Grace Graham refuses to let the bond be broken.
For almost three full weeks, Salado’s soccer team has been idle. The Class 4A-No. 15 Lady Eagles defeated Lampasas 5-1 in their next to last match of the regular season, and they were set to complete District 27-4A play at Burnet on March 17 before entering the playoffs as a second seed.
Then, the coronavirus altered everyday existence while simultaneously stopping the seasons of countless athletes until at least May 4 — the earliest date the University Interscholastic League will raise its ban of all activities.
While hope of resuming normality fades with each new case of COVID-19, the Salado senior cannot allow faith to be lost.
“We’re trying to not think of the worst situation,” Graham said, “but to think of the best situation. That is our job as seniors.
“We have to stay stable and stay positive for all the younger players, and if we can’t go back, then we did all we could.”
Players are not allowed to take part in practices, workouts or games during the suspension, and should play resume May 4, it would be two full weeks after the state championships were originally scheduled to take place.
Additionally, it would be a mere month before Salado’s school year concludes.
Like Graham, however, Madison Spradlin — one of five seniors on the squad — is remaining prepared.
“This situation really stinks,” Spradlin said, “but we are all doing our best to cope and keep hope. We’re staying in shape, keeping control of the ball and doing everything else we can do.
“But when you see all the extreme measures that are being taken around the country, it’s hard to accept, because that could be the end of my career.”
Hannah Reavis, Mackenzie Miller and Samantha Vargas are also in jeopardy of having played their final match with the Lady Eagles (18-5-2, 9-2) after guiding the program to sustained success.
During the last three seasons, Salado reached the playoffs every year, advancing to the regional quarterfinals twice (2017, 2019) and capturing at least a share of the district championship each season.
The goal was to complete the run with a deep push into the playoffs this year.
Now, although certainty is gone, continuity is not.
“At first,” Spradlin said, “it is going to be strange if we return. Things ended with some weird timing as we wrapped up the regular season.
“But we expected so much for this season, and we are remaining excited, because we want to go back. So, we’re going to be ready if we have to jump right back in.”
While Graham and her teammates refuse to let their bonds be broken, doubt inevitably creeps in, especially for the quintet of seniors.
“I might have played my last game with teammates I’ve been with since eighth grade,” Graham said. “It’s hard to think about that, but we all know we’ve had each others’ backs.
“It’s hard emotionally, but I’m keeping the mentality that we will play again, because spirits have to be high within the team.”