Three months and a day later, high school sports returned, and New Mexico took its first steps on a lengthy climb back to normalcy.
“I was really excited this morning,” said Sandia Prep boys soccer player Eric Presura, a senior midfielder. “I could not wait for this.”
Across the state on Monday, including a few schools in the metro area, prep teams were officially back together for the first time since mid-March. March 14 was the bizarre, fan-free finale at Dreamstyle Arena that closed the state basketball tournament.
Since then, it’s been a coronavirus-defined period of confusion, frustration and isolation — not to mention a plethora of Zoom meetings.
Monday, therefore, was a much-needed tonic. It was practically a reunion tour, given how long teams have been separated.
“It was really awesome being back today, just to see all my teammates,” said Hope Christian center midfielder Mia Martinez. “I have a really close bond with all these girls.”
The New Mexico Activities Association designated Monday as the earliest date schools could enter phase one of this return to prep sports. And things are going to be brought along at a deliberate pace, in deference to the COVID-19 pandemic which has been dictating the schedule of just about every sports entity on the planet.
“I think we all don’t know exactly how to act coming back,” Albuquerque Academy senior defensive back/running back Nathan Roberts said following the Chargers’ late afternoon workout Monday. “We’re just approaching this with optimism. We’re going to prepare as if we’re gonna have a season. If we don’t, that would be unfortunate.”
Hope, St. Pius, Academy and Sandia Prep were the four largest metro-area schools jumping back in on Monday. Albuquerque Public Schools will start with fall sports (and cheer/dance) on June 29.
It was an unusual sight around the metro, as athletes kept their distance from each other and their coaches, who all have been forced to design creative workouts for their teams.
Hope’s footballers, coming off a state championship and operating under a new head coach in Fernando Salinas, spent several hours early Monday morning at Vista Del Norte Park. The Huskies worked in pods, strictly adhering to the guidelines set forth by the NMAA, with several small groups of players, each under the guidance of a masked coach.
“Even though it’s different and we’re not allowed to huddle or have a ball, it’s still football at the end of the day,” Huskies senior lineman John Taylor said.
Perhaps in keeping with the sadistic way 2020 is unfolding, when Hope coaches and players arrived at the park for their 6 a.m. start, they discovered it was flooded in many areas. They had to scour the property to find patches of dry grass.
But that didn’t subtract from the excitement of being back together.
“I texted (a teammate) this morning. I couldn’t sleep,” senior Hope receiver/running back Logan Hall said. “It was 2 a.m.”
Academy’s football team and boys and girls basketball teams got in their first workouts Monday.
Basketball players were conducting passing drills by bouncing the ball off the nearest wall, back to themselves, since sharing equipment in this phase is prohibited.
And athletes are not necessarily in tip-top shape, either, as Chargers boys coach Jake Herrin reminded his team as he watched a dozen of his athletes lay on their backs, holding their feet together, six inches off the floor. This proved taxing.
“You guys used to do three minutes!” Herrin said. “That was, like, 30 seconds!”
Hope’s Martinez understood.
“Being in quarantine,” said Martinez, “you get really out of shape. You’re not as motivated because you can’t do anything. The hardest part is getting back into the mindset of having to start working out again.”
The best place to spectate among the various parks and schools the Journal visited throughout the day was the backyard of first-year Hope Christian girls soccer coach Amy Fankam. (Local fans will remember her as Amy Warner, the former powerhouse who starred at La Cueva and Notre Dame.)
In that yard of her Northeast Heights home, there is a zip line, a trampoline, a playground area, a grass area and also a miniature, artifical-turf soccer field, replete with goals at both ends.
At Sandia Prep’s lush grass field, longtime Sundevils boys coach Tommy Smith was taking five of his players through some simple touch drills. Another group was to come in after this group finished.
“It was kind of tough not to be able to see them for months, so it’s nice to be out here again,” said Presura.