It’s been an odd holiday season for high school athletes as they continued to prepare for the winter sports season while being sheltered from teammates.

Teams in the Lackawanna League were permitted to start practicing Dec. 4, two weeks later than the PIAA-allowed start date. Then, Gov. Tom Wolf suspended youth and scholastic activities for three weeks as part of his mitigation efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Now, teams across the state are getting ready to get back in action Monday when those restrictions are lifted.

It was a challenging three weeks for high school athletes throughout the Northeast Pennsylvania and the rest of the state.

Once inside, athletes were mandated to wear masks, but it was a small sacrifice for the opportunity to get back to playing.

Many schools started practice and have experience they can lean on, but at schools like Elk Lake, where the students are often separated by miles, the ability to get together even in small groups is a challenge.

But, the players are using their resources the best they can.

Elk Lake junior basketball player Matt Mowry, spent plenty of time outside in his driveway launching shots toward the basket that is mounted to his garage. But once the snow storm arrived last week, it became just another bit of adversity to overcome in this already daunting season.

“Social media is big for us,” Mowry said. “We are making sure that we are all doing our workouts at home. We do make sure that we text each other and make sure we aren’t sitting around playing video games all day.

“Early in the morning, I do my drills in the garage and am just doing the best can with what I have and doing anything I can at this point.”

During the holiday break, which is normally filled with holiday tournaments, athletes are finding ways to stay positive while they are not practicing.

Staying in shape is critical, so they are ready when the season restarts.

For North Pocono senior Alicia Goldenziel, it meant heading back to her roots, which included playing in some cramped quarters compared to her school’s new and spacious gym.

“Before Gov. Wolf came out with the new guidelines, I was working one-on-one in a small church gym in Moscow with my AAU coach (Jay Jay Schieber).”

For the past three weeks, those workouts have moved a lot closer.

“I have a spot in my basement where I’ve done ballhandling before and you know when the the pandemic first started, my AAU team would do zoom practices and we’d go in our basements and do ball handling and zoom.”

As far as shooting goes, Goldenziel is fortunate to have a hoop in her driveway — weather permitting.

“It’s been hard with what the weather has been recently, though,” Goldenziel said. “‘We got (the snow) cleared so I’ve been able to go out there a few times.

“It’s heartbreaking not being able to have our normal senior year. I love my coaches. I love my team so it’s really hard not being able to be with them.”

Riverside senior Brandon Reed, a returning All-Region player, is a four-sport standout. He was a star in soccer and golf in the fall and got both seasons in during the pandemic. He also has the benefit of having a mom, Michelle Cole-Reed, who is an assistant track and field coach at Scranton, to keep him motivated.

“She’s been great,” Reed said. “From cooking me good meals to making sure that I go on a run every day and making sure I stay in shape, she’s been there.”

Coaches used the down time to provide tips online for the athletes.

“We have been doing a lot of Zoom meetings and the captains are keeping people working out,” Scranton Prep senior Gavin Bednarz said. “Our coaches have been doing a really good job going over offenses and defenses so that we are one step ahead when we get back. Everyone really wants this season really bad.”

Many are utilizing technology for virtual meetings and sending workouts for their athletes. The coaches are also serving as leaders and counselors, helping their players get through the anxiety and dealing with the unknown.

“This is the ultimate measure of integrity,” said Honesdale coach Nick Joyal, whose team is out of action until Jan. 19. “It’s what you do when people aren’t watching that really defines your character. Literally, nobody is watching because they are all at home. When I send out workouts, it’s not required, but the kids are building habits and forming who they are going to be.

“My message to them is that if you develop good habits, you stand in your living room and do the workouts, it’s awkward and hard, but that will separate the good from the great. You are going to see, the people who took advantage of this time and those who did not.”

Still, there is no substitute for the intensity of a hard practice or a game.

That is what the athletes are missing most and having the hardest time coping with during the isolation.

“It’s been the worst,” Bednarz said. “There is no way to spin it any more. This is my senior year and everything is shut down and you get worried that we aren’t going to have a season at all. But, you have to stay dedicated to it and hope that everything will pan out.”

For swimmers, there is little they can do.

There are no pools to get their yardage in which is critical to a successful season. Some are working out on treadmills or biking.

“I mix in dryland workouts, running a couple of miles and biking,” said Lakeland’s Peter Kawash, last season’s Times-Tribune Boys Swimmer of the Year. “You can always get the arm stamina back, but you need your legs and your conditioning.”

Athletes are also finding ways to stay distracted from the shutdown.

“I am just hopeful that we get back,” Kawash said. “We haven’t really heard anything. It happened to us in March where we thought it would only be a few weeks and here we are again. I have been watching a lot of football and basketball. I am starting to get into the NBA games to keep my mind off things.”

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