'I just missed competing.' Local athletes pick up new sports to keep busy this fall

Gracie Gasmann finally got the chance to play high school golf this fall, something she has longed to do for three years.

The McHenry senior, who kicks for the Warriors football team, plays basketball in the winter and soccer in the spring, decided having the fall season off (with football postponed until February because of the COVID-19 pandemic) was not for her.

Through the years, Gasmann enjoyed playing occasional rounds of golf with her father Eric, so she joined the girls golf team along with basketball teammate Ashley Wachter, another first-timer.

“We had an opening with the coronavirus and I thought it would be a good idea to do something in between sports to keep me interacted with the school and sports and stuff,” Gasmann said. “Volleyball was one of the sports that was a maybe. I was thinking about doing that with Emmie (her sophomore sister Emerson).

“Then, volleyball was pushed back with football. My parents were like, ‘Freshman year you were going to do (golf) and you did football.’ I decided since there was nothing going on that I could spread it all out and it would all work out.”

This unique year will give Gasmann a chance at a rare accomplishment, winning four varsity letters on one year.

Not much good has come to sports regarding the pandemic, which canceled NCAA and high school tournaments, wiped out spring seasons and has professional teams playing in empty arenas and stadiums.

The coronavirus forcing the IHSA to rework its schedule into four seasons instead of three provided one positive. It is offering athletes who do not have a fall sport a chance to branch out and try something different. Many are taking advantage of that.

The IHSA kept sports considered low-risk – boys and girls golf, boys and girls cross country, girls tennis and girls swimming – for this fall. The regular winter sports season is set to run from November into February, followed by football, boys soccer and volleyball from February to May, then the regular spring sports will go from May 3 until late June.

Crystal Lake Central’s boys golf team picked up three new members, Christian Wakeford (soccer), Jack Benoit (football) and Mitchell Helm (football). Hampshire football player Gavin Hatanaka is playing golf. Four Woodstock North volleyball players – Bella Borta, Ashley Janecko, Trinity Tillman and Ella McClurg – are swimming this season.


Some athletes have experience in their new sports; others are neophytes.

Some, like Harvard wrestler and football player Bryce Fiegel, who is running cross country, can benefit from the fall training for their other sports. Others may just enjoy competing while making new friends with different teammates.

Richmond-Burton junior Tristan Rockwell thought running cross country this fall would help him maintain conditioning for soccer, his main sport, come February.

“I saw cross country was a low-risk sport and still offered,” Rockwell said. “I knew coach (Ryan) Carlson, I had him for biology as a freshman and I have him for AP bio this year. A few girls who ran cross country encouraged me to do it and my soccer coach (Casey Decaluwe) did as well.”

Rockwell also brought his freshman brother Sean, a soccer player, to the cross country team. The Rockwells are following in their father Chris’ footsteps. Chris ran in high school and college in Texas.

“It’s more challenging than soccer and a lot different environment,” Tristan Rockwell said. “It’s good to get out of your comfort zone. I want to drop a few good times to show that soccer players are good, well-rounded athletes too. Hopefully I’ll set a good example for my soccer teammates of putting in work in the offseason, no matter what it is.”


Prairie Ridge senior Sam Gablenz embraced the Prairie Ridge mantra “Play 2” throughout her high school career, competing in girls basketball and soccer. Gablenz initially planned on working out with the Crystal Lake Force soccer club this fall, but with many of those games canceled, she opted to try something new.

The weekend before tryouts, Gablenz told her father Derek, a long-time tennis coach at Jacobs and then Barrington, she was going out for the tennis team.

“He told me the basics, gave me a racket,” Sam Gablenz said. “I had knowledge before because my dad’s a tennis coach. I adapted to it fast and did really well for the first time. Soccer helps with the fast movement and changing direction. Tennis is a lot of changing direction. Some balls I’ve been able to get to because I know that type of movement.”

Gablenz has played at No. 3 or No. 4 doubles for the Wolves in early-season matches.

“I would have loved to have a little more warning,” Derek Gablenz said. “She told me the Saturday before tryouts. I took her out to evaluate her and teach her the basics. I pretty much knew she was going to be a decent player. Sam is a good athlete and has exceptional hand-eye coordination. Most of the girls at tryouts did not believe she just started playing two days before.”


Wakeford is new to Central’s varsity golf team, but hardly new to golf. He lives about a 9-iron from RedTail Golf Club in Lakewood and has worked diligently at the game for three years. Wakeford played on Central’s junior varsity as a freshman, but returned to soccer last fall and played for the Tigers’ JV team.

Wakeford, a junior, was going to switch to golf this fall even before the pandemic forced the IHSA’s restructuring of seasons. Now, he can play both.

“It started my freshman year when I wanted to try something new,” Wakeford said. “I had been playing soccer for 10 years and was a little bored with it. I really grinded at golf. I wanted it to be my passion. I really felt something in me that I have some talent for it.”

Wakeford was not pleased with his first two scores, 88 and 87 for 18 holes, but came back in the next two Fox Valley Conference nine-hole matches with a 39 and 38.


Fiegel knows endurance and grit from going 6 minutes, with limited stops, on the wrestling mat. He figured cross country could only help him with conditioning for the next season.

“As soon as I found out football wasn’t going to play during the fall, I looked at other options to stay active and try something new,” Fiegel said. “I have a couple of friends in cross country (Zach Isonhart and Jacob Pedersen) and decided I might as well join. I like it. It’s different. The team has a great atmosphere.”

Fiegel did not run distances a lot before, but he’s learning.

“My form was not that great, I didn’t really focus on running well, I just ran to lose weight (for wrestling),” he said. “Now that I’m focusing on being efficient in running, it’s given me a new perspective.”

Fiegel sees a similarity between wrestlers and runners competing on their own in grueling sports.

“There’s a huge mental aspect to (running), which I like,” he said. “Being able to grind it out and run 2 or 3 miles at a pretty fast pace. Just having to push through it, focus on your breathing and being efficient while running and keeping your head (mentally) in the right place.”


Gasmann had to feed the urge for athletic competition, even if it meant playing something at which she was not nearly as proficient as she is in other sports. Emerson Gasmann, her sophomore sister who kicks for McHenry’s JV football team, also is trying a new sport, tennis, this fall.

“Being an athlete is always a good way to start new sports,” she said. “My other sports (soccer and football) are with my feet. Basketball is in my hands, but none are with a stick and a ball. Being an athlete and being competitive pushed me into golf.”

Gablenz also longed for competition.

“I just missed competing,” she said. “Tennis was the only thing. I thought I’d try it out and I’m really glad I did. I love it so far. I’ve really enjoyed it. I love the girls and the coaches.”

Gasmann, who tied for second in the area with five field goals last football season, had extra motivation to try a new sport, a sibling rivalry. Her older brother Alec has eight varsity letters among their five siblings; Gracie can finish with 10 if the IHSA’s year can be completed as planned.

“With all my siblings it’s always been a competition for who can get the most varsity letters,” she said.

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