softball coach Pat Johnson, who led West Fargo to its 24th state title in 25 seasons last year, is most devastated for his seniors.
“As a coach, the biggest thing is, what are your athletes going to feel? You have seniors that want to go out with a bang,” Johnson said. “It’s depressing to think that they’re delayed right now, and hopefully that’s all this is. But then you start worrying about, are they going to lose their senior season?”
There’s still a chance seasons could resume, depending on what happens with the outbreak. Johnson is remaining optimistic through the unknowns.
“I’m praying they do and I hope they do,” he said. “We’re going to plan that they are, but that’s all you can do. You just got to try and keep pushing forward.”
Still, Johnson said he plans on playing.