Emily Nelson and Emily Spencer didn’t know what to expect prior to their first soccer game Thursday night in Jackson.
Since the spring sports season for high school teams was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, SEMO Conference schools put together a series of events starting with soccer.
“I’m not going into it too competitively because, I mean it doesn’t really count for anything,” Spencer said. “It’s just kind of a sense of closure for the seniors.”
Said Nelson, “I’m hoping more fun and kind of getting my anger out from not being able to play my whole season.”
Once the referee blew his whistle to start the friendly between the Mules and Jackson, it was as if it were April 27 (only much hotter) as Jackson won 8-0.
“It’s hard not to be competitive,” Poplar Bluff coach Rusty Crafton said. “Even though this is a friendly game, but you know you still want to go out there, we’re still trying to compete.
“Hats off to Jackson, they’ve got a good squad.”
The Mules were back Friday night with Nelson and Spencer being honored prior to a game with Saxony Lutheran, which beat Poplar Bluff 5-0.
The scores didn’t matter as much as just playing and giving the seniors a sense of closure.
“The first few weeks after it happened and we were all forced to stay home I was really nervous that I wouldn’t get this final year,” Spencer said. “I’ve been playing since I was really young.
“I’m not planning on going to college and playing so this is my (last games).”
SEMO Conference schools are also holding a few more events for only those recently graduated seniors.
On July 6, baseball players from the conference will play at Capaha Field in Cape Girardeau. Poplar Bluff players will team up with Kennett to play a team of Cape Central and Sikeston players at 3 p.m. then play again at 7 p.m. against a team of Jackson and Dexter players. Seniors and their parents will also be recognized between the four games.
A boys tennis tournament will be held July 7 at Notre Dame Regional High School in Cape Girardeau featuring a singles and doubles bracket.
On July 8, there will be a track and field meet held for only seniors at Notre Dame while golfers will play Fox Haven Country Club in Sikeston.
MSHSAA amended its bylaws this summer to allow for events like these and for coaches and athletes to spend more time together. Of course, the pandemic has not stopped and schools are taking precautions to keep student-athletes as safe as possible. Poplar Bluff put guidelines in place at the start of June when practices could resume with the weight room off limits and social distancing stressed.
Before warming up for the friendly, every soccer player had their temperature taken and the postgame handshake was traded for a wave. Some fans wore masks.
Spring sports were just wrapping up preseason workouts and were set to start playing games when schools across the state were closed. Poplar Bluff’s last full day in school was Friday the 13th and Thursday’s friendly was 95 days after the Mules were scheduled to play their first game.
Crafton has held practices twice a week for the girls and boys soccer team.
“I tried to enjoy it more than usual, I didn’t complain as much,” Nelson said. “I tried to look at everything in a positive way, since I saw how bad it was not to have it.”
With all sports working to prepare for next season, some of the soccer players were unable to play. One of the three seniors originally on the roster in March, Nayeli Cerda, also did not play. To help fill out the roster Crafton gave incoming freshmen an opportunity to play.
“We have a really young team and we’re not used to playing with this team,” Nelson said. “We kind of just look to have fun.”
As the Class of 2020 gets closure in spring sports, the next group of seniors are getting ready for fall sports under the same coronavirus cloud.
“For the boys, it’s kind of up in the air, we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Crafton said of the fall soccer season. “We’re crossing our fingers that we can start on time.”