This was the year they wanted to be at their best.
If this spring had gone as planned, it would have been teeming with events the six senior girls on Skyline High School's track team had counted down to for years. Prom, senior trips, graduation, cherishing their last weeks of high school with their classmates before going separate ways in the summer.
There would have been practices after school, their last Tiger-Grizz Invitational originally scheduled for Friday and Saturday at Ravsten Stadium, final city/county meet, 4A District 6 meet and 4A state meet where they had hoped to better their state runner-up finish from last May.
Then COVID-19 arrived in Idaho.
The Idaho High School Activities Association Board of Directors met April 17 and decided to cancel the remainder of the spring sports season due to the pandemic. After more than a month without practices or meets, there will be no district or state championships.
There will be no final chance to compete before a stadium full of cheering spectators, stand on the podium with a medal, or take down a school or state record.
"I had a lot of hope after the first suspension that we'd be back," said hurdler Macy Olson. "It's hard because I just hoped and hoped and hoped and I was let down by that. I'd looked forward to this senior year where you're at your peak. The girls knew it and I knew it that we could compete for that state title."
'I don't think I wanted it to be a reality'
Three days after the 2019 state meet, Grizz head track coach Chase Meyer was already enthusiastic for the 2020 season and how many athletes would return for the girls team. The girls had placed second to powerhouse Bishop Kelly at last year's 4A state championships, completing a Skyline 1-2 finish as the Grizz boys won a program first state title. The trophies were Skyline's first at state track since 2006.
Almost a year later, Meyer still believes the Grizzlies would have challenged five-time defending champion Bishop Kelly.
"They'd kind of come along and last year, they definitely worked really hard and surprised a lot of people at the state meet with what they were able to do," Meyer said. "This year, I think we maybe could have gotten within 20 to 30 points (of Bishop Kelly). I definitely think the girls were ready to kind of not just be in races, but start winning some races."
All six senior girls had high hopes. After a stress fracture ended her sophomore season in state prelims and a broken foot at districts kept her from competing at state last year, sprinter and Montana State University signee Hannah Fish entered this spring aiming for her first state medals. Thrower Senaida Gonzalez had aspirations of reaching 37 or 38 feet in shot put, 100 feet in discus and possibly landing an athletic scholarship to Boise State University. Hallie Taylor was eager to switch from distance running to pole vault after getting bronchitis last season. High jumper and triple jumper Cora Crotteau recovered from a meniscus tear two years ago and two knee surgeries last year with the goal of reaching state this year after falling one spot shy of qualifying the past three years. Jenaya Vander Stoep looked forward to improving in the 400 meters after running all four relays last year. Olson aspired to place higher than fourth — her best finish — in a hurdles final at state.
The seniors said there was optimism spring sports would return after the first suspension by the IHSAA was issued through April 5. Following the next suspension through April 20, Gov. Brad Little's extension of the statewide stay-home order through April 30 and the Idaho State Board of Education's release of the criteria school districts would need to meet to reopen caused suspicion that sports might not resume. Hope still remained, however, even as the IHSAA's April 17 meeting arrived.
"I felt like it was gonna happen, but I don't think I wanted it to be a reality," Crotteau said.
Skyline's first —and ultimately, only — outdoor meet of 2020 took place March 12, one day before Idaho's first confirmed positive case. Before the 4x400, Meyer told the Grizzlies to give it their all in case anything happened to the rest of the season.
"I was like, 'No way. There's no way they could cancel,'" Vander Stoep said. "It's crazy that it was our last meet."
They described this last month as a strange time full of at home workouts, online learning, virtual communication with teammates and coaches, and more downtime than they have had in recent memory. Fish took up drawing and FaceTimed her grandparents regularly, Gonzalez started painting and taught her younger brother to ride a bike, Olson resumed playing piano, Crotteau read and hiked, Taylor rode dirt bikes with her parents and Vander Stoep worked and enjoyed more family time.
