GREENWOOD — Ella Austin had an inkling something was amiss.
Late in the afternoon of March 12, as winter was trying to morph into spring, and Austin was counting the days until graduation, the Greenwood senior had an uneasy feeling about her 2020 soccer season.
With six games behind them, the Lady Bulldogs were a long way from meshing. Then, as the world was trying to grasp the reality of COVID-19, the Arkansas Activities Association (AAA) implemented a two-week dead period.
Eventually, the AAA canceled the entire season. Just like that, Ella Austin’s athletic career was over.
“Whenever we started canceling practice and games, I knew deep inside that most likely we wouldn’t play again,” she said.
Austin, however, wasn’t about to fret — she had teachers and friends she wanted to say goodbye too.
“The last week of school; that's when everything was shutting down,” Austin said. “I knew people's lives were much more important than soccer and seeing my friends. We had a pep rally the last day of school (March 13); I cheered the last day as if it were my last day of school. I knew that if it were to come to an end, because of this virus, somebody else's life is much more important.”
By Monday, Austin began to embrace social distancing.
A standout golfer on the school’s golf team, Austin helped lead Greenwood to a runner-up finish at the 2019 state tournament. She was hopeful of a nice run in soccer, too.
“It’s hard to comprehend what’s happened, but I haven’t been too upset,” she said. “To be honest, I’m grateful for what we had done in the past.
“I’m thankful for what I had been able to do in years past.”
Greenwood girls soccer coach Andrew Post tabbled Austin as a senior co-caption with standout Bella Mora.
“To know my team rallied behind her and I, to know that they were there to rally around us, that was such a comfort,” Austin said. “We played some great soccer this season. (But) somebody else is having a harder time somewhere. Yes, we’re missing graduation and our awards banquet, and we didn’t get to have a prom, but we’re going to have a (high school) degree.”
Hoping to rekindle the state tournament magic from 2017, Greenwood ran into a buzzsaw in the form of Maggie Huett during last fall’s 5A state tournament.
The Lakeside golfer shot a 64 to help pace her team to the overall 5A championship. Austin had a front-row seat.
“I played with her,” Austin said. “She played incredibly. It was wonderful to play with her, just to see her talent up close.”
Greenwood’s runner-up finish did little to dampen Austin’s love for her teammates.
“I couldn’t have been more proud of how my team did,” she said. “We grew as a family. There was no competitiveness; we wanted to make each other better. We were super excited for each other, because that gave us a chance to win.”
Playing as one
Austin edged teammate Grace Woody for the overall individual medalist honors at the state meet at Ben Geren Country Club.
“Going into the playoff, I didn’t care who won,” Austin said. “I knew in the end someone from our team was going to be a medalist. I was so into how great our friendship had become.
“What it comes down to is the support system around you from parents and teammates.”
Austin plans to attend the University of Central Arkansas to pursue a nursing degree.
She won’t leave home without her clubs, though.
“I’ll miss it a lot,” she said. “The one thing that I’ll miss the most is my team and coaches.
“Those girls turned into sisters.”
As for saying goodbye, Austin and her classmates can thank the basketball team for that.
On Friday afternoon, March 13, Greenwood students and faculty gathered in support of the girls basketball team, who were supposed to play Nettleton in the 5A state championship game the following day.
“The school wanted to rally behind the girls and celebrate what they had accomplished,” Austin said. “It was almost like the school wanted to make sure we could be in the arena singing the alma mater one last night. I sang as loud as I could that day.
“It was kind of an outlet.”