The 2020 season may have been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Lodi girls soccer team has stayed focused as a team.
“The team is trying to stay active and connected while being apart,” Lodi coach Joe Birkholz said. “The girls have been doing continued workouts and have been talking with each other on a weekly basis.”
Birkholz has been keeping in touch with his team through Zoom.
“It obviously very difficult to get all the girls on a single call but there have been a few that show up to every meeting,” Birkholz said.
With the loss of first-team all-conference performers Alana Gilles and Kaelyn Kruchten to graduation, the Blue Devils had some holes to fill.
The Lady Blue Devils were welcoming back three all-conference athletes, including senior midfielder Grace Maerz, junior forward Alayna Rosga and sophomore forward Grasyn Schmidt. Maerz and Rosga were second-team picks, while Schmidt earned honorable mention all-conference.
“We expected to have a good, if not fresh feeling, season,” Birkholz said. “We had a lot of motivation going into the season and were expecting to see many players make significant strides in their level of play. The team in general had been working very hard in the offseason to improve from the season before.”
Last season, the Blue Devils finished the year 8-7-5 overall.
“We felt we could have done much better as a program and were looking to reset and move forward.” Birkholz said. “Our record didn’t show our overall potential. We felt disjointed and the team had been working to improve on that.”
Lodi was 2-2-3 in the Capitol Conference and placed fifth behind Sugar River (7-0), Lake Mills (4-1-2), Watertown Luther Prep (4-2-1) and Wisconsin Heights (3-1-3).
During last year’s postseason, the Blue Devils lost 8-1 to Madison Edgewood in a WIAA regional final.
The Lady Blue Devils were expecting a turnaround season thanks to a strong senior class, which included Mya Bowman, Melissa Burmeister, Hannah Clark, Thea Collins, Ashley Gray, Lily Griffing, Hannah Heider and Maerz.
“The senior class has done well in the face of the unfortunate circumstances,” Birkholz said. “Missing the season is something I wouldn’t wish on any player. What these events have done is shine a spotlight on what’s important in life. Some players moved their focus to getting ready for the next step in life while keeping in touch with the team. It really shows that team sports are more than just winning and losing. It’s about the players with you on the way. It’s about learning to set goals and focus on what’s important to you and learning to improve yourself in spite of events that are out of your control.”
The lost season is also tough on the underclassman.
“This will have lasting effects on the underclassman without question,” Birkholz said. “What this has done is give student athletes an opportunity to succeed or fail without a safety net. Talk is easy, and many athletes are good at talking. Very few possess the willpower and drive to be successful in this environment. It’s clear that there are a number of athletes who have stepped up and are continuing to improve at soccer as well as learning to self-motivate in life in general.”
Birkholz feels the pandemic will change the attitudes of athletes and coaches.
“Now more than ever, we are in an environment where the most important person who can stop them from being successful or lift them up to that next level is themselves,” Birkholz said. “There’s no hiding from the results of this down time. The effect this will have on the future growth of each player is up to how each reflects and reacts to the time they have been spending on their own. You would be hard pressed to find anyone who didn’t give up on a day at least a few times over the last few months. We all packed it in and napped all afternoon or watched TV for way to long and just quit on the day or even a few days. This will affect the future if they realize it’s ok to fail or quit as long as the next day you go back out and try again.”
Birkholz is already excited about the 2021 season.
“The program is already counting down the days to next season,” Birkholz said. “We are beyond ready to get back out there and practice.”