Last Fall when the majority of states in the Mid-West region took to the field for their High School season, Governor J.B. Pritzker kept Illinois teams out of the game.
“It was heartbreaking talking to other coaches in the region who were playing,” says New Trier High School Head Coach Stephanie Nykaza who enters her 32nd season. She adds, “Our kids work so hard and the Fall is a special season for them. They had to miss out on it and all those memories.”
Illinois squads were limited to “contact days” in the Fall, where they were allowed to practice two times a week, but no games could be played. When Covid-19 numbers began to rise in November, those contact days were shutdown as well.
The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) has been key to the return of sports in the 2020-2021 school year, pushing back and shortening all three sports seasons to make that happen. Field hockey was moved to the “Spring” season along with typical Fall sports like football and soccer. The Spring season began last week, March 1st, and runs through April 17th– a much shorter season than normal. Field Hockey teams will be allowed to play 7-10 games and while there will be no state tournament, New Trier is hoping to host some sort of an informal playoff at the end of the season. Additionally, masks will be required and only home fans will be allowed at games and that number may be limited.
Another challenge Illinois schools and teams are facing is the overlap of these new Winter, Spring, and Summer seasons. The Winter season (typical winter sports like basketball, badminton, swimming) runs into the beginning of the Spring season. The Summer season, which includes typical spring sports like lacrosse and softball, begins April 1st, before the end of the Spring season. For multi-sport athletes and teams with multi-sport athletes, or even coaches who coach more than one sport, this presents a big challenge.
At New Trier, Nykaza says that in general, they are allowing multi-sport athletes to try out for their next season, and then finish up the season they are currently playing. On her squad, she does have multi-sport athletes in this situation for both the Winter and Spring seasons.
Not all Illinois field hockey teams were able to sponsor a team this Spring. These tend to be the smaller schools that just don’t have the facilities to accommodate all the overlapping seasons and teams. New Trier, with an enrollment of around 4,000 students, is one of the luckier schools in the state throughout all this. They have three turf fields, which will help to deal with the overlap in the Spring and Summer seasons that include several teams that require a turf surface, especially as the snow melts and the grass fields aren’t ready to be played on yet.
And if all of that wasn’t complicated enough, then you factor in the spring club field hockey season. The spring is generally a busy time for club training and tournaments. It sounds like the clubs in Illinois for the most part have been supportive of the players competing with their High School teams and spring tournament participation has been limited.
When asked about her mindset for the season, Nykaza laughed and said, “Honestly, I don’t really know. I’m trying to win games, as many games as we can. We’re just thrilled to be playing. It feels great to be back, and I’m happy to be going and to be able to honor our seniors.”
One thing is for sure- it is going to be anything but a typical season.
New Trier opens their Spring season at Glenbrook South on March 13th.