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The Lost Spring: Clarke

Boys track and field

Right before the season was suspended, Clarke boys track and field named Robert Best their head coach before spring break.

Prior to naming Best their man, he was working with the girls head coach Kyle Eckerman to build what he called a “co-ed varsity team.” Best felt the teams working together brought them together before the suspension pulled them apart.

“The camaraderie between both the girls and the boys and the competitiveness to want to beat each other, respectfully, these kids were tied more into each other and I was excited to see how they were supporting each other like we hadn’t seen in years past,” said Best.

The work before season cancellation had the Clarke boys on their way to having a potentially productive year with numbers rising, and a state competitor returning to the program for the spring.

“In terms of goals, we were always wanting to take conference and have a good showing. I was excited, because when I took over, we had a slight bump in numbers – we had about five or six more kids come out,” said Best. “Previous state competitor (in 2017) in Brian Avalos coming back out to do long jump and sprints. I was looking forward to the season.”

Avalos didn’t run track last spring, but returned for 2020. Best said he had planned on doubling down on spring action, intending to play soccer as well.

Best felt there were a few throwers for the Indians who could qualify for state, and with the improved numbers coming out, he felt kids were buying in to the program’s preseason activities. Going into next season, despite losing five seniors, he feels there is talent coming up, but won’t push anyone hard to join the program.

We see a lot of talent coming up, but again, those kids have options,” said Best. “... Just convincing them what they want to do, whatever is best for them, … I can’t say any names I’m specifically looking forward to having, but I’ll take them all.”

The Clarke boys lose Brian Avalos, Braedon Feehan, Alejandro Davis, Jackson Hoag and Chandler Lane due to graduation.

Girls track and field

For the Clarke girls, the program lost a handful of athletes from a year prior who made their mark across all sports. However, head coach Kyle Eckerman still felt the girls were climbing with a mix of good seniors and good sophomores.

“I think we were definitely on the way up. I did lose some really good seniors, but I gained some pretty good freshmen, “ said Eckerman. “I was really looking forward to it. We had really improved our conference finish from the year prior, so I was hoping we could improve on that.”

The field was going to be a big part of the Lady Indians’ game plan, with Eckerman feeling there was a good opportunity to score points in each event with each thrower.

He also felt freshmen were going to surprise some in the sprints, which showed good times in early practices.

“Definitely our throws [were a strength],” said Eckerman. “We were going to get a lot of points out of there. … That was an area of strength for us. I have a couple of freshmen I felt were going to be surprising some people in some of the sprints. … They were leading the team in times in practice.”

Eckerman’s excitement for the season will carry into next season. With the program moving in the right direction, and all throwers returning, he thinks combining another incoming class with what the program projects next year can make for a good team.

“Definitely excited [for next year],” said Eckerman. “... Tori White, she could have had a chance at state based off where she was at last year (2019). Having them, the freshmen, … hopefully they’ll stay out. I do believe this eighth grade class, next year’s freshman class, is pretty strong. There’s some girls in there that come from families that like track, which is always important.”

Caitlin Clark, Holly Meyer and Taylor Short are the outgoing trio for Clarke. Despite being a small group, their leadership and commitment was valued by Eckerman

Clark, a two-sport athlete who also excels at golf, will continue her athletic career at Southwestern Community College as a golfer.

Golf

After bringing out a good group in 2019, Clarke golf had their fingers crossed this season was going to be one of improvements to become a threat in a conference title for 2020.

A modest 2019 season left bigger goals on the horizon for both sides, said head coach Walker Adams.

“One of the big goals in our first meeting that we talked about, ... we wanted to finish (at the conference meet) better,” said Adams.

The girls placed third and the boys placed fourth at the South Central Conference golf meet a year prior, leaving room to improve going into 2020.

Despite not having an organized practice this spring (season was cancelled before first practice), Adams said one of the big areas they were looking at was an overall assessment of their game, analyzing the weaker links to their game and trying to improve.

“We had a plan in place to kind of look at if you’re struggling at one area than another, and try to work on the weak points in the game,” said Adams.

Departing the program this spring is Caitlin Clark, Kenna DeVore and Elayna Irving.

Clark will play golf in the fall and next spring for Southwestern Community College in Creston.

Adams said Clark’s contributions to the program have been important in showing a higher level of success is obtainable.

