WEST FARGO — There’s no playbook on how to navigate a pandemic sports season. But if there were, the West Fargo Sheyenne boys soccer team could write the chapter on resilience.
The Mustangs have felt the ups and downs of playing high school sports during a pandemic.
Sheyenne (9-0-3) hasn’t dropped a game this season. It also hasn’t avoided disruptions — and schedule changes — brought on by COVID-19.
The Mustangs faced their first hurdle in late August when a member of the team tested positive for COVID-19. The team missed two games in that stretch. It was a similar situation almost three weeks later with the announcement of another positive COVID-19 test. The team was only away from the pitch for a day the second time.
The Mustangs know how it feels to have their season look like it’s on the brink.
“When we did have that happen on our team, it was really just a wake-up call that we need to take advantage of every single game and play with and for each other to get the results that we want,” said Sheyenne assistant coach Jacob Anderson. “Because we don’t know when our last game is gonna be. Any game could be our last game, any day could be our last practice.”
The team’s motto this year has been to “not take the season for granted,” Anderson said. But after the unexpected break following the first COVID-19 case, that became more than a message.
“Moving forward from there, this team really took that to heart and practices each day and plays each game for each other, and works together to get results on the field,” Anderson said. “I think that that is what’s to credit for our success so far this season.”
Sheyenne senior Abraham Kollie Jr. has found the silver linings in the low points without even trying.
“We just learned how to not take things for granted. We have to appreciate all the little time we have together,” Kollie Jr. said. “It made us reflect on how much we like and love our teammates and how much we want to see them and how much we want to play together. Always as a team.”
Though the lone unbeaten team in the Eastern Dakota Conference bounced back fairly quickly, fellow senior Jackson Kuznia said the brief pause did have an impact on the Mustangs.
“We were all like, ‘This could be the end of our season right here, we don’t know,’” Kuznia said. “At the end of the day, we’re all very thankful some of us got to practice. And we’re all very thankful that our season is still going on.”
Kollie Jr. said the team is without a doubt "back on the pitch and performing as a team, doing a great job trusting each other."
Sheyenne’s unbeaten record comes from the Mustangs playing for each other, the players said.
“One of the main things I think that’s leading us to be so successful is that we’re all really close on and off the field,” Kuznia said. “We all like to hangout with each other. We all have really good chemistry with each other.”
The players don’t pay attention to individual statistics. It’s the team numbers that tell the story, Kollie Jr. said.
“We don’t play for stats here, we play for our team. Because all that matters is the team winning,” Kollie Jr. said. “And once we got that momentum going, we felt unstoppable. Our record says so. We haven’t lost a game because we’re working together.”
That chemistry has helped Sheyenne go from one historic season right into another. The Mustangs were the EDC regular-season champions last year, and made their first appearance at the state tournament.
But, the team doesn’t do much celebrating over last year. The Mustangs call this season their "redemption year" because of how last season ended.
Sheyenne entered the 2019 state tournament as the No. 1 seed from the East. With sights set on reaching the championship match, Sheyenne fell to Fargo Davies in a 0-1 shootout in the semifinals.
“We don’t want to go through the same thing. We don’t want to share tears again, obviously,” Kollie Jr. said. “But if it’s tears, it’s gonna be tears of joy because we get one more as a team.”
Reece Breidenbach was just a freshman at the time, but last year’s state tournament outcome has served as one of the biggest motivators this season, he said.
“We were so close last year. We just really wanted it. We knew we could and we saw the talent we all each had, and we just believed that we could,” Breidenbach said. “We just really, really wanted it. It sucked so much last year that we got so far and came up short.”
A season later, the Mustangs have once again found themselves in the driver’s seat of the EDC. Sheyenne is at the top of conference standings with two games left against Fargo North (3-10) and Fargo South (2-7-3).
“It feels great. We know everybody is doing their jobs and we’re performing. The coaches are helping us a lot, too. Just trying to keep on winning. Our main goal is to win state, obviously,” Kollie Jr. said. “But we can’t let all the easy games before the hard games stop us from working as a team on and off the pitch together. United forever.”
Sheyenne is hoping to keep rolling as the opening round of the state tournament looms. The quarterfinals are slated for Tuesday, Oct. 6, at the higher seed. The semifinals and championship are scheduled for Friday, Oct. 9, and Saturday, Oct. 10, at Fargo South.
“I’m really excited because these next two weeks are very important for us,” Kuznia said. “We’ve got two big games coming up this week. And then next week with state starting, I mean, this is our redemption year. It’s our year to come back and take what’s ours, you know? So we’re getting prepared in practice and in games and now we just have to execute.”