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With dashed hopes, aspirations, high school athletes look ahead

A helmet sits alone in the bleachers of

A helmet sits alone in the bleachers of a baseball field. Credit: Johnny Milano

When schools and athletics administrators decided last Tuesday to cancel the spring sports seasons for Long Island public schools because of the COVID-19 outbreak, it sent a wave of disappointment through legions of athletes in a dozen sports across Nassau and Suffolk counties.

Championship aspirations were dashed. A final stand for groups of seniors that had been playing years together wouldn’t come to fruition. Opportunities to be seen by college recruiters were lost. Weeks and months of training and preparation went for naught.

Many athletes who will not compete in college didn’t get their final days on the fields and courts. Newsday spoke with several athletes and coaches across a number of sports about their unfulfilled hopes and how they have coped with the disappointment. Here are some of those athletes' thoughts and feelings. — Roger Rubin

Comfortable in how his career ended

While disappointed that Shoreham-Wading River won’t get an opportunity to defend its state championship in boys lacrosse, Xavier Arline emphasized that this is a time to focus on gratitude.

“I think the big thing is just to not take anything for granted,” Arline told Newsday's Julia Elbaba on Instagram Live following last week's cancellation of the spring sports season on Long Island because of the coronavirus pandemic. “I don’t think anyone thought that the last practice we had would be the last one. But it’s times like this where you wish you could have that time back. If I had a piece of advice to give, it would be to do everything, no matter what it is, like it’s your last time.”

The senior also commended his parents, both health care workers, for not only their service during the crisis, but for how they’ve inspired him along the way.

“They’ve shown so much effort and determination to keep things running,” Arline said. “They’ve shown me a lot of good character traits that I didn’t really know I had, but it’s times like these that you really get to see it.”

As for his team, Arline believed the defending Class C state champion Wildcats were on the verge of becoming an even greater force to reckon with this spring.

“We had three starting seniors last year, so most of our team last year that won a state championship were juniors and sophomores,” Arline said. “So that whole team was coming back with a whole year of experience and it was just a scary sight.”

Arline still is satisfied with how his time as a Wildcat concluded. He quarterbacked Shoreham the Long Island Class IV football championship last fall, the school's fourth in the past six seasons. “I can sit at ease and be comfortable with the way I ended my career in both sports,” said Arline, who will play football at the United States Naval Academy, with hopes of also playing lacrosse. “With two championships with the guys that I love. I think in general, it’s tough and I feel bad for all the seniors and players all across the country, but I’m handling it pretty well. I’m just going to use this time to be there for others now.” — Mike Ruiz

One more year to fly

Christian Quinn grew up in Massachusetts, moved to Freeport last July, and is currently enjoying his status as the best long jumper in New York. As for college plans, the junior isn’t so keen on the idea of staying in New York or going back home.

He’s not necessarily looking for greener pastures, just warmer ones.

“It’s too cold over there,” Quinn told Newsday during an Instagram Live interview. “I definitely want to move a little bit farther away, but I’m not sure where. Maybe down south.”

Quinn’s indoor season turned a lot of heads, and rightfully so. He spent most of the winter at the top of the state long jump rankings and proved why at the state championships in early March. Quinn jumped 22 feet, 11 inches to win the state title by 2 1/2 inches.

And that wasn’t even Quinn’s best jump of the season. He went 23 feet, 5 inches at the Long Island Elite Meet in February, the longest mark in the state this year, according to milesplit.com.

Quinn was counting on an outdoor season where he could go after his new goal of 24 feet. But the path toward that mark was delayed by the cancellation of the spring sports season.

Quinn will have to wait until at least November to get another shot at 24. More than likely, the wait will be even longer than that because those kind of numbers aren’t typically hit until after winter break. As disappointing as the news of the cancellation was, Quinn said he expected it.

“If you watch the news and you see the NBA and all that being canceled, what makes you think they’re going to keep high school sports?” he said. “It sucks. But, at the end of the day, what can you do, especially if it’s for the betterment of people? It’s preventing people from getting sick, so that’s more important.”

Quinn said he’s still in the questionnaire period of the college recruiting process. He also plays cornerback and wideout on Freeport’s football team, making his decision even more complex. He said that he would like to continue to play both sports in college but isn’t opposed to concentrating on only one if he falls in love with a situation.

As he ponders his upcoming decision, Quinn said that feeling at home with a coaching staff will be a big factor in his choice.

“The facility and the personality of coaches,” he said. “I want to be around a good staff.”

And, of course, warmer temperatures. — Jordan Lauterbach

A 12-year journey cut a few months short

This was one of the most highly anticipated seasons East Islip girls lacrosse coach Steven Levy had in his 13 years at the helm of the program.

Not only was it the senior season for his youngest daughter, Alyssa, but he’s never had a stronger connection to a class before. Levy began coaching Alyssa and many of the seniors on this year’s varsity team when they were in third grade. He oversaw their progression from youth levels to travel leagues and finally to the varsity field.

“I saw this 12-year journey coming to the end where I said, ‘We’re going to shock some people this year’ because this group has a bond,” Levy told Newsday during an Instagram Live interview. “They’ve been together for so long.”

But in a moment, it was over.

“It was devastating on many levels,” Levy said.

Alyssa, a senior attack who is committed to play at Brown, said she learned about the cancellations on Instagram. She said younger teammates began reaching out to the seniors to say how upset they were to not be able to play another varsity game together.

Alyssa, along with fellow seniors Hannah Calarco, Allie Chiarelli, Alexa Fusco, Gia Gremaux, Taylor Roth, Rachel Schlesinger and Traci Byrnes couldn’t end their varsity tenures on their terms. Many of them have played on varsity since freshman year.

