If it were a normal year, the Rock Springs High School (RSHS) Lady Tigers soccer team would be defending their 4A West Regional title right now.
However, with the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, the Lady Tigers were unable to play this season, which Stephen Pyer, RSHS girls head soccer coach, believed to be a promising one.
Last year, the Lady Tigers took first at the regional tournament and finished third at state. Pyer said the canceled season was “devastating” to the team.
“We had such high hopes and expectations for this season. We had eight All Conference and two All-State athletes returning this year,” Pyer said.
Pyer and the girls were confident they could secure another regional title as well as the first state championship title for RSHS’ girls soccer program.
“We trained nonstop in the off season and were already playing at such a high level,” Pyer said.
Coach Pyer and his coaching staff have been sending out weekly challenges, independent drills, and physical fitness programs to the team to try to help them stay fit and improve upon their skills as much as possible under the COVID-19 restrictions.
“We are just waiting for the day we can get back on the soccer pitch and play as a team again,” Pyer said.
Seniors Alyssa Bedard, Rylee Berry, Annika Syvrud and Elizabeth Hamilton all had their sights set on a regional and state title, and instead received a heartbreaking finish to their high school soccer careers.
The Lady Tigers have all been playing soccer together since they were kids, and Bedard explained this canceled season as “really weird” for her as it was the first season she wasn’t playing this sport alongside her teammates since those early years.
“I haven’t missed a season of soccer since I can remember, so not having practices and games with my team is definitely something I’m not used to and I miss it all so much,” Bedard said. “I was beyond excited for one last season with the girls I have been playing with since I was little, so finding out it wasn’t going to happen was devastating.”
According to Bedard, the team has always pushed each other to ensure they would be able to achieve their dreams on the field, and their expectations were “super high” this year.
“We strive to make each other better every single day at practice,” she said. “We were aiming for another regional championship, and also for the first ever state title for RSHS.”
Bedard will be the University of Wyoming in the fall where she will continue her soccer career at the Division 1 level. Luckily, she signed in November 2019, so COVID-19 did not affect her college recruitment process.
To build up her skills, Bedard has been participating in both coach Pyer’s weekly challenges as well as UW’s workouts.
“Having these has been really nice to help me stay fit and prepare for next year,” she said.
Bedard will major in Kinesiology and Health Promotions so she can pursue a career in the medical field.
Missing Out on Memories
For Rylee Berry, the experience of missing this soccer season was a bit different as a knee injury in November was already keeping her from playing this year.
“I ended up tearing my ACL in November so I had no intentions on playing this season anyway, but I was looking forward to getting to spend my last season as a Tiger leading from the sideline and supporting my teammates,” Berry said.
The heartache of not being able to play this season had already had time to settle, but then Berry had to overcome the disappointment of not being able to create those lasting memories of being with her teammates.
“Finding out that I wouldn’t get those moments was very hard for me to take in,” she said. “I already had to deal with not being able to play, but now I wouldn’t even get my last moment with the girls and coaches who have supported me for a long time.”
With the season canceled, Berry has been putting her focus on continuing her rehab for her knee. As she is attending Laramie County Community College (LCCC) in the fall on a soccer scholarship, she has been doing her best with both coach Pyer’s and LCCC’s workouts.
“As I am still rehabbing my knee, it’s been a nice escape to start getting back into soccer related things, and distracts me from all the craziness that has been happening over the past few weeks,” Berry said.
Berry will be studying Criminal Justice and she is excited to start her studies and get back on the soccer field, intending to never take her scholarship for granted.
“I am so blessed to get that opportunity,” she said.
The Should Have Been Comeback
Annika Syvrud was especially excited for this soccer season, as it would be her first chance to get back on the field in over a year. Syvrud did not get to play her junior year due to a knee injury.
“Knowing that I haven’t played a soccer game in over a year made the news cut very deep,” Syvrud said.
She said that though graduation and the remainder of her senior year being canceled was difficult, it was nowhere near as upsetting as hearing that her final high school soccer season was canceled.
“Hearing that the soccer season was canceled was the worst part of this whole situation,” Syvrud said.
From memories with her teammates to being able to improve her skills, Syvrud feels she missed out on a lot with the canceled season.
“Knowing that I missed out on memories and bonds I would’ve made with my teammates, and games I would’ve played that help make me a better athlete makes this news unbearable,” Syvrud said. “I hope that I get a chance to play with my team at least one more time before everyone parts ways.”
Despite not playing the sport competitively this season, Syvrud has also been participating in the workouts from coach Pyer, as well as from her college, Wayne State College in Nebraska.
“I enjoy keeping my foot on the ball and trying to stay in shape despite not being able to play the actual season,” she said.
Syvrud signed to play Division II soccer with Wayne State College at the end of her junior year. She will continue on a pre-med track and major in Biology and minor in Spanish.
Hungry For That Last Season
A major knee injury kept Elizabeth Hamilton from playing the majority of her junior soccer season. She tore her ACL, MCL and meniscus in the fall of 2018.
“After nine months of thorough physical therapy, I got released to play in a few games including at regionals and state,” Hamilton said.
She made a point not to rush back into the game as she did not want to injure herself again and cause further and longer lasting damage. She also believed she would have her senior year to get back on the field.
“When I found out the season was postponed due to the virus, I still had hope. Then when I got the news the season was canceled I was heartbroken,” she said.
Having missed most of her junior season, she finds herself wanting to get back on the field now more than ever.
“With my last high school soccer season coming to an early end I am still hungry for that last season,” Hamilton said.
Fortunately, she will be able to return to the sport at the collegiate level. Unlike her fellow senior teammates who were all signed to colleges prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Hamilton was doing her recruiting process amid the pandemic.
“Recruiting during COVID was a little bit of a challenge, but after talking to colleges I decided to sign and further my soccer career with Sheridan College,” she said.
She will study dentistry while attending Sheridan College.
Hamilton is homeschooled, so school has not changed much for her since the start of the pandemic, but she misses the moments with her teammates that the soccer team provides.
“I think what I miss most during this time is getting to have those last over night trips, getting to play with the girls I’ve been playing with my whole life and laughing through the pain with my teammates,” Hamilton said.
Despite not having a proper season, she has been participating in coach Pyer’s workouts and has been working out with her siblings.
“My older sister and I keep each other motivated as we are both now college athletes,” she said.
State Title Dreams Shattered
The Lady Tigers were well on their way to a state championship title last year when they lost to the Thunder Basin in the semifinals, 3-2, with a 4-2 shootout.
“Coming so close last year and losing the way we did in the semifinals really motivated us all to work extremely hard this year, so not getting the chance to work for these goals as a team is really upsetting for all of us,” Bedard said.
Not being able to play last season due to her knee injury, Syvrud was excited to show her capabilities on the field and help her team to that state title as well. She said she had high expectations for herself this season.
“I was expecting to go into the season working hard, making sure my injury didn’t hold me back. I also strongly believe that our team could have won state this year. Each year we’d get a little closer, and I knew we could finally win it this year,” Syvrud said.
Though Berry couldn’t play this season due to her knee injury, she was ready to continue her rehab with the support of her of her team and coaches while she supported them on the sideline.
“I was looking forward to watching my team fight for another regional championship and eventually the state title,” Berry said.
Hamilton also believed this was their year to take state, and she was excited to help the team get there. Though she didn’t get the chance to fight for the state title, she is leaving it up to her younger teammates to get the job done next season.
“I wanted to go all out with my team, make more history, defend our region title and take state,” Hamilton said. “I believe in my teammates to achieve this goal next year.”