WEST FARGO — The North Dakota state high school boys soccer tournament will continue as scheduled without 23 West Fargo Sheyenne varsity players who were forced to quarantine due to COVID exposure, according to a release issued Thursday from the North Dakota High School Activities Association.

In place of the quarantining varsity squad, the Mustangs’ junior varsity team will take the field to play Bismarck Century in the state semifinals, Sheyenne coach Jon Melendez-Soloaga said on the Hot Mic with Dom Izzo radio show on WDAY on Thursday. Sheyenne went undefeated in the regular season with an 11-0-4 record after defeating Minot in the state quarterfinals Tuesday.

The Mustangs petitioned the NDHSAA to postpone the state tournament until all four teams could participate, posting a message on their Twitter account that read: “This is not the first time we’ve had to deal with the consequences of COVID-19. For the 3rd time we continue to do the right thing to keep our families and those around us safe. We ask for the NDHSAA to do the right thing. Play the state tournament when all teams are healthy.”

In its release regarding the continuation of the state tournament, the NDHSAA cites its Return to Competition Guidelines which say: “Unless allowed in sport specific regulations, teams/individuals that are unable to participate in postseason tournaments due to COVID-19 will not be replaced and their next opponent will receive a bye.”

But the state’s soccer regulations state that a team can alter its roster throughout a postseason tournament if a player becomes ineligible and that an eligible high school player may be substituted into that roster spot, allowing Sheyenne to field its JV team for the game.

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This is the third time the Mustangs boys soccer team has had its season disrupted by COVID-19. They missed two games in late August when a player tested positive and were forced off the practice field again three weeks later, this time just for a day.

“First of all, we want to do the right thing for the student athletes,” Melendez-Soloaga told Izzo on his radio show before the NDHSAA had announced its decision. “The health of our students is going to be first. We do the right things. Every single time COVID hit us, we did the right thing. We took the right measures to ensure everybody was healthy — their families and everybody around us. Talking to the boys last night around 8 p.m., there were a lot of sad faces, a few of them looked like they had been crying.

"Because it is devastating. We never asked for it. We live in a pandemic. We knew that this could happen. But we asked for a little bit of reasoning from the state association to be willing to be flexible like we are — like we asked our players to be. We are not asking too much from them. Can you look at the situation, look at the environment, can we have four healthy teams playing in the state tournament in the next round?”

An email sent to parents of Mustangs varsity soccer players Wednesday evening said that a player on the soccer team had tested positive for COVID-19 and that Fargo Cass Public Health required that all 23 varsity players were considered unmasked close contacts with the individual and they are all required to quarantine through Oct. 17.

“Since the beginning of the school year, West Fargo Public Schools has utilized the guidance from the ND Department of Health to assess close contacts on sports teams,” an email sent to Sheyenne parents by a school district representative Thursday morning read. “In the section on teammates, the guidance is very clear that all teammates of a positive case are close contacts unless the team has been consistently in small pods that do not physically interact with one another. After visiting with the coaching staff, that was deemed to not be the case.”