New winter sports coaches work to get athletes playing again

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Fair Use: Youth Hockey Hub; Max Lundgren

New coaches begin preparations for their seasons amid the COVID-19 pandemic

After only a couple of weeks of preseason for winter sports, all athletics in the state of Minnesota were put on ‘pause’ for four weeks. Four weeks turned into about six weeks, but on January 4, 2021, the COVID-19 athletics restrictions were finally lifted, and student-athletes were allowed to play once again. The season started abruptly, with many teams jumping right into tryouts or preparing for competitions not far in the future. With many limitations to standard procedure, like not being allowed to use locker rooms and needing to wear masks at all times, everyone is trying to find ways to make the season work. Most winter sports teams at Saint Paul Academy and Summit School are equipped with a coach that knows the school inside and out, but a few new coaches were brought in and are navigating not only a season filled with restrictions and limitations but also an entirely new school environment and a group of athletes.

The Upper School Nordic team’s new coach, Max Lundgren, has been an assistant coach for the team for a few years. He stepped in as the team’s head coach this year before the season was put on pause starting November 18, subsequently causing Lundgren and his team to stop training. Lundgren says this has not stopped the team from being enthusiastic about their season, “The excitement for skiing has only been increased by all the cancellations and delays; we are all so happy to be out on the snow together.” Lundgren said. The team was meeting for virtual practice programs and were able to learn ski techniques on dryland without ever trying it on skis, showing that Lundgren and the team’s captains possessed the leadership qualities necessary for a successful season in a pandemic.

The excitement for skiing has only been increased by all the cancellations and delays; we are all so happy to be out on the snow together.”

— Max Lundgren

Inside the ice rink, the boy’s varsity hockey team also got a new coach this year. Brian Murphy has coached hockey for many years now, winning state titles and coaching elite hockey teams. He interviewed for the head coach position in the spring of 2020 and has facilitated the team through summer training, fall captain’s practices, and the beginning of the season. Murphy has consistently found ways to get the team on the ice in a safe manner. Murphy does note that it is challenging to make sure the players are wearing their masks, “The boys struggle with the masks, I know how hard it is to have to play with them on, but we have to wear them, everyone has to wear the masks if we are going to have a season and that’s just the way it is.” Murphy said. Every detail of this season is crucial, and a positive case on the team could result in a program shut down for at least two weeks.

Both coaches were adamant that their goals this year were to make sure the kids are safe and having fun. Being able to play and compete during a pandemic is a privilege that everyone is just happy to have back, “It might have been because I was standing at top of the hill relaxing and watching the sky change from blue to pink and pretending to be Herb Brooks while the skiers all did no poles classic hill sprints again and again and again. But watching them do what people have done for over 5000 years, climb a snowy hill with boards strapped to their feet, for the first time since last March, the pandemic felt ephemeral,” Lundgren said. After so much delay to the start of the season, both coaches are just trying to make the most of the season, “It’s all about just getting better every day and having a ton of fun doing it, the team has a lot of seniors and this year has got to be so tough on them especially, so I am just trying to keep practices fun and make sure everyone is always competing hard with one another,” Murphy said.

While there have been countless problems at every turn of the season for every SPA sports team, coach Lundgren has faith that the students will always be able to find a way to get back out playing the sport they love.

Lundgren concluded, “All I could think about is standing at the top of that hill year after year and watching the kids all find a way to get up it, again and again, no matter how good or bad their wax is or what the snow conditions are.”