The 2020 Washington County sports year will be remembered for breakthrough seasons and state titles, but also for the time when sports stopped.
After starting the year strong, county athletes were forced to the sidelines in March as the world learned more and more about COVID-19. The once-in-a-lifetime cancellation of sports slowed the Blair Bears, Arlington Eagles and Fort Calhoun Pioneers, but it didn't stop them as they returned with gusto, creating additional memories more good than bad.
BHS girls hoops wins 14
The Blair girls basketball team's 2019-20 season ended in a Class B district final last February after 14 wins — the most the program had produced since 1999.
The 14-10 season was highlighted by a win against the state-qualifying Norris Titans, the Bears' first victory over Omaha Skutt in more than 10 years and an emotional loss to Elkhorn on Senior Night. The latter may have held the most meaning as BHS stood strong in defeat against the Class A No. 10 Antlers in a Wipe Out Cancer Coaches vs. Cancer game.
Pioneer wrestler medals at girls state
Fort Calhoun wrestler Haley Albertson made history this year, becoming the first Washington County female to earn a state medal at the NSWCA Girls High School State Tournament in York.
The Pioneer went 2-2 at the inaugural girls state tourney, claiming fifth place at 132 pounds with back-to-back pins in her final two matches of the event.
Miller, Olberding earn wrestling titles
Washington County wrestlers Josh Miller and Ely Olberding won their own state titles in 2020.
Miller, an Arlington 160-pounder, bested Hastings' Izaak Hunsley 4-2 to claim a Class B gold medal, while Olberding — Fort Calhoun's 106-pounder — bested Wahoo Neumann's Aaron Ohnoutka 4-3 for a Class C title.
“It means the world,” Miller said at the end of his junior season. “All the work I've put in throughout the season, all the lifting. It helps to know all that pays off in the end.”
Sports go on hiatus
Less than two weeks after the completion of Washington County's winter sports season, COVID-19 cut down the spring season from the start.
One Pilot-Tribune edition at the beginning of March told the stories of first-year BHS head coaches Marissa Ringblom and John Roan, before the next noted an early end to the Blair Family YMCA Swim Team's season due to coronavirus concerns.
The next Enterprise Media Group publication printed the following headline: “Spring sports suspended.” The Zam Driver Turned Writer column next to it asked, “Well, now what?”
The NSAA went on to cancel spring sports at the beginning of April.
Months later, in June, baseball teams finally returned to the field while Bears, Eagles and Pioneers returned to the weight room for postseason workouts. American Legion baseball games started on June 18 and sports schedules have moved forward amid COVID-19 ever since.
Athletes compete in summer all-star games
After a long spring, the summer brought with it the return of all-star competition.
Three county athletes competed in one of the first organized football games back when they participated in the 2020 Shrine Bowl in Kearney. Fort Calhoun's Tyler Strauss, Blair's Brady Soukup and Arlington's Remington Gay shared the turf field at the University of Nebraska-Kearney.
In Omaha, four Bears played one last soccer match together after their spring season was eliminated by the NSAA's cancellation. Graduates Sophia Grantham, Eva Dunker, Halle Clary and Danielle Thompson competed in the Nebraska High School Soccer Senior Showcase at Skutt Catholic High School.
Post 154 baseball teams find success
Two Post 154 American Legion baseball teams finished their abbreviated seasons with deep runs into postseason play.
The Blair Reserve team won a Class C championship in Omaha, while the Senior Legion squad finished as a Class B semifinalist during an unofficial state tourney in Bennington.
The Reserves beat the Omaha Roncalli Freshman squad twice at Boyd Field, 12-6 and 10-9, to earn their trophy. Hayden Berg provided the second game's walk-off hit, while Conner Jensen claimed the pitching victory.
Golfers excel during fall season
With the return of sanctioned NSAA sports in August, Arlington golfer Dianna Taylor made the most of her opportunity. She became just the second Eagle to qualify for the state tourney with an 18-hole 106 at the district meet.
The Blair golf team, meanwhile, earned its second-straight state qualification with a third-place finish at its Class B district tournament. The Bears — Addie Stirek, Mallory Stirek, Rachel Parks, Kaia Stewart and Anna Moore — went on to take eighth at the state championships in Gering.
3 county XC runners medal
As the temperatures dropped in October, three county cross-country runners rose to the occasion and medaled at the state championships in Kearney.
Blair's Hailey Amandus claimed 13th in her Class B race, helping push her team to its top team finish in school history — fourth.
Fort Calhoun's Bria Bench and Jacob Rupp, meanwhile, brought home a ninth- and 13th-place finish in their respective Class C races. The Pioneer boys finished just shy of a runner-up state trophy.
A playoff game and district final
The Blair fall sports season ended with a football playoff game in Waverly and a volleyball district final at Skutt.
The Bears lost both, but finished their seasons winners. The football squad went 6-4 during a challenging 2020, while the volleyball team won six of its final eight matches to earn a postseason plaque.