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  • Matt Ondesko

Living in the now

by Matthew Ondesko, Managing Editor

Photos: Geoff Schneider/Sports Union

It has been a strange season.

The high school soccer season normally is finished by now. Sectional championships are wrapped up, and players are getting ready to play winter sports - if they play any at all.

But, this is no typical season.

At this point of the year, players are just happy to be playing the sport they love. Back in the summer, there was no guarantee that soccer, or any sport, was even going to be played. The pandemic is still going strong - and school districts are trying to figurer out how to navigate the situation between playing sports and staying safe.

When soccer finally was given the green light to start play the first week of October, many senior athletes were relieved that they would finally have their final season of being able to compete with their friends, and hopefully win a sectional title.

It has been a long journey for Hamburg’s Shae Szabala, one that started in seventh grade. It just seems like yesterday that Szabala was playing modified with her friends - dreaming of playing varsity one day.

Now, Szabala is coming to the end of her senior year.

“Time has flown by way too fast. I can’t believe that six years ago I was just a little seventh grader on modified,” stated Szabala. “It’s crazy to think that I’ve known so many of the girls since we played Timbits house league with the Hamburg Monarchs together, and going to elementary school with so many of them as well, just makes it that much more unbelievable. It’s just hard to think that it’s already my last year and I won’t be at Hamburg High School again next year.”

This was a season that almost didn’t happen. But, in the end, it did.

Szabala, and the rest of the seniors, were able to get their senior day. Most senior days are emotional, but this one was extra special. This senior day happened during a pandemic. Being able to have family there to help her celebrate opened up a flood of emotions for Szabala.

The underclassmen put in the extra time and effort to make this day special for the seniors, and the seniors appreciated all the hard work that was put in.

“Senior night was emotional to say the least. Seeing the work that the underclass men put into setting it up with the posters and speeches just made it so unbelievable to think that I was the one doing that last year. Plus lining up for the senior announcements and cheering for my other senior teammates was amazing,” stated Szabala. “The experiences I’ve had with some of the other seniors on the team are some I will never ever forget. From spaghetti dinners and end of the year banquets, to being able to step on the field and do my hand shake with my “mid-sister” Teagan Dodson before every game and every half. It is unbelievable to think we’ve been together through the conditioning that made us almost pass out, to the fun times where we dance during warm ups, and, believe it or not, start playing a small game of tag in the middle of practice. I often find myself thinking that there are no words to explain the essence of my team other than a family through and through.

This season was bigger than just being able to celebrate senior night. This season was a chance for Hamburg to defend its sectional title. Last year, the Bulldogs finally got over the hump - and this season saw most of the team return for a second shot.

Last season Szabala was the super sub coming off the bench and giving the team the lift they needed in the midfield. This year has been a different story. Szabala has been a mainstay in the midfield as the Bulldogs have their sights set on a playoff run.

“Going into this season, everyone was of course worried about Coronavirus. But for me and my team, we also kept thinking of winning the section title for the second year in a row. Last year I was always first off the bench and went into every game thinking I have to prove that I deserve a spot on the field,” stated Szabala. “This year I’ve started every game and think that all the work from last year and in practice has paid off. I knew that it was going to be tough coming back after quarantine but I think my whole team has come together and are all looking to win that section title again.”

Heading into the season Szabala didn’t know what to expect. It was a slow climb to the varsity level - one that made her work hard for the opportunities that have been given to her. Coming into this season she didn’t even know if she was going to start or come off the bench again.

Szabala doesn’t play one of the easiest positions on the field. She plays in the central midfield position, which is a very demanding positions. Center kids are constantly on the move between offense and defense.

The position can get stressful at times. Szabala, and her teammates, need to make sure they are on the same page or bad things can happen.

“Being a center-mid is super stressful sometimes. Playing with my other center-mids, we

are constantly giving each other feedback and advice on what to do or where we should be,” stated Szabala. “It is sometimes rough when you are trying to win the 50/50 balls, or find a player to distribute to somewhere else on the field while under pressure. It’s especially hard when we miss a touch or make a bad play. I think my other center midfielders would agree that

sometimes it’s hard to not get down on ourselves for bad touches or plays, but we always try to keep each other’s heads up and keep playing as hard as we can.”

Szabala has been playing hard all season, though stats may not show the true value of her play. The goals and assist may not be there, but you can’t judge someones value by how many points they have on the team.

Szabala is more like the Swiss Army knife for the Bulldogs. There are games she is asked to attack and other games she is asked to hold back, and be more of a holding midfielder. Her coaches are putting her in the right positions to succeed on the field - and Szabala is thriving.

“I definitely think that center midfield is a demanding position. You have to always be looking for open players or space to move to, and be an offensive presence as well as going back to help defend,” stated Szabala. “Especially on my team, I get switched around from playing attacking mid to holding mid or just trying to move wherever I’m needed in the play. It was really rough coming off of quarantine and trying to get back in shape after so much time off but I think my team motivated me a lot to put the work in and be ready to play.”

She also doesn’t take anything for grant it, either. Szabala knows when she steps out on that pitch it could be for the last time. She never knows what will happen when she steps out there, injury or such, so Szabala wants to make sure she gives it her all every single game.

She doesn’t think about herself out there, she thinks about how she can make her teammates better. What does she have to do to help her team win?

That’s the questions that enters her mind come game day.

“For any game I just try to think of what I can do to play the best soccer I can. For every team, I go in thinking it will be a hard game because you never know if a team can have a really good game, or if they might not. It was a tough loss against Frontier, especially with it being our senior night, but I went into that game thinking that I have to do my job and I can rely on all the other players on my team to do theirs as well,” stated Szabala. “Especially on days we have hard games, I try to become more positive and joke around with my teammates. I know that when I step on that field people will start to get down on themselves for even the smallest of mistakes, I do it too. I try to make my teammates laugh and tell jokes whoever I can and trust me, sometimes I can actually be kind of funny.”

As the season comes to close, Szabala starts to look ahead to what her future looks like. While living in the present, she still has one eye on the future - which includes college and hopefully some more soccer.

“I want to go to college and major in Elementary and Special Education,” stated Szabala. “I’m undecided on what school I want to attend, but I hope they have a team I can try out for.”


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