The moment spring sports were canceled, EHS Red Devils head boys’ soccer coach Brian Richins began brainstorming a way to honor his seniors, who were denied their final season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
His hard work finally came to fruition Tuesday night, as players from both the girls’ and boys’ soccer programs gathered at the Evanston Middle School field for a couple of informal scrimmages. And though players were able to get out on the field and stretch their legs a bit, the event was really for the seniors, who — along with their parents — were recognized on the field during a break in the action.
Taryn Wagstaff — who will continue her soccer career at Sheridan College in the fall — was the lone senior on the Lady Devils roster this season, while Latham Chandler, Brayan Ontiveros, Beckham Carver, Jesus Quintero and Garet Sharp were honored on the boys’ side.
Seniors Sean Knighton, Lance Palmer and Jake Paucepura were unable to attend, but were honored as well.
“I desperately wanted it to be worth it to those kids that didn’t get to finish their senior year — I wanted them to get that chance to walk out on the EMS field and have their names on the loudspeaker,” Richins said. “That’s what I really wanted to do, and that’s what it was important for. There were some guys that couldn’t come — they’ve already moved on to jobs, that kind of thing — but we wanted to honor them all.”
For Wagstaff, getting back on the field — albeit for a short time — brought a measure of closure to a season that was memorable for all the wrong reasons.
“I was so grateful to get out on the field one last time with my team,” she said. “I was super disappointed, because I thought we could do a lot this year, and we never got to see what we could do. I’m glad I got the chance to play one last game as a Lady Red Devil with my teammates. And I’m glad I got to be coached by coach Barton one more time.”
Lady Devils coach Karalyn Barton said the event was worth it to see Wagstaff in a Lady Devils jersey for a final time. She also gave props to Nyeli Mota for volunteering to play in goal — a position she’s never played before — to allow her senior teammate to play in the field.
“Even though it was just a scrimmage, to put the girls in their uniforms and to see Taryn play one more time was special,” she said. “We had planned on her being our goalie this season, but I gave her the option for the scrimmage, and she chose to play the field, which was really fun. And I told her, ‘Even if you’re tired, I’m not going to sub you unless you ask me to — this is it for you.’”
Fellow senior Chandler echoed Wagstaff’s sentiments, and thanked Richins and Barton for organizing the event.
“It meant a lot to finally have a chance to play with my team, even if it was only for a scrimmage,” he said. “I’m very thankful for the chance to even celebrate a soccer season, even if it was not what we had imagined. But it means the world to me and my fellow seniors that they pushed so hard to get whatever they could and gave us a chance to celebrate.”
Taking the field
The Red Devils were originally scheduled to scrimmage a team from Lyman High School as part of the Senior Night festivities, but Lyman was unable to field an entire side. They did, however, send six players over who were interested in a chance to scrimmage.
Evanston had 30 players from the program who wanted to participate, so Richins decided to play two games: The first was a scrimmage between incoming freshman and sophomore boys against the Lady Devils varsity squad; the second was an intrasquad scrimmage pitting the upperclassmen against the underclassmen.
“It’s been my priority since this whole thing started to get the kids out on a field and be able to play,” Richins said. “It hasn’t been easy — it’s been a struggle, just trying to meet with restrictions, and you get people nervous about coming out. And getting everybody organized and gathered back up has been a chore in its own way.”
Spectators to the event were asked to wear masks to the field, though many that showed up were able to enjoy the games from their vehicles. Attempts were made to maintain social distancing protocol on the sidelines and in the stands; the games were also streamed live on mylocalradio.com. The upperclassmen wore their red jerseys, while the underclassmen were in white.
“Originally, it looked like it was just going to be us against us,” Richins said. “But then the girls were able to get 11 people together that wanted to play, so we decided to make it two matches. Then Lyman said they had six guys that wanted to play, so it kind of kept growing as we were putting it together.”
The first scrimmage featured the Lady Devils against the Red Devils JV, with the boys coming out on top 3-0. It was a competitive match — as far as scrimmages go — with the girls more than holding their own against their male counterparts. Several Lady Devils played out of position, and Red Devil goalkeeper Latham Chandler took over in net for the girls in the second half to free up Nayeli Mota to play in the field.
“I thought the girls team played really well,” Richins said. “I told the boys, ‘Listen, I don’t need you to show me that you’re better athletes than the girls. I want to see you get better passing the ball around.’ So I was happy with how my guys played against them, but the girls played tough. I know Taryn Wagstaff and Melia Wilson knocked a couple of my guys around.”
In the battle of the old guard against the young upstarts, the underclassmen jumped out to a 2-0 lead over the juniors and seniors, and led 3-2 midway through the second half. The upperclassmen finally got on track, however, scoring four unanswered goals in the 6-3 win. Ramon Rivera recorded a hat trick for the red team, with Dante Sinche and Beckham Carver also finding the back of the net.
“I knew going in when I started splitting the teams up, it was going to be a pretty even match,” Richins said.
When the dust settled, a good time was had by all, with the seniors expressing their appreciation to their coach. Richins said even the seniors who were unable to make it enjoyed the event in their own way.
“I got a text from [senior] Sean Knighton; he had to go to work in Colorado yesterday morning, so he wasn’t able to participate,” Richins said. “But he found a place to watch it online, and he said he couldn’t sit down through the whole match, he was so excited. He was just appreciative of the soccer team and his experience with it. Even though he wasn’t there, he still felt included and felt part of it.”
Asked what they’ll miss most about the EHS soccer program, seniors Wagstaff and Chandler said the family aspect of the teams and the dedication of their coaches top the list.
“I will miss the nicknames and laughs I had with my coaches,” Wagstaff said. “I had a great time with my coaches last year and will miss them very much. I’ll miss my teammates — I was super close with a lot of them. Those girls are going to go far and I’m super excited for them.”
“I could go on forever about the memories and other things that I will miss,” he said. “The family that I had with this team and the connection with the coaches — they have been an imprint on who I am, and I wish them the best of luck in the coming years.”