It was supposed to be an exciting day for the Onalaska High School softball team.
Instead, coach Mesa Heit and her players were left wondering what might have happened during a game against Westby at Jaycee Field on Thursday and trying not to think about the extended future.
The Hilltoppers are in the same boat as their peers, so they aren’t unique.
Schools are closed, and so are spring sports, and that’s just on the educational front.
Just about everything is closed as social distancing is practiced and people stay in homes in an effort to thwart the progress of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
While the weather has finally cooperated with spring athletes, life hasn’t.
“I’ve been in touch with the girls to keep tabs on them and check in to see how they are doing with their mental health through all of this,” Heit said Friday — a day the Hilltoppers were supposed to play at G-E-T. “This is a shock for them.
“I think it’s harder for not only some of my seniors but other players because softball is the only sport for so many of them.”
Their anticipation for getting back on the field is justified.
Onalaska has either won outright or shared the past three MVC championships. Seniors Sarah Krause and Cailie Kowal have contributed to all three titles and were ready to leave their final marks on the program.
Kraus and Kowal were primed to be four-year starters, while others looked for their chances at becoming starters — or contributors — for the first time.
Kraus, who will pitch at Wartburg College (Iowa) after graduating, struck out 276 batters as a junior and had her eyes set on raising that number to 300 as a senior.
She still could get the chance, but the light of the season seems to disappear a little more with each passing day. Heit is doing her best to stay optimistic and keep her players optimistic, but she also has to contend with reality.
“They want reassurance that everything is going to go back to normal,” said Heit, whose five teams at Onalaska have a 78-42 record after posting a 24-3 mark last spring. “That’s hard because I don’t know. I can’t give that to them.”
She said it turns more into a discussion of what can be done rather than what can’t be helped.
That discussion takes place as Heit balances many facets of life — professional and personal — within her household.
Like any other teacher, Heit is attempting to instruct her students from afar as everyone stays in their homes. She also has her own kids who need her help with their work on a different level.
While Heit tries to get a grip on teaching older kids online, she simultaneously attempts to navigate coursework provided for her kids on the elementary level.
“I am co-teaching multiple sections of English 10, and I am teaching social studies, as well,” said Heit, who teaches special education in the Onalaska School district and lives in Holmen. “I also have some reading classes I’m responsible for, so there is quite a variety.”
But there isn’t much variety when it comes to softball, which is a significant part of Heit’s life. The coach said she is putting together some workout videos to share with players, but it is clear that she would much rather be working with them on the field.
“A lot of what we want is just them working out and being healthy,” Heit said. “Sometimes they tell me they will drive by the field, and no one else is there, they will stop and hit for a little while. Some of them are hitting in the garage or pitching in their yard.
“I’m super thankful for the parents who are helping them with all of that because I can’t go do it. They are catching for the kids and putting the ball on the tee for the kids and doing whatever is needed.”
“Mentally, I was getting so excited for the season,” Heit said. “You get so pumped for it, and I’m sure the girls were counting down the days. It was in sight, and then it went away.
“Now, we have to do what we have to do to get a chance to get back in the dirt (and play).”
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