It was the message Lakewood Ranch High track and field coach Jeff Simmons gave to his team before official practices were suspended on March 16 because of COVID-19 concerns. The team has not been together since then, but its athletes have taken their coach's words to heart.
"The season could come back at any time," senior Madeline McNinch said. "We cannot afford to fall behind if it does."
McNinch, a sprinter and hurdler, said she has mostly done body weight workouts while stuck at home. She has also been leaping over an equalizer bar in place of a hurdle and working on her technique. McNinch said she has taken the extra down time as an opportunity to fine tune every facet of her game. McNinch said watching videos of U.S. Olympic hurdler Sydney McLaughlin helps her realize what she has been doing wrong.
Every few days, McNinch said, she will head to Lakewood Ranch High on her own and run on the track.
"It's strange not having anyone training with you," McNinch said. " I usually run with my teammate Sydney (Granack, a junior). There are some positives to being by yourself, because you go at your pace, but at the same time there's no one there to push you. There are no coaches challenging you. I have been trying to made things harder for myself and doing more work to make up for them not being here."
McNinch is using the time to get prepared mentally. Running, McNinch said, is a mental sport. If someone is not confident when they run, they will not do well. McNinch said she has taken to writing down her thoughts, whether those thoughts are inspirational quotes or rundowns of her preparation process. She has also taken to meditating to clear her mind.
Even though football is out of season, Braden River High junior quarterback Shawqi Itraish has been inconvenienced by the closings. Itriash said he had Junior Day showcases at Alabama-Birmingham and Florida International scheduled, plus a regional Elite 11 quarterbacks camp in Orlando, but those events have now been canceled. Instead, Itraish has been working with personal trainer Trevor Vance. Other Pirates players have joined him, he said, but the group never gets bigger than five players for safety reasons.
"More than anything, I just want to stay active," Itraish said. "We were supposed to have spring football soon. We are supposed to be working hard. Even two weeks off from workouts can turn a good offseason into a bad one."
Itraish said Vance has him working on speed drills, keeping his feet quick and his stamina high. He has not been doing much throwing, both because it's good to rest his arm and because he has struggled to find pass catchers during social distancing.
On March 21, Lakewood Ranch softball senior pitcher/outfielder Claire Davidson was on the team's field, freshman catcher Addyson Bruneman in tow. By themselves, Davidson worked on her pitching, then stood at second base and let Bruneman work on her throws from home as country music softly played from a mini speaker. The pair have done this a few times, Davidson said, with their practices lasting about an hour. Davidson, a Duke signee, said she had also gone to the batting cages a few times to keep her hitting sharp.
What was absent from those workouts was the rest of her team. The Mustangs are a tight-knit group, Davidson said. Not hearing each other's jokes or being able to learn from each other has been the hardest part of it all. Davidson said she and the rest of the seniors would be checking on the team's younger players, making sure everyone is doing her part to remain ready.
"Hopefully, the season comes back in April," Davidson said. "If it doesn't, there is always travel ball or, if nothing else, fall college workouts. We all need to be ready for the next time we play. Thinking like that helps me stay mentally focused on my training."
Davidson said she did not think the long layoff would affect the team, assuming the seasons restarts.
"We are all still pushing toward becoming state champs," Davidson said. "It's all we can do right now."
Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.