In preparation for the 2020-2021 sports seasons, the NJSIAA and various athletic conferences across South Jersey have done their best to coordinate COVID procedures and timelines that will allow each sport to get in a semi-normal year.
In an effort to more easily separate student athletes and reduce the potential for virus cases among teams and schools, the start date for seasons and their length have been shuffled around and shortened. While players and coaches are ecstatic to at least have a season this year in the midst of a pandemic, fewer games and matches mean fewer chances for standout athletes to reach career milestones.
For Seneca High School wrestling head coach Greg Bauer, the feeling is all too real.
“We have three guys on our team this year that could’ve gotten 100 career wins pretty easily with a normal schedule,” he said. “It was looking like a goal that would be pretty obtainable for them all this year, for their seniors’ years but, obviously, COVID changed the structure of our season and it’s looking a lot more difficult now.”
For a program with only two wrestlers in its history to have reached the 100-career victory mark, the opportunity to have three more added to the list — all in the same year — would have been monumental.
Bauer, in the midst of his 18th year as head coach of the wrestling program, has been with Seneca since the school’s opening in 2003. While he heads the high school program, he’s also a coach with the township’s youth program as well, a role that has given him the opportunity to see firsthand the growth and maturation of young men over the years.
The team’s three seniors who entered the season with dreams of reaching the 100-career mark — Nico Bogardus, Zach Borton and Kory Seidle — serve as glowing endorsements of the youth program’s long-term vision of working with younger wrestlers to create leaders and young adults headed to Seneca.
“All three of them have had real special careers here,” Bauer noted. “We have a solid senior class, but those three have really led the way in particular … We love to see the kids succeed on and off the mat, so it’s frustrating as a coach and as a program when kids are that close to achieving a goal and, through no fault of their own, don’t have a fair shot at it.”
Through their first three seasons with Seneca, Bogardus, Borton and Seidle racked up 81, 79 and 78 career wins, respectively. With a normal schedule, 20-plus win seasons might have been expected from the three seniors to get them into the program’s exclusive 100-win club.
But a COVID-shortened season that only permits 15 dual matches per team makes that possibility much more difficult.
“It’s pretty frustrating … We’ve wrestled varsity since freshman year and we’ve always had that goal of 100 wins to get our names on the board in the wrestling room,” said Bogardus. “It stinks that we might not get there now, but we’ve just got to work hard and try our hardest to get there regardless.”
After the team’s first seven matches, Bogardus and Borton are 6-1, while Seidle is 5-2, inching them closer to the milestone they’ve been chasing since freshman year. But with only eight regular season matches left on the schedule, postseason victories will be needed.
“It’s definitely still possible, but a season like this makes it way more difficult,” Borton explained.
While the trio works toward the 100 mark individually, their main focus as the season goes on is to provide the best example possible for the younger guys on the team and bring Seneca’s name as deep into the postseason as they can, while also enjoying their final year despite the challenges.
“I was disappointed to see we were only allowed to have those 15 regular matches, because it’s been a goal for a while now, but at this point I want to get to regions, help our team wherever I can and be there for the younger guys,” Seidle said.