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College stars slowly cope after lost seasons


April 3, 2020

Photo courtesy St. Cloud State University Athletics

St. Cloud State University senior Kassidy Steen, a Cloquet native, was part of history this past winter as the Huskies made it to the national NCAA tournament for the first time in school history. The thrill was short-lived when the NCAA canceled winter and spring seasons due to the COVID-19 threat. As a senior, the loss was especially difficult for Steen.

The COVID-19 pandemic has meant college athletes have seen their seasons end early or simply not start. A number of Cloquet grads are home now instead of competing at their chosen university.

St. Cloud State University senior Kassidy Steen and the rest of her teammates had qualified to play in the NCAA Division II Women's National Basketball Tournament for the first time in school history. They traveled to Missouri and had just finished practice when the team received word that they would not be able to play and the tournament was being shut down.

"We had just gotten back to the hotel after practice when we all received a text telling us there was going to be an unscheduled team meeting," Steen said. "I knew before the meeting what it was going to be about. I don't cry very easy, but I had instant tears and I just couldn't believe that this was happening to us after all of our hard work. I couldn't catch my breath, it was like someone punched me in the stomach and took the wind away."

For Steen, the abrupt end of the season was about as bad as it gets. Her senior season was the culmination of her basketball career and to not be allowed to play was devastating.

"I certainly understand why it was done and why it had to be done, but that didn't make it any easier," Steen said. "We worked so hard to get there and then? It was all over without having a chance to step on the court."

Former Cloquet track and cross country standout Isaac Bodiegheimer is now running in those same sports at the College of Saint Scholastica. Bodiegheimer, now a junior, had just finished the spring indoor track season when he found out that the spring season was canceled.

"We were fortunate enough to have been able to finish our indoor season, but I was very disappointed, as much as any athlete or coach would be when I found out about the outdoor season being canceled," Bodiegheimer said. "It was pretty disheartening to hear."

Bodiegheimer is still able to keep things in perspective. "If this situation would have happened last year, or the year before, I would have been greatly upset and frustrated that I put in a lot of work for nothing," he said. "I've learned to revolve my goals more around having fun with my training and teammates and to enjoy the time I have being an athlete instead of my performance. That helps to alleviate any kind of performance-based pressure I put on myself and allows me to perform a lot better."

Bodiegheimer is a junior, so he'll have another chance next school year.

Up at the University of Alaska-

Fairbanks, former Cloquet-Esko-Carlton skiing standout Anja Maijala was extremely fortunate that she was able to participate in at least some of the NCAA National Ski Championships in Montana before the NCAA put up the cancellation notice.

"We had raced in Bozeman in the regionals two weeks prior to the national tournament so we just stayed in Bozeman and didn't fly back to Fairbanks," Maijala said. "I was lucky in the fact that I got to race in the 5K skate race in the morning, even after the NCAA had sent out their letter canceling the season. And then suddenly the season was over. It was rather an abrupt end to the meet and season both."

Maijala is also a multi-sport athlete and participates in cross country running in the fall while skiing in the winter. When asked if she has given any thought to the fact that the fall cross country running season could also be canceled, she handled it with grace.

"I'm just taking this on a day-by-day basis and not worrying about something I can't control," Maijala said. "Right now I am back in Fairbanks registering for classes and working out and just getting ready for whatever happens. ... I love skiing so I'd rather lose the cross country season than the ski season."

For Dylan Lauer, a former Cloquet football player who played on the 2017 Class AAAA runner-up team, the cancellations are just the latest calamity in his college career. After being a starter as a freshman at St. Cloud State, he was injured his sophomore season.

Then the Huskies announced they were getting rid of their football program.

So Lauer transferred to Southwest Minnesota State in Marshall and was getting ready for spring practice when everything was shut down.

"We would have started spring football last week and the whole thing doesn't seem real," Lauer said. "I was meeting with the offensive line coach every day and had already put about 60 hours into the playbook just trying to get up to speed on things."

As a transfer, spring practice would have been an important step towards the coming fall season. That is, if there is a fall season.


"It was tough because I was just starting to meet the guys on the team and then my other problem is I need to find a place to live in the fall and this was my chance to get to know the guys and get that figured out," Lauer said. "With everything that has happened over the last year, I just learned I can't be too serious about it and I find comfort that all I am losing is a spring of football. There are people out there who are losing a whole lot more than me. People are getting sick and even worse from this and that helps me keep things in perspective."

Lauer, Bodiegheimer and Maijala could all have another shot at college sports. But Steen's career ended in a hotel room in Missouri.

"It was an interesting ride back to St. Cloud on the bus after things were canceled," she said. "This hurt. As a player it was over for my college career. We did something for the first time in school history and then didn't get the chance to prove how good we were on the court. I think that will always stick with me."


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