“Caitlin was definitely set to be our number one” said Adams. “She was a stroke off making it to state last year and we really big, high hopes for her. To get a competitor like her and having her around and showing some of the other players its doable (going to state) if you work at it ... that’s a huge part of (her success). ... I know Caitlin for sure has been staying on her game.”

Adams said the three seniors were frequently working as the season was suspended to stay in proper golfing shape before the season was cancelled, and was complying to IHSAA, IGHSAU and course rules to practice social distancing and reduce the potential spread of illness.

With a new crop of potential golfers coming into next spring, Adams admits he is a little worried with trying to draw in potential players after not having a season this spring.

With Osceola’s golf course being shut down for a period of time, it made it harder for kids to play and provided a challenge for those who were potentially interested in trying to play as well. But, that wasn’t the only thing Adams was concerned about.

“I’m being straightforward, I’m kind of nervous, not only because of that but also losing a year of development,” said Adams.

Soccer

For Clarke boys soccer, the program was in line to roster at least six seniors in Diego Hurtado, Fabian Zavola, Brian Avalos, Fani Fry, Carlos Yanez and Howie Chen. Of the six, the most important in helping the boys program to a 5-5 record in 2019 was Avalos, who tied Jordy Mendez for the team lead in points with 15 (Avalos had four goals, seven assists).

Hurtado, Zavola, Fry, Yanez and Chen did not score a point last season.

A low-scoring team, the Clarke boys had wins over Albia (twice), Centerville, Des Moines Christian and Chariton. They lost two seniors from last season.

For Clarke girls soccer, their roster on Quickstats is incomplete – mentioning only one senior on the 2020 team in Vanessa Tamayo.

Last season the Clarke girls struggled mightily, finishing 0-9 with an underclassmen-heavy team. The Indians did not score a point last season in their second year of operation.

Boys and girls soccer coach Jorge Avalos was unable to be reached for this story.

Tennis

After promising results last season, and setting up 2020 Clarke tennis head coach Jeff Ehrhardt said he was looking forward to what both the boys and girls were capable of doing this spring.

“I was looking forward to this season,” said Ehrhardt. “I had several guys coming back, and the girls, we were going to be solid. … I always enjoy tennis and to get out there to work with the kids. Obviously it was very disappointing. I was hoping they could make May 1st work, but obviously that didn’t happen.”

The Clarke boys were going to have to work on finding a filler for their No. 1 and No. 2 players, replacing graduates Sam Reynoldson and Evan Hagen, both of which narrowly missed a state meet appearance. Ehrhardt still felt good about the boys, thinking they could work as a dark horse in the Bluegrass Conference title hunt due to an increase in the group’s recreational play over the summer

“On the boys side, last year we were 4-5. We lost a couple of close ones, and I think we were a dark horse to win the conference,” said Ehrhardt. “I have a lot of kids returning, ... so I was looking for big things. [We] might have surprised quite a few people on that side. ... The big thing on the boys side, we had a lot of boys who played over the summer quite a bit. Over the summer they were playing a lot, putting the time in.”

Filling in at the top of the list for the boys would have been John Reynoldson, Sam’s brother, said Ehrhardt.

The Clarke girls had three major parts to their success leave last year in Megan Linskens, Deseree Stubbe and Ceejay Blakely. With the top three gone, it was going to be hard for the Lady Indians to find their way back, and may be harder now that they’re losing a year of vital experience.

“The girls, losing those top three, obviously we were going to have to rebuild,” said Ehrhardt. “... We had Chassie Beydler looking to step up and lead our team. … That extra year of experience would have helped us, especially on the girls side. The girls were going to be interesting, but I think we would have been around .500 or so, maybe a little bit above.”

The girls were on pace to have Beydler start as their No. 1, with the team rotating through the lineup behind her depending on nightly match ups.

Due to graduate in Clarke’s tennis program is Diego Hurtado, Chase Kirkpatrick, Chandler Lane, TJ Woods, Fabian Zavola and Chassie Beydler. Ehrhardt feels the numbers for the boys side could be down going into next year, but doesn’t feel a lost season will have an effect on the girls side.

“Luckily I didn’t have too many seniors, but I still felt bad for them not having the chance to prove themselves. It’s their time to shine and they don’t get that opportunity any more,” Ehrhardt said.

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