While dealing with a dangerous virus is new to most, the Lodi track and field program has been through it before.
The Blue Devils were one of the few sports teams who had to deal with the H1N1 (Swine Flu) in 2009. Just before the Capitol Conference Meet, they had to stop meeting as a team for 10 days.
“We had no contact with the athletes and there was no practice for a week and a half,” Lodi coach Randy Skellenger said. “The current situation is more widespread as everybody has been affected, but we were the only conference team that had to deal with it in 2009.”
Despite the conference meet being delayed several times, Lodi was unable to participate in 2009. The pause in practices also affected the Blue Devils in the WIAA postseason.
“Because we didn’t get a chance to practice much, we weren’t ready for the regional and sectional levels,” Skellenger said. “I felt really bad for our athletes, because we had a lot of talent.”
The Blue Devils were able to practice for one week before the 2020 season was halted by the WIAA due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m happy we had that one week together,” Skellenger said. “We saw the righting on the wall that week with the way the virus was advancing in other states. We had discussions the entire week that maybe we would not be back to school or practice the following week, but we would provide practice plans. To be able to have that time, especially with the seniors, was nice.”
Both Lodi squads were poised for big seasons in 2020.
“I think both teams and the coaching staff had pretty high expectations,” Skellenger said. “To see it go down the way it did with COVID was tough all around. The seniors and the captains stuck with working out as long as they could until the WIAA cancelled the season. We were holding out hope, but in the end, it didn’t happen.”
The high expectations were due to a great 2019 campaign and strong offseason program.
“The kids were motivated during the winter and fall and were ready to rock and roll,” Skellenger said. “We had quite a few young athletes returning with state meet experience and we had some new faces I thought would contribute.”
Last season, the Lady Blue Devils repeated as Capitol Conference champions. They went on to place third at the WIAA state meet.
“The girls were excited about going after a third straight title,” Skellenger said. “We graduated some of our big guns from last year, but that was going to open the door for some of our young talent. They would have had a chance to find their own identity.”
The Lodi boys finished second behind Lakeside at the conference meet. The Blue Devils then placed eighth at the state meet.
“I thought the guys could have made a push for a conference title,” Skellenger said. “We were looking to build off of last year. I think both teams could have been contenders at the state level, especially the boys team.”
Skellenger is especially disappointed for the seniors losing their final season with the program. The group includes Luke Beckwith, Brandon Grover, Jack Hansen, Chloe Hix, Henry Jesse, Rachel Karls, Matt Kearney, Josh Larson, Morgan Loewenhagen, Morgan McNeill, Amanda Miller, Lexi Mitchell, Kristin Nachreiner, Dustyn Paulson, Zachary Potter, Ben Simplot, Collin Statz and Blaise Zander.
“It is especially tough for the seniors, because they have worked hard for four years,” Skellenger said. “They deserved the right to finish off their careers the right way.”
The Blue Devils still may get a change to be together as a team again, even with this year’s senior class. The WIAA is allowing for a 30-day contact period this summer for spring sports teams.
Lodi is planning to practice in July on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
“The kids have other sports during the summer months, but we did an informal poll and about 75 percent of them said they would be interested in practicing at least part of the time,” Skellenger said. “We can’t host meets or scrimmages, but we are trying to find some host schools to compete against in July.”
Whether they get together as a team this summer or not, Skellenger expects the Blue Devils will0 be ready to compete next spring.
“They will be motivated in the offseason and ready for next season,” Skellenger said.