JOHNSTOWN — They were supposed to be spending their fall helping the Johnstown field hockey team go after the state championship that just barely eluded the Lady Bills’ grasp in 2019.
With that option off the table, Lucy LoDestro, Cole Krempa, Emily Pertell and Ayaka Sasaki were still desperate to pull on a Johnstown uniform this fall and do something to help stay in shape for a field hockey season that’s now been postponed by the Foothills Council to the Fall II season starting March 1 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cross country was the perfect option, and first-year head coach Lisa VanAernam — a former Johnstown field hockey player herself — welcomed the quartet with open arms as practice opened this week.
“It’s nice knowing that I have something to do to keep my mind off what’s happening in the world,” Krempa said. “Knowing that I can get in shape for the spring season, too, that’s really good.”
Krempa — whose mother, Christine, is Johnstown’s varsity field hockey coach — and LoDestro were the first two to broach the idea of switching gears from field hockey to cross country after last week’s decision by the Foothills Council to push back the field hockey, soccer and girls’ swimming seasons to March.
Sasaki and Pertell followed suit, helping to bolster the ranks of a Johnstown girls’ cross country team that only had one other runner — returning varsity competitor Maddie King — on its roster.
“It bumps up my numbers, and it gives us girls that are going to be competitive,” VanAernam said. “I watched them run yesterday, and they’re going to be competitive.”
For LoDestro, a freshman goalkeeper, the allure of signing up for cross country was the chance to be a part of a team again after the long, lonely months that were the spring and summer under the spectre of coronavirus.
“It hasn’t been the same without sports,” she said. “This was a good substitute.”
Pertell, a sophomore who started on defense as a freshman during Johnstown’s run to the state championship game last fall, embraced Christine Krempa’s suggestion to give cross country a try in order to keep up her conditioning.
“Coach Krempa recommended to do cross country, so that we could stay in shape and still be a part of a Johnstown team and represent our school,” Pertell said. “It’s hard to accept [not having field hockey], but this is better than not being in a Johnstown uniform and not being on the field.”
Sasaki, a sophomore forward who was called up from the JV field hockey team during the 2019 postseason, said she’d been interested in trying cross country for a while, but always prioritized field hockey as her fall sport.
The partitioned fall season now affords her with the opportunity to do both.
“I thought this was a good opportunity,” she said, “to try new things out and stay in shape.”
Last fall, Cole Krempa scored a team-leading 15 goals at the JV level as an eighth-grader before being moved up to varsity during the postseason.
She’d planned to spend her freshman season playing for her mom’s team and filling a key role on a team expected to contend for Section II and state championships.
With sectional, state and regional championships in fall sports all canceled this year and with field hockey moved to March, Cole Krempa was desperate to stay active this fall and said her mother couldn’t have been more supportive.
“She was happy for me,” Cole Krempa said, “knowing that I was going to get something done, that I was going to get in shape and get to be part of a team and have something to do after school.”
VanAernam was more than happy to welcome the four field hockey transplants to her roster.
In fact, of the 15 runners at Tuesday’s practice — 10 boys, five girls — eight of them switched over from other, postponed fall sports. In addition to the four from field hockey on the girls’ side, VanAernam’s boys’ team includes three soccer players and a football player.
“It was their idea to come out for the sport,” VanAernam said. “I didn’t have to go to any of them. They came on their own.”
It’s not the team they planned on, but it’s the one they got.
With an optimistic eye on getting back to their primary sport in Fall II, running their way through Fall I is a perfect solution.
“It’s nice being part of a team, and it’s nice putting on a uniform and being a part of something for Johnstown,” Cole Krempa said. “It’s good to know that I’m still a part of a team.”