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A sports season lost, part 2

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LA GRANDE — This was going to be the year the La Grande softball team left its legacy.

The Tigers had met two goals in the last two seasons, LHS senior pitcher Allie Brock said, starting with an accomplishment in 2018 never achieved by an LHS girls sports team — winning a state crown.

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Brock

“The second year was about proving ourselves as a team,” Brock said, which La Grande did when it repeated as state champs in 2019. “As the seniors, we would have liked to leave our legacy with a third shot at state.”

Brock was in the pitcher’s circle for La Grande as they defeated Henley in consecutive years to win state in 2018 and 2019, and the Tigers were heavy favorites to earn a three-peat, especially with their senior ace back for one final run.

Instead, the hope of joining a small group of schools to ever win three state softball championships in a row was dashed before the Tigers even got an opportunity to take the field because of closures due to the coronavirus.

“It’s been really hard without softball,” Brock said. "(It’s) been really hard without seeing my teammates, peers, everyone at school. There’s been a void there. It’s been a lot different. It’s a big change. It feels like there is something missing, especially these spring months that (in the past) have been so busy with softball.”

While helping battle for a third straight title was a big part of the hopes Brock had for this spring, she said the “little things” are what she’ll remember the most about her time at LHS.

“Spending time with teammates, all the trips, memories that aren’t even related to an actual game on the trip, in the dugout, all the time during the normal season. Our team has always been so close," she said. "That’s what I’ll look back on the most.”

The LHS ace had already put together a stellar career, posting a record of 49-6 with two saves, striking out 556 batters in 311-1/3 innings, and posting a career ERA of 0.90, and twice being named 4A pitcher of the year in her three years.

“I was just hoping that I would finish the year out strong, and I guess the ultimate goal would be getting pitcher of the year again,” she said. “That would have been one of my goals, and just to go to state with my team again would have been amazing.”

Her softball career is far from over, as she’ll leave in early August to join the University of Montana softball team.

But she will miss the backing she has received from La Grande in her time here.

“I miss all the support from the community, and I’m grateful for the support, teammates (and) coaches,” she said.

Robinson, Tiger baseball team that would have "been in the hunt" won't get to see if that was true

Parker Robinson was a vital piece of La Grande’s state-title winning football team and championship wrestling team, and would have been a key part of a baseball team in the spring that he believes would have been a title contender.

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Robinson

“I really think we would have been in the hunt this year,” Robinson said. “We have a lot of teammates that put in the time (this) offseason. Having Logan (Paustian) and Blaine (Shaw) back this year would have been huge. They both put in the time in the offseason. I truly believe we would have been one of the best teams in the state of Oregon at 4A.”

Instead, he, like all spring athletes, went from anticipating what could be to being forced inside by stay-at-home orders.

“It was pretty rough adapting from going to being outside hanging out with my friends to locked inside (doing) nothing — being active, being in a sport, and then being completely shut down,” he said.

Robinson said he was optimistic the season would eventually start, but always had a contrary thought in his mind.

“Every time it got pushed back I was like, ‘OK, just a little bit longer,’” he said. “In the back of my head I kind of knew it was going to get canceled.”

Lockdown measures have prevented him from seeing his grandparents in at least two months, where before those visits were roughly every two weeks. There has been, though, a positive impact on the immediate family.

“We’ve had a lot more bonding with our family,” he said.

The future Eastern Oregon University football player also has had more time to prepare for the upcoming fall season.

“I got a pretty big yard, so I’ve been doing some stuff by myself. I’ve already been getting ready for football,” he said.

The bonding time with the baseball team — especially on what had become its annual early-season trip to Arizona — is what he called “the toughest part to let go of.”

The missed-out bonding time with friends is one item he hopes to fire back up as soon as possible once measures are lifted.

“I’ll probably have a bonfire and invite all my senior class and some of the younger class over and try to have a little fun that we weren’t able to do for our senior night and stuff,” he said, “and be able to bond again.”

Tingelstad's opportunity to add more state titles cut short

Ellyse Tingelstad almost certainly would have cemented her track legacy this spring.

The Joseph Charter School senior had won the last two 1A girls state titles in the 1,500 and 3,000 and was heavily favored to three-peat in both events. Had she done so, she would have given her family the last six 3,000 championships after her sister, Isabelle, won the previous three.

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Tingelstad

She won’t get the chance after the coronavirus canceled the 2020 spring season, but she isn’t dwelling on it.

“My mindset has been 'I can’t control this, I’m not the only one going through it,'” she said. “I can't even imagine being a senior in college losing my last year. There are a lot worse things. I can still go out and run whenever I want. While it is sad, there’s no point being upset about it because it’s not going to change.”

Tingelstad’s running career isn’t over, as she will join the College of Idaho cross-country and track teams next season.

What she said she’ll miss from the spring, though, is the interaction with teammates and opponents.

“Mostly, I’m sad that I’ll never be able to practice with my team again and run against the competitors — girls from Union, girls from Enterprise,” she said. “It’s crazy because there wasn’t any closure in the season.”

