Katarina Decaroli

Katarina Decaroli, a 2020 graduate of Prior Lake, is like many incoming freshmen across the country having their college career on hold due to the COVID-19. Decaroli will play Division I soccer at Long Beach State University in California.

Katarina Decaroli is one of many first-time collegiate athletes across the country experiencing the same thing.

The 2020 Prior Lake High School graduate is waiting, wondering and hoping she will get on the Division I women's soccer field at some point in her first season at Long Beach State University in California. 

The coronavirus pandemic has turned the sporting world upside down since March, from high school, all the way to college, and up to the professional ranks.

Decaroli is on campus, which is near Los Angeles. She said she's met a lot of the incoming freshmen who will be on her team. She's had some informal practice sessions and some Zoom meetings. But fall soccer in the Big West Conference has been postponed until further notice, as well as the other fall sports.

"It was shutdown the week I got here," Decaroli said, who was a two-year starter at goalie for the Prior Lake girls soccer team. "There's been no preseason practices. We've been kicking the ball around when we can, trying to stay fit."

Decaroli's mother is from California. She has family in the Los Angeles area, so her decision to go to Long Beach State was an easy one. She felt right at home when she visited the campus.

"I wanted to be in a bigger city, that kind of vibe. I love exploring and traveling," said Decaroli, whose father is from Argentina and played soccer there. "It was the perfect fit for me."

When Decaroli signed her national letter of intent last November, there was no pandemic. It was school, sports and business as usual, all across the country.

Now, Decaroli is in a state that has more coronavirus cases than any state in the country.

The Pac-12, one of the five power conferences in the nation, that includes four California schools, has postponed football and other sports until the spring. California high schools will start with distant learning and no sports will be played until at least December.

"The current COVID-19 pandemic has required us to readjust to the world around us, and our priority remains the health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches and staff," Long Beach State Director of Athletics Andy Fee said in a statement. 

That sentiment seems to be echoing across the country. California is not the only state delaying collegiate sports, leaving many incoming freshmen in a holding pattern. It's happening everywhere.

In Minnesota, the Minnesota Intercollegiate Association Conference moved four sports to the spring — football, volleyball, cross country and soccer. Numerous athletes in the state play Division III sports in the 13-team league.

Last school year, Prior Lake had two college signing ceremonies, a total of 27 athletes, and 10 were heading to MIAC programs.

Like the Pac-12, the Big Ten Conference also postponed its football season until the spring. The Mid-American Conference, a smaller Division I league with 12 schools in the midwest and northeast, postponed all fall sports to the spring. 

The Ivy League has canceled all fall sports, and so has the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, a Division II league which has 16 schools, including nine from Minnesota.

Meanwhile, the NCAA has already canceled all of its championships for every fall sport for Division I, II and III, except for Division I football. The ACC, SEC and Big 12, the other three power conferences, are planning to play football this fall.

"We are hoping to have practices this fall," Decaroli said about her Long Beach State team. "That's what our coach has told us, maybe starting in October. If all goes well, maybe we could have some scrimmages."

It's certainly not the start to her college career that Decaroli envisioned. She's in the same boat as thousands of athletes across the country, so she's not alone. 

Decaroli finished high school with distance learning and will start her college off the same way. But she said she will make the best of it like she tried to do in her last few months at Prior Lake.

"It was frustrating and was a little sad," said Decaroli, who got to play some summer soccer before leaving for college with the Prior Lake Soccer Club. "We didn't know when our last day was going to be. We just tried to make the best of the situation. That's all you can do."

Tom Schardin covers sports for Savage and Prior Lake. He is dependable, sarcastic and always joking around. Tom enjoys running and swimming and is often busy coaching his two kids' sports teams.

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