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For so many prep athletes, there is no tomorrow

The ones playing a sport in college? They’ll have new chapters to write.

The underclassmen? They’ve got at least another year. Maybe more.

But what about the rest?

“It was really shocking, really traumatizing for us,” said Highland High girls track and field athlete America Aguirre. “This was a season that could have changed a lot of things for us (seniors).”

Absent a spring sports season, thousands of high school senior athletes in New Mexico – many of whom only compete in the spring – must come to grips with an unwelcome and premature conclusion to their athletic endeavors.

The harsh realization is, a large majority of them won’t play organized sports beyond high school, and this spring was to be their final go-round as an athlete. The coronavirus has robbed so many of that emotional farewell to their days in uniform.

“I think along with most seniors, I was really heartbroken,” said Aguirre, who also played soccer and did some place-kicking for the Hornets’ varsity football team. “I just know that (now) we have to step into the world faster than we thought.”

The Journal interviewed a cross-section of athletes around the metro area after COVID-19 forced the New Mexico Activities Association on Friday to cancel the remainder of the spring seasons in golf, softball, baseball, tennis and track and field.

All five sports were underway when they were put on hiatus March 13. Athletes and coaches across the state held onto the slim hope that perhaps their seasons could be salvaged in some form. Friday’s official cancellation notice didn’t catch athletes off guard, per se, but for some the news still struck them like a thunderbolt.

“It was super devastating,” said Del Norte senior cheerleader and tennis player Kaylie Doyle, a four-year varsity athlete in both sports. “This would have been my last run. For it to be cut off, just out of the blue, was really heartbreaking.”

Indeed, for all cheer athletes, this weekend’s timing cut especially deep, since the state spirit competition at Dreamstyle Arena – the Pit was scheduled to finish on Saturday night.

The spring state tournaments in May are no more.

Josh Lara of Atrisco Heritage thought he would be a state track and field qualifier for the Jaguars this season. It’s been heavy on his mind for months.

“I have never qualified for state in track, and this year, I was ready,” he said. “I prepared myself from the middle of December, until now.”

The first suspension of athletics, Lara said, was tough to absorb.

“When the last day of practice before our first meet got canceled, I realized our season might be in jeopardy,” Lara said. “That’s when it hit me the most. But then hearing it again (Friday) was like a second blow to the face. I thought, ‘I’m really done.'”

Scores of other senior athletes planned to use the next couple of months as a springboard, calculating that perhaps a college might be doing some last-minute recruiting. They’ll instead have to find another avenue.

Rio Rancho High senior shortstop Jacob Braunschweiger is not part of that group. He is hoping to earn an appointment to the Air Force Academy or the Naval Academy this fall.

His approach to this bizarre conclusion to his prep career was two-pronged.

“Tough to hear,” he said. “Especially as seniors, because we haven’t won a state title in the last four years, and that was one of our main goals. We were on a roll.”

From an individual standpoint, he said, “It’s sad, it really is. Baseball is one of the great opportunities that I jumped on at a young age. And now it’s coming to an end in my most important year.”

A.J. Cruz of Atrisco Heritage belongs to a very small club. Cruz had never participated in any sport as a Jaguar until this spring, when he tried out for the track squad.

“I was part of the team, you know,” he said. “But I have to accept this and be open-minded, try something else, try something new, like a new hobby.”

He did, in fact, find one. Barbering, he said. Later this year, he plans to join the Navy.

“I just cut someone’s hair right now,” Cruz said, laughing loudly. “It was kind of bad.” Braunschweiger, perhaps voicing the thoughts of many of his peers, was already thinking proactively.

“I’m optimistic, although this was hard,” he said. “But I’ll have many more opportunities to make my name in other ways.”

Albuquerque High senior girls tennis player Audry Johnson’s reaction was almost one of defiance. She was not recruited to play in college.

“It made me realize, I might want to play again,” she said. “Whether it’s intramural or a club team at my college … I wasn’t going to do that before (Friday).”

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