Amidst challenging times, Slicers coaches dealing with coronavirus with their teams

La Porte’s Morgan Keen bats in a game last season against Merrillville at Kesling Park on April 2.

La PORTE — Unprecedented times have called for unprecedented measures.

Even the prep sports landscape isn’t exempt from extended postponements due to the coronavirus.

After the directive by Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb last Thursday that all Indiana schools will be closed until May 1, that effectively postponed all Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) spring events until that date.

While the situation is certainly fluid and unpredictable, a few La Porte spring sports coaches are mindful about how they’re handling their teams in this crisis.

“It’s a really difficult situation,” Slicers girls tennis coach Don Varda said. “The high school has handled it extremely well. The decisions they’ve made are in the best interest of the student athletes and the coaching staffs. It’s very disappointing, don’t get me wrong, I want us to be able to play tennis, we all want to play tennis. But public safety has to be our No. 1 priority.”

La Porte softball coach Ryan Sosinski concurred with his fellow coach and added the well being of the student-athletes is of utmost importance.

“We’re just keeping it safe,” Sosinski said. “I told them I want them to be active and stay in shape, but they’ve also got to be smart and be safe. We’re just kind of sitting and waiting. Hopefully, this will clear up and we’ll get word we can come back.”

Slicers’ softball is looking to atone after a season-ending, 14-1, five-inning loss to Penn in a sectional opener last season.

La Porte did earn at least 16 wins for the second consecutive year, though.

It lost two seniors to graduation, Emily Samuelson and Megan Reed, but return a solid nucleus, paced by Shelby Linn, Nola Hammerschmidt, Olivia Zarantonello, Sophie Sorg, and Morgan Keen.

Sosinski is keeping an optimistic attitude about the season not getting completely canceled, however, he’s trying to be realistic about the possibility at the same time.

“I hope that doesn’t happen,” Sosinski said, referring to if the whole season gets called off. “I’m very confident that it’s not going to happen. If that happens, that would absolutely break my heart for the seniors. These seniors are a great group. They’ve played varsity since I took over. They got varsity time before I took over. This group is a solid group that had a lot of wins coming this year, so I would be absolutely heartbroken for them and all the hard work they’ve put in.”

With this evolving situation, the IHSAA announced it will change its mandatory number of practices from 10 to five in the future. As a result, just five practices will be required before a student-athlete is allowed to participate in athletic events.

Sosinski favors this rule change.

“It’s already in place, which is great for us because we’ve got that whole week of practices in prior to us being quarantined,” Sosinski said. “So that’s great for us and I think everybody in the state also got all of their softball practices in. So if the season begins, we can start playing.”

Varda agrees with the IHSAA’s proposal.

“That would be good, because that would allow us to play matches sooner,” Varda added. “I’m really happy they didn’t cancel the season yet. But our athletic director, Ed Gilliland, is all over this stuff. He knows what they’re doing and I’m just really happy we have him. He’s on their boards and he’s on these committees and I’m sure he gets an inside scoop, so we just follow whatever his lead is.”

Varda and La Porte’s girls tennis team is striving to claim its sixth straight sectional championship.

A year ago, it captured an undefeated regular season for the first time in 41 years to become the undisputed Duneland Athletic Conference champion for the first time in 40 seasons. In total, the Slicers finished with an exceptional 21-1 record.

The squad loses Alaina Majors, Allison Varda and Emma Keene to graduation, but returns Rachel Kaminski, Jory Bales, Aniya Kennedy and Molly Reed.

La Porte and its returners will unfortunately have to wait to try and top last season’s magical campaign. In the interim, Varda is advising his players to be guided by the school administration in these uncertain times.

“I would advise our players to follow the direction of our corporation,” Varda said. “And the governor of Indiana has pretty much told people to stay home. My hope is if we can get to a point where we can handle what’s happening with this pandemic and we can kind of get control of it, I’m hoping we might have the opportunity to play tennis. But until then, it’s very important that all of our players follow the guidelines from our athletic director and our administrators.”

When asked what, if anything, he’s telling his players to do to gear up for the potential season, Varda was certainly cautious.

“I wouldn’t tell them to go out and do anything,” he said. “I wouldn’t tell them to go play, hit or work out. Tennis is postponed right now. Until we hear differently from the administration, I’d advise our girls to follow the rules of the (school) corporation.”

In the end, Varda is prepared for anything, including the possibility of having the entire season canceled.

“I’d be extremely disappointed for our players and our seniors,” he said. “They’ve put their heart and soul into this and they really want to play badly and I understand that. So that would be extremely disappointing. I hope it doesn’t happen. But we really want to play. I admire what our girls have done and I admire the culture they’ve built with our team. But we obviously have to put forth the most important thing, which is their safety and their health, that’s more important than tennis.”

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