"I don't know what to do with myself," Olson said with a laugh. "It doesn't take that long to do my school work. Being a three-sport athlete, I got to school every day and had a practice every day. Having all this down time is really weird."
The newfound downtime and the IHSAA's decision has also reminded them of why they got into track in the first place and allowed them to reflect on their high school athletic careers.
"It's like they say, 'Once a Grizzly, always a Grizzly,'" Fish said. "I'm super happy I've been able to run for Skyline. All the coaches bring a positive outlook. We're one big family and we're always there to support each other. I kinda like that community that we built."
'I definitely won't forget my senior year'
The six seniors go back a long way on and off the track.
Olson and Fish met in preschool, and Olson and Vander Stoep live across the the street from each other. Crotteau moved back and forth between Iowa and Idaho before returning to Idaho for good in seventh grade. Eighth grade provided two more new teammates in Gonzalez and Taylor.
Meyer said these seniors will be difficult to replace, as they all bring strength and versatility. He believes they will be revered by future Grizzlies to the same level as the 2006 5A state runner-up group that included Sydney Wendt, Erica Wendt and Tia Lumpkin.
"We'll be referencing them and we'll be talking about them for decades to come," Meyer said. "This group of girls, any one of them could be a really good coach in the future. They understand the intent behind the workouts — not just what they have to do, but why they have to do it. There's a lot of kids that people naturally look to, but don't have the answers. These girls, people look to them and they have the answer."
He described Crotteau as one of the hardest workers he has ever seen with a fun personality to boot. She is considering becoming a physical therapist, inspired by the physical therapists who helped her recover from her meniscus tear faster than anticipated. That tear was one of the scariest moments of her life, and she is drawing strength from that experience during this unconventional end to senior year.
"I can get through this if I can get through that," Crotteau said.
Quiet and shy, Taylor has a huge heart and a smile Meyer said could light up a room. Taylor, who plans on serving a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints mission and becoming an occupational therapist, said this last month has shown her how quickly life can change.
"A little over a month ago, life was all normal," Taylor said. "The hard times make you sit back and think of the things you take for granted. That's what I've noticed during this time."
Meyer said Gonzalez, whose only sport was track, had a big senior season ahead after working with 2019 Skyline graduate Bri Molina. She will study electrical engineering at Boise State, and she said she will remember the good memories from high school rather than the ones 2020 took away. Traveling to track meets was one of her favorite experiences.
"As annoying as it sounds, the bus rides were actually really fun," Gonzalez said. "That's when everybody was loud and crazy, all 70 of us."
Always willing to run in any event to help her team, Vander Stoep is an athlete Meyer believes could walk on to a college track program. While she has not ruled that out, Vander Stoep said she hopes to volunteer to help coach Skyline next year and ultimately become an elementary school teacher. She described 2020 as "eye-opening" so far, adding that she never thought she would miss going to school.
"It's a very humbling experience trying to adjust to everything that's new and trying to find the good even when it's hard," Vander Stoep said. "What's really important? What things really need your time? Track is super important, but also using this time to help others and being with family... it's definitely helped me grow as a person."
Back-to-back injuries as a sophomore and junior gave Fish resiliency early in life, which Meyer believes will serve her well at Montana State and for her goals outside of track. Fish, who plans to pursue nursing, said 2020 won't define the seniors, but it will influence them.
"I definitely won't forget my senior year,' Fish said. "I think it's gonna help us become more understanding and better overall people."
He called Olson a jack-of-all-trades for her ability to run any distance from the 100 to the 3,200. A highly competitive three-sport athlete, she will compete in cross-country and track for Utah State. While she will remember 2020 for taking away childhood experiences she can't get back, Olson said those losses won't hurt as much by the time she is a parent. This unprecedented time has also reminded her how tough she has become because of running.
"In life, there's gonna be a lot of hard things," Olson said. "If I can make it through a really tough hurdle workout or a really hard cross-country workout, I can make it through anything."