Tingelstad leaves Joseph, though, with a glistening three-year track resume that many would have been happy to have in four years: She not only won the 1,500 and 3,000 the last two years, but took second in the 3,000 — behind only her sister — at state in the 3,000 as a freshman. She hasn’t lost a 3,000 race in two years, winning nine in a row, and had taken 10 straight 1,500 races. In addition, she placed in the top 10 at state in cross-country three times, taking fifth each of the last two years.

While she could have added to her career accolades, she said she doesn’t feel “like anything was really lost. It’s unfortunate to not have another go at it.”

She and her sister, though, left a mark on distance running in the small Northeast Oregon town.

“I do feel like we made our show. We’re always going to be known for that,” Tingelstad said.

Kazmierski, EOU softball, turning a corner when season was canceled

Eastern Oregon University pitcher Ashton Kazmierski and the Mountaineers softball team had seemingly reached a turning point in its season in early March after sweeping a series against University of British Columbia, doubling its win total and moving to 5-4 in the Cascade Collegiate Conference.

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Kazmierski

That was March 7. By March 16, the spring season was canceled, as was the potential to see if Eastern Oregon could indeed complete the turnaround it had started under new head coach Nicole Christian.

“We were finally coming together as a team, especially as pitchers,” said Kazmierski, a senior. “We were starting to figure out how to work together. It was hard to lose all of that.”

Kazmierski said she stayed in La Grande for about a week after the season was canceled to see how the school would approach classes. Once it was determined EOU was going to have its spring classes online, Kazmierski made the decision to head home to Windsor, Colorado.

“It was hard,” she said. “Obviously, it being my senior season I had high hopes for our team and myself.”

She said one aspect of the season ending as suddenly as it did was not realizing the team’s most recent practice before the cancellation would be its last one.

“That weighed pretty heavy on me," Kazmierski said. “It’s taken a long time to figure out how to feel about the whole situation.”

She said it helps that the NAIA granted an extra year of eligibility to the seniors who lost out on this spring season.

“It’s a relief knowing I can play again if I want to,” she said. “I want to play again, but I have to figure out financially if I can. I told my coach I would know within the next few weeks, but as for now I am looking at coming back another year.”

One project she won’t get back was a capstone project she and fellow senior softball player Jordan Shaw were planning to do during the spring with Special Olympics athletes.

“We were not able to do that,” she said. “That was upsetting.”

Spring cancellation won't hurt Dodd

Eastern Oregon University senior Paige Dodd is an exception to the rule as she’s one athlete that can say she isn’t being severely impacted by the coronavirus.

In fact, it’s quite the opposite — it could be helping her.

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Dodd

Dodd and the rest of the EOU track and field team completed the indoor national championships March 7, where the women’s team had taken seventh. The following week, the Mountaineers’ home meet to open the outdoor season was canceled, and shortly after the spring season was canceled.

But Dodd already was planning to pursue her master’s degree at EOU, so the spring cancellation — and the subsequent move by the NAIA to extend eligibility to spring athletes — means she will be able to compete in the spring of 2021.

The multi-event athlete hopes to be able to take to the track healthy too. She battled a foot and hip injury much of the indoor season, and said discussions were being had of possibly putting in for a medical redshirt for the spring.

“Outdoor season being canceled was kind of a blessing in disguise for me,” she said. “It’s given me a chance to rest and recover, rather than possibly hurting myself more. I’ve been resting, and just started to pick up running intensity a bit.”

Dodd already holds the program record for the women’s indoor pentathlon, and last spring just missed out on breaking the school mark in the women’s outdoor heptathlon, which is held by Talia (Hackney) Welch, the wife of head coach Ben Welch. With the opportunity to compete now in 2021, Dodd will have one more year to try to take down the record that has stood since 1989. She said there was concern she wouldn’t be able to be 100% this spring given the injuries she had dealt with in the winter, and that she would have missed out on training time.

“I was kind of nervous about that because a lot of my training suffered,” she said. “I was injured for like a month and a half and had to take things easy. One of the (heptathlon) events I’m more underdeveloped in is the javelin. That’s a lot of wear and tear on the body.”

Off the track, Dodd, who is the editor in chief of The Voice, EOU’s student newspaper, said the paper will be able to put out only one more edition this school year.

“With everything going on we aren’t going to be able to do all the issues we wanted,” she said, noting this was intended to be a big “rebuild” year for the publication. “We get just one last issue.”

Dodd also serves as a writing tutor, and said that job has changed some to where it has been moved online.

She also was going to go with her parents on a graduation trip to Europe this summer, which instead will be taking place in 2021.

“That was kind of a bummer, but luckily it’s just pushed back,” she said.

East Region Sports Editor

Ronald's primary beats are Eastern Oregon University, La Grande High School and the other eight high schools of Union and Wallowa counties. As an avid sports fan, he is primarily reading about or watching sports when he isn't covering a game.

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