CLIFTON PARK — The Shenendehowa and Shaker teams were on the field, all warmed up and ready to go, but the showdown they couldn’t wait to play never happened.
The Plainsmen and the Blue Bison, with identical records that included a tie against each other, had their Suburban Council girls’ soccer tournament championship game called off just before its scheduled 11 a.m. start Saturday morning due to a COVID-19 case involving an individual associated with the Shaker team.
Soon after their last game of this unprecedented fall season was canceled, the teams were declared tournament co-champions in a brief sideline ceremony that included players from both teams, all wearing face masks to protect from coronavirus spread, holding up the title plaque together.
“We were ready. We had a quality warm-up and we were looking forward to the rematch,” Shenendehowa coach Holli Nirsberger said. “Everybody was caught off-guard. We had no clue.”
Not long before the game was scheduled to start, Shaker players stopped their warm-up session. Soon, the Shenendehowa side did the same as a strange calm settled over the field that had been buzzing just minutes earlier with teenagers preparing for one last game this fall.
“It was weird. It was 10 minutes before the game started, and they weren’t warming up,” Shenendehowa senior captain Maia LaVigne said. “[Shenendehowa superintendent] Doctor [L. Oliver] Robinson and our AD came over and said we weren’t playing because of COVID. It was hard. It was difficult. We were ready to play.”
How quickly did the morning’s focus change?
“I was yelling at the girls for not getting a good warm-up sweat going,” Shaker coach Mike Brehm said. “Then, I get a call from my athletic director.”
Both Shaker and Shenendehowa played tournament games Tuesday and Thursday on their respective school fields to set the stage for Saturday’s showdown that never happened, the latest area high school sporting event to be lost in a year with so many of them.
“It wound up being the right call,” Shaker athletic director Matt Stein said several hours after the game was canceled. “We received a call this morning about a presumed positive. We began an investigation, and decided on the information gathered that the right decision was to stop the game out of an abundance of caution. The presumed became confirmed.”
Following the game’s cancellation, while Shenendehowa players kicked a ball around in playful scrimmage, the Shaker communications office released a statement that read: “This morning, the North Colonie Central School District became aware of a presumed positive COVID case associated with the Shaker High School girls varsity soccer team. The team was scheduled to play in a highly anticipated game against Shenendehowa this morning at 11 a.m. for the Suburban Council Championship. Out of an abundance of caution, and for the health and safety of the Shaker and Shenendehowa athletes, the two teams decided to cancel today’s game. The teams will be named co-champions for the 2020-21 season.”
The statement continued: “District administrators will address the team this afternoon. We are in contact with the Albany County Health Department and are working to identify the individual’s close contacts in the school community. Anyone who has been in close contact with this individual will be directly contacted by a school administrator this weekend to discuss quarantine procedures and other health-related instructions. A call from the New York State Department of Health contact tracers will follow.”
“We’re trying to be cautious and very careful,” Shaker principal Richard Murphy said from the field, soon after the game was called off. “Playing the game would not have been in the best interest of our students’ safety.”
“We were just as stunned as everyone else when this went down,” said Lisa Partlow, whose daughter Maggie Partlow is a member of the Shenendehowa team. “It’s disheartening. We would have loved to see them play, but health comes first. It was the right thing to do.”
Across the Capital Region on Saturday, there were new indications that the pandemic’s fall resurgence continues. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo again warned — as did local county health officials — about the risks of small gatherings, including for Thanksgiving.
“We are in no way immune to the problems we are seeing elsewhere and we are entering a very dangerous period with the cold weather and holidays approaching,” Cuomo warned in a news release on Saturday.
Albany County reported a new high in diagnoses on Saturday: 112 in a single day. Other Capital Region counties reported lower numbers, but ones at or near their local highs from the spring.
Schenectady County reported 65 new cases, according to the governor’s office, pushing the county’s total since the start of the pandemic past 2,000, to 2,062. Saratoga County — where public health officials have warned of several new public exposures — reported 33 new cases, and at the current pace will surpass 2,000 cases in the coming week.
Elsewhere, Rensselaer County had 45 new cases, and is approaching 1,500 total; Fulton County had 13 new cases, and now has had 429 total; Montgomery County had 12 new cases and 376 total; and Schoharie County had four new cases and 166 total.
Cuomo said the statewide positivity rate outside hot spots on Friday was 2.49 percent, up from 2.15 percent the prior day.
The COVID-19 pandemic effect on high school sports in New York started in early March when several winter sports championship events were called off, and the entire spring athletic season was wiped away in the months that followed. The fall season started late for some sports, while others like football and volleyball were not permitted to play at all by the state department of health due to their “high” risk of potential COVID-19 spread.
The Suburban Council and the Patroon Conference were the only Section II leagues that offered soccer this fall, and Suburban Council members Bethlehem and Ballston Spa opted not to participate due to COVID-19 concerns.
“If there’s a takeaway, we got two months in,” Nirsberger said. “We were 80 minutes short of finishing it up.”
“I didn’t think we were going to get to play two games [at all],” Brehm said.
COVID-19 situations factored into a delayed start for both the Shenendehowa boys’ and Schenectady girls’ soccer teams. Meanwhile, Averill Park teams in multiple sports did not finish their seasons because of that district’s full move to virtual learning.
With a policy of no postponements written into the Suburban Council tournament set-up, the Colonie boys’ soccer team had to forfeit its quarterfinal game with Shenendehowa due to a COVID-19 issue.
“I think it’s the right decision,” Maggie Partlow, a senior on Shenendehowa’s team, said of Saturday’s game cancellation. “Yes, we wanted to play, but we want to be healthy.”
Shenendehowa defeated Guilderland Thursday 2-0 to equal the 12-0-1 record forged by Shaker, which topped Niskayuna 1-0 in its semifinal. The regular-season tie between Shaker and Shenendehowa was a 0-0 draw from early October.
“I was joking with the Shaker girls: ‘When this is all done, we’ll do a rematch at Afrim’s,'” Nirsberger said.
Shenendehowa athletic director Chris Culnan said his school’s soccer team would not accept a forfeit win given the situation.
“I contacted Matt Stein and told him if Shaker could not play we would declare both teams co-champions,” Culnan said. “We felt that was the sportsman thing to do.”
“I’m happy we did that,” LaVigne said. “They had no control over it. If we were in that position, I’d hope they’d do that for us.”
“Classy move by Shenendehowa,” Brehm said.
Staff Writer Stephen Williams contributed to this report.