Mar. 13—Austin has been the king of Section 1AAA boys basketball in recent years, but the Packers never got a chance to hoist the trophy in the spring of 2020.
The Packers were set to play Albert Lea in the section title game last March when the season was suddenly dashed due to COVID-19. The pain still lingers even a year later.
"I'll always feel bad for our seniors to not have that opportunity, the kids who were seniors last year," Austin coach Kris Fadness said. "And to see what that could have done for some of them.
"Does it sting? Yeah it does."
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Austin had won the section title in each of the three previous seasons, going on to finish second in the state in 2017 and third in 2019. The Packers were 23-5 heading into the matchup with Albert Lea, a rival team that Austin had split a pair of one-point games with during the regular season.
"We were really excited about the direction we were going heading into that section final and possibly the state tournament," Fadness said. "We thought we were playing our best basketball at the time; we thought we could do a little damage."
Instead, on the morning of game day, the Packers found out the rest of the season was cancelled.
"I think we all knew the possibility was out there," Fadness said. "Most of them knew about it before we met as a group.
"We found out that morning and looking back what stunk for us was a number of kids found out via social media before we ever had a chance to meet as a team and discuss what was happening and what was going on," Fadness added. "I think that was hard because we never really had the chance to get together with all our guys just to talk things through."
Fadness was able to have a meeting with most players later in the afternoon, but a couple were so upset with the news that they left school that day.
"Some of them were just devastated and crushed," Fadness said.
The swift and sudden stoppage of all normal activities impacted more than just sporting events.
"It affected our ability to have a banquet and do those end-of-the-year things as a group that you normally do," Fadness said. "It was just a very abrupt ending and detached."
Fadness recalls the uncertainty of the time put a lot of added stress on people.
"Obviously it was really hard going through that and at that time I think everybody was a little scared about COVID and what it was and how it affected people," Fadness said. "There were so many unknowns. I think it was a scary time for everybody."
This year the players are back playing, while wearing masks and in front of limited crowds.
"It's a different feel," Fadness said. "Now the feeling is more 'We've got to play.' We got to let the kids play and find a way for them to play safely and get their seasons in."
Fadness said a big part of that is for the mental health of the youth.
"We've got to find a way to get kids in school safely and find a way to allow them to have activities and be involved in things," he said.
And while the opportunity of 2020 is lost forever, there are life lessons to be learned.
"I think it's just that you take each day for what it's worth and you just do the best you can with each day," Fadness said.