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Daily Journal
     April 14, 2020      #75-105 KDJ

Spring athletes stay busy during downtime 

By Cody Smith

It’s been more than a month since COVID-19 began dismantling normalcy in the United States. Since then, the global pandemic has forced most everything and everyone into temporary lockdowns. With schools operating remotely, spring sports are just a distant memory.

As a result, people have been stuck inside their homes and are left with little to do. One only can watch so much television or play so many video games before they get stale. So, in order to stay busy, creativity must be employed. And the ones who have had to get the most creative are the student-athletes who have had to continue to prepare for a possible spring season.

Since the Illinois High School Association still is optimistic it can salvage some type of a spring sports season, local athletes have had to balance school, leisure and sports all from the likes of their own homes.

Beecher softball hoping to defend its state title

Bobcats senior Kaylie Sippel has been staying prepared from home as she waits for an opportunity for another possible state title run with the Bobcats. She’s been working on various pitching drills outside her house as well as getting some reps with the stick in the backyard. Sippel has been hitting whiffle balls to work on her swing and even has hit at her local park for additional reps.

“For the past three years of softball and going to state every time, it just really prepares you mentally for anything,” Sippel said. “I just think we’d all be ready if the season is somehow salvaged.”

Of course, Sippel has not spent all her free time dedicated to perfecting her craft. She has been staying up later than usual playing video games, watching old ESPN 30-for-30s and keeping in touch with her teammates.

“We have all still been keeping in touch and keeping the chemistry there at least,” Sippel said. “We are all really hoping the season comes back, but I think we are all still close enough that it doesn’t really matter we can’t be together.”

On the other hand, teammate Margaret Landis has been doing somewhat of the opposite. Unlike Sippel, Landis has been getting up at her usual time as if she was headed to school. Along with doing her online school work, Landis has been on a Netflix binge, as well as staying close to her family.

As for her softball preparations, Landis has been doing her team’s core exercises from home. Additionally, she has been hitting soft-toss and working off a tee with her sister, Kate Landis, who plays softball at Olivet Nazarene University.

“I get so bored during the day, but it’s nice having a lot of siblings that I can just hang out with,” Margaret said. “It’s nice having all this time together.”

Margaret will have plenty more time with Kate next year when she joins her at ONU.

McNamara’s Nugent sisters keep busy together

It can be hard sometimes to practice for a team sport individually, but thankfully for senior Elle Nugent, she has her younger sister Halle Nugent, a sophomore, to practice alongside her.

“Together, we’ve just been doing dribbling, passing and shooting drills,” Elle said. “We also run and just make sure we are prepared in case the season does happen.”

The two Irish soccer players have been doing all this at Legacy Park in Manteno.

Aside from practicing soccer, the two have spent most of their time with their family and playing Wii, board games and cards.

“We’ve just been spending a lot of time hanging out with family, working out and spending time at the soccer field,” Halle said. “We play a lot of card games together.”

Bradley-Bourbonnais’ Rodriguez staying ready for high school and beyond

The area boasts tons of talent in spring sports, sending a handful or so kids to NCAA Division I schools each year. This spring, a strong baseball pitching crop has players such as Wilmington’s Keaton Hopwood (Coastal Carolina), Coal City’s Payton Hutchings (Illinois) and Bradley-Bourbonnais’ Alex Rodriguez (Valparaiso) leading this year’s talent.

Rodriguez has been enjoying his time at home. Unlike most athletes during this time, Rodriguez enjoys working out from home. He feels as though he has everything he needs in order to stay in baseball shape.

“I have everything I need here at my house to continue training,” Rodriguez said. “I have a net ... and I built a pitching mound so I can throw bullpens and stuff. I’ve been just trying to stay busy.”

Not knowing whether he will play his final season as a senior has not changed Rodriguez mentality when it comes to baseball — he knows this is not his final season playing America’s pastime.

“My mentality hasn’t really changed,” Rodriguez said. “It’s pretty much the same stuff; it’s just not doing it with your teammates.”

Coal City baseball keeping busy with family, work and workouts

For most high-schoolers, this is more time to spend with family. And that’s no different for Coal City senior Austin Pullara. Along with working a part-time job during the week as a construction worker, Pullara has spent most of his free time with his family playing board games or watching movies. Otherwise, Pullara most likely is at his local lake, where you can catch him fishing.

Nonetheless, Pullara knows he has to get his work in as well, so he’s trying to hit three times per week off a tee in his garage and finds time to work on his core by doing various at-home exercises.

“It’s different working out from home; it’s hard,” Pullara said. “It’s tough, but I trust my teammates that they’re working out at home. ... It’s just tough, and we aren’t used to it.”

Pullara will continue his athletic career by attending the University of Wisconsin-Platteville next year to play baseball and perhaps even football.

Hutchings also has been putting in work from home. His father, Coal City athletic director and football coach Dan Hutchings, helped set Payton up with a mini workout spot in his garage so he can stay in shape during this time apart from the team.

“Me and my dad set up a little workout space in the garage,” Payton said. “So, I have been working out, doing my bands, and we’ve been playing catch to keep my arm ready.

Once Payton gets all his online school work and baseball training out of the way, he likes to take the rest of the day to relax. Payton spends most of his free time on the sticks, playing MLB the Show or Call of Duty Modern Warfare.

Reed-Custer’s Christian hopeful for a 3rd state appearance

Luckily for senior Jaden Christian, who is looking to make a third straight IHSA State Finals appearance in track and field, she competes in a spring sport that doesn’t involve a lot of necessary training equipment. The future Lewis University runner has used her local surroundings as her training ground. Christian has been running around the neighborhood as well as doing hand-free work outs at home since being in quarantine.

“I’ve been just running around the neighborhood since the track is closed,” Christian said. “I don’t have a weight-lifting rack unfortunately, so given the circumstances, I’ve been just trying to use my body weight and do abs and stuff like that.”

However, running only takes up part of Christian’s day. In her spare time, she has been at home to spend with her family watching TV or Netflix, as well as doing some yard work. The senior has spent a lot of time helping her family work on the landscape of their house, including cutting and trimming down trees in their backyard.

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