The meeting was the hardest part.
A few hours before the governor announced on March 13 he was shutting down schools, North baseball coach Steve Goes held a voluntary meeting with his team so he could prepare them for what he thought was coming and what inevitably happened: major delays to the start of spring sports.
“Just seeing the look on their face, that was hard to take,” Goes said. “They were so sad and disappointed. I walked away from that sad and disappointed for them, but also it made me think, ‘wow, these guys really like the game.’ … I get texts from them all the time if I heard of (updates) or when can they get out there, that type of thing.
“I mean, it’s good and bad. Obviously, you feel horrible for the seniors but to see how badly they want to be on the field is pretty cool. … Like anybody else, we’re just waiting for the virus to run its course, and hopefully everybody stays healthy and safe. The decision makers will put us back on the field when they feel it’s safe for all of us to be there.”
The last time the Golden Raiders were on the field, they got their farthest in the playoffs since 2003 when they reached a sectional final despite being seeded 10th.
North beat the No. 2-, 3- and 7-seeded teams before losing to Fond du Lac, 7-3, to fall one win short of advancing to state for the first time since 2001.
Although Goes says each season is its own separate entity, several players return from that experience and he thinks their hunger is still there, and will be if the season ever begins.
“But the challenge will be once we get started, everybody is going to be hungry because we had something taken away from us for so long,” Goes said.
Three starters return for the Golden Raiders in juniors Ryan Traas and Hunter Steger, along with senior Bennett Becker.
Most of their pitchers are back, too.
But North has to replace two second-team all-Fox River Classic Conference infielders in Brent Widder (University of Evansville) and Jacob Neese (Parkland Community College).
Hunter Fihn is coming off a season in which his 14 hits led the Eagles, but he’s switching defensive positions by becoming the team’s new shortstop.
His .286 batting average is the highest among returning players, and he put in time in the offseason to make more contact and reduce his strikeouts, according to coach Brett Huisman.
“He’s attended some clinics and really put together the effort to try to improve overall, as well as working on his defense because he’s transitioning from primarily the outfield to an infield position,” Huisman said.
Two sophomores, Meier Schick and Parker Vierkant, will also be counted on.
But a glaring loss is first baseman Kyle Fowler, who graduated after spending four years on the varsity.
“It’s a big loss,” Huisman said. “That’s our No. 1 bat in the order and offensively in probably every category. And then on the mound, he was 35-40% of our innings. He’s a significant loss.”
The Crusaders’ only all-conference player from last season, junior Jonah Jurss, rejoined the track and field team this year.
When Jurss was a freshman, Lutheran played in the summer season so he was able to compete in track and helped the 3,200-meter relay team reach state.
The relay team also reached state last year, but Jurss was not on the squad because he stuck with baseball when it moved to the spring season.
Without any seniors, Crusaders coach Tim Muth admits his team is young with mostly freshmen and sophomores.
“It’s kind of a restart, rebuild,” he said.
The Redwings’ new coach is Tyler Zietz, a 2014 South graduate who played four years on varsity. He’s an assistant coach on Sheboygan’s legion team and was North’s JV coach last year.
His debut as varsity head coach, however, is delayed because of the Coronavirus.
“It’s unprecedented, I guess,” Zietz said. “You never expect something like this to happen.”
Zietz wants his team to work hard every chance it gets, whether it is on the field or inside.
“Use every second as they can to get better,” he said. “Hopefully that can translate into having fun and winning, because winning is a lot of fun.”