“We’ve been playing together since third grade, so I’ve known these girls for a long time and most of them are my best friends,” said Alyssa, who had 32 goals and 27 assists last year. “We’ve been playing youth and travel together, and to not end our last year together kind of stinks.”

Both Levy and Alyssa said they weren’t surprised by the cancellations and understood the reasoning. But Levy said he was fighting back tears when he sent a group message to the team. And he wasn’t alone.

“I kind of knew this was eventually going to be the outcome,” Alyssa said. “So I wasn’t too shocked about it. But [Tuesday night] when my dad sent the message, it kind of sank in.”

That’s also when it set in for Alyssa that she had played her final game with her father as the coach. She’ll never forget those moments on the field.

“It definitely grew a strong bond between us — some days,” Alyssa said with a laugh. “But now I know I’ll never be able to play for him again, so that hit hard.”

After hovering around .500 over the past three years, this was the season Alyssa and her classmates were most looking forward to. Until they couldn’t anymore.

“This class was always going to have a special place,” Steven Levy said. “And it wasn’t only that my daughter was in this class. I watched these girls grow up from the time they were in third grade, so to see them now as young mature women, it’s a special thing that most coaches don’t get to experience — watching their players grow up.” — Owen O'Brien

'Makes you realize high school is so awesome'

When Brock Murtha saw the screenshot from Twitter in one of his group chats last Tuesday afternoon, his heart dropped.

“I was really shocked that they were canceling sports before they made the call on canceling school,” Murtha told Newsday during an Instagram Live interview. “I didn't see it coming.”

Murtha had been doing all he could to prepare for his senior baseball season at Sayville, hoping for a chance to get back out on the field with his friends.

He was looking forward to leading his team as they attempted to capture a second consecutive Long Island Class A title while also attempting to chase down the Long Island individual career home run record.

“We were looking great in tryouts and our team last year was amazing,” Murtha said. “We had a bunch of returners and I’ve been playing with them since I was 5. A lot of kids live for that last season and look forward to it their whole life and it’s really devastating.”

The senior also won’t get the chance to attempt to track down Long Island’s all-time home run record of 41, held by East Hampton’s Ross Gload. Murtha has 28 career home runs, including 10 last season.

“It really sucks that I’m not even going to get the chance to go after it,” he said. “If I went out and came up short it would have been different but now I’m heartbroken.”

The spring wasn’t all bad news for Murtha, who accepted his baseball scholarship and officially got accepted to attend Notre Dame on March 20. But before heading to South Bend, Murtha was hoping to get one last chance to win a championship and set records with his boyhood friends.

“As a senior you have a lot of lasts and it makes you realize that high school is so awesome,” he said. "You have all of your friends you grew up with and it's never going to be like this again.” — Gene Morris

'Play every game like it's your last'

Maddie Gallagher has gotten creative over the last few weeks.

The Port Washington shortstop had been holding out hope that she’d be able to get back on the diamond for her senior season. That softball season ended before it ever really began.

So, with no games on the schedule, Gallagher has focused on finding other ways to fill her time.

That’s included everything from homemade cake deliveries for friends to self-taught ukulele lessons and turning her garage into a makeshift training facility.

“Our gym that me and my mom belong to actually rented out some equipment,” Gallagher told Newsday during an Instagram Live interview. “I have some of the essentials, like a barbell, but then I got creative and started making a squat rack with cinder blocks stacked up on each other. So I could be able to squat and have a rack so I could bench press. It’s honestly pretty cool.”

Gallagher, who is committed to South Carolina, also said she has a batting cage that “takes up my whole backyard,” so she’s been able to hit regularly.

"Any little activity softball-wise really gets me through [this]," she said.

An All-Long Island selection last year after hitting .575 with eight home runs and 21 RBIs, Gallagher admitted she’s still a “little bit in denial” about the season being canceled, but is “thankful for the six years I got to play with Port softball.”

Gallagher is hopeful things will go back to normal sooner rather than later. Still, this experience has been a challenge and one that’s left her with a piece of advice for other athletes.

“Play like every game is your last,” Gallagher said. “It was a saying that people would just throw around. I know I did for sure. I was like I still have more years, I still have time to play the sport that I love, but in reality you never really know, clearly, when it’s going to get cut short.” — Laura Amato

'Hard for me to be upset'

Marc Psyllos spent the first week of his lacrosse career at Manhasset on the junior varsity team. It also was the first week of Keith Cromwell’s tenure as varsity head coach.

Later that week, Psyllos, then a freshman, played in a scrimmage between the varsity and the junior varsity and quickly stood out with his lacrosse IQ.

Psyllos never played JV again.

“He never left my side after that,” Cromwell said. “… he does everything on the field for us.”

Psyllos, now a senior face-off specialist and team captain, said the disappointment of a lost season was twofold. He understands the impact and greater significance of the coronavirus pandemic. But also there is the loss of a lifelong athletic goal.

“It’s hard for me to be upset because so [many] worse things are going on out there,” Psyllos said. “But at a disappointment level for, ‘I wish I could [play],' I’d give it a 10 of course.”

The Indians have the same goals every year: beat rival Garden City in the Woodstick Classic, win Nassau and state titles. Manhasset lost in the state Class B semifinals to Section 1's John Jay-Cross River last year.

Psyllos, who will attend Cornell, earned MVP honors in the Nassau championship after he won 15 of 16 faceoffs. But the state loss still resonates for him.

“After losing that game I remembered literally just saying to myself, ‘All right, I can’t wait till next year,' like that’s all I was waiting to do,” Psyllos said “Now I’m just sitting [at] home.” -- Jake Falk

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