Scott Zaring was finally back with his team.
After months of not knowing whether he’d be allowed to coach the Jefferson Forest boys soccer squad for a third consecutive year, Zaring got the go-ahead for the 2020 campaign, and returned to the helm for the start of the spring season a few weeks ago.
Now, thanks to the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, Zaring is playing the waiting game again.
“I’d probably be at practice right now,” Zaring said in a phone interview Tuesday evening.
But instead of guiding the 25 players on his team through drills on the field or offering constructive criticism in preparation for the Cavaliers’ first game — a contest against Class 5 Harrisonburg that was set to take place Friday — Zaring was at home Tuesday evening.
Following the conclusion of the 2019 season, the coach told his team he wouldn’t be back in 2020 because of a Bedford County Public Schools policy that prevented him from working directly under a family member, his father and JF athletic director Jed Zaring. A months-long process with the county school board ensued, ending with a positive outcome for the younger Zaring, a policy change allowing him to come back.
That waiting period lasted about four months. Last week, Zaring was plunged into another limbo period, its timeline as yet undetermined.
Concerns over the coronavirus resulted in public schools across the state being closed for at least two weeks. With that decision came a complete halt to the spring sports season, and a sudden stop to all the momentum the Cavaliers had built.
Like other teams in the area, the Cavs were primed, “ready to go” ahead of Friday’s first official game, senior Luke Hatch said.
The 2019 season was one worth remembering for JF, and one that provided plenty of drive for the group. The Cavaliers posted their best record, 17-2-2, in seven seasons and captured a Seminole District championship before advancing to the Region 4D semifinals.
Together with being able to get their coach back, and with a 3-1 win in a scrimmage over reigning Class 3 state champion Western Albemarle last week, the Cavaliers — who feature nine seniors and eight juniors — believe they were on their way to another promising season.
“I think we had some momentum off of last year’s district championship,” Zaring said, “and then we had some fuel off of last year’s exit, the region Blacksburg loss.”
For a few weeks, and even at the beginning of last week, Zaring insisted his team would go about “business as usual.” As the days passed last week, though, that reality shifted into anything but “usual” or normal.
“Everything is changed,” Zaring said. “We’re all just kind of winging it at this point.”
Zaring and his players describe the time without soccer, the sport they love, as disappointing. The stop in play was an especially difficult blow after Zaring and the team had just exited another period of the unknown, when Zaring’s status as coach was up in the air.
“There was all that uncertainty for so much time, and after Scott came back, it’s pretty frustrating,” said Cody Syrek, a senior captain.
During the few weeks they did have together this season, players and coaches were especially intentional as they prepared for a tough slate of games, including back-to-back contests against E.C. Glass and Liberty Christian that were set to follow the season opener against Harrisonburg.
Like his team has learned now, Zaring, in his last waiting period, came to realize how important it was to be intentional with every opportunity, and to not take any day for granted.
“Every game matters,” he said. “Every practice is important to get better.”
The coaching staff tried to give feedback to players after every session together, a move Syrek said had paid off.
“Everything has a purpose,” the senior said his team has realized in his fourth year with the Cavs. “I think this year by far has been the best practices we’ve had as a team.”
That intentional, day-by-day approach now is how the group is dealing with the stoppage.
For now, Cavaliers players have the goal of staying on top of their craft daily by doing their own workouts and staying ready to play.
Even though “it’s not easy” going from practicing every day as a group to having to be self- motivated without group training sessions or games on the horizon, Syrek said he and his teammates still look forward to the day they’ll don black, red and white on the pitch again in spring 2020.
The upperclassmen laden team is still optimistic — “100%” hopeful, Hatch added — it will be back and will perform well if that time comes.