BUFFS ROUNDUP: Wednesday, April 15, 2020
Note: This is one in a series of profiles on Garden City High School senior student-athletes, who have missed out on their final semester of their last year to compete in their respective sport.
When Nathan Morren walked off the courts at the 2019 Class 6A state tournament, he knew that his senior season in 2020 would look incrementally different. For more than one reason.
He knew that he would no longer be playing doubles with his older brother, Tyler, who graduated in 2019 and headed off to Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Mich. The two had teamed up to produce a stellar 29-6 season record for the Garden City High School Buffaloes.
The younger Morren also realized that he likely would be competing for a singles position on the Buffs team for coach Rod Robinson in his final season of playing the sport.
But what he didn’t count on was that his senior year would never materialize. At all.
No traveling with his teammates to tournaments hours away. No home tournament for the annual GCHS Invitational, where he could play in front of family and friends. No Western Athletic Conference tournament with the hopes of repeating at league champion. No Class 6A regional or state tournaments.
That’s what the COVID-19 did, among many other things, to Morren, his Buffalo teammates, classmates, the school, the Garden City community and beyond.
“I got to play with my brother last year and I was hoping to go out conquer some things on my own this year,” Morren said in a recent telephone interview during the stay-at-home, social distancing guidelines for the citizens of Kansas. “I was looking forward to our own tournament.”
The Buffs’ tennis team was able to begin spring preseason practices on March 2, and before the spring season was canceled by the Kansas State High School Activities Association (and the state shutdown of school facilities by Governor Laura Kelly), Morren had swept through his teammates during challenge matches to secure the No. 1 singles position.
“We had two weeks of challenge matches and I remembered that my freshman year I wasn’t very good at that (singles),” Morren recalled. “This year, I had more experience. I had done more exercising and conditioning and I wasn’t getting as tired. I also had improved my serve a lot. I was really looking forward to this season.”
Even though Morren knew he would be playing against a higher caliber opponent throughout the season, it was something he had worked hard for.
“You have to be more varied in the kinds of shots you hit,” Morren said. “Ball placement is important and you have to hit more cross-court shots, or being to hit it down the line. In doubles, you’re doing more rallies, but in singles there’s nobody at the net.”
Long-time Buffs tennis coach Rod Robinson, who tendered his resignation (and will retire) in early March, said Morren had worked hard to improve all aspects of his game.
“I saw a little bit more patience in his game,” Robinson said of Morren. “He had gotten better at volleying and I think he would have had a good year. He was much faster on the court and had got in good shape (through swimming). He was doing a good job of being a leader and was spending time working with the younger players.”
With the social distancing guidelines in place, Morren had been doing a lot of solo workouts, but also playing some singles with his former teammates, many of whom had come back home to Garden City when colleges had shut down and gone to distance learning as well.
“It has been good to see some of the guys I played with last year,” Morren said. “When you’re playing singles, there’s nobody on your side of the net with you, so you’re able to have that distance from the person you’re playing.”
Due to the coronavirus outbreak, Morren and his family had canceled their planned spring break trip, so they have been home quite a lot and ended up with an extra week for an extended spring break.
“When the basketball tournaments were called off, I kind of knew that our spring season might be canceled,” Morren said. “I saw it on twitter and at first, got a little upset. But then I knew it was the right thing to do.
“Am I disappointed? Yes. I had grown and matured so much in my four years playing, and I thought this would be my best year. I had grown in my relationship with the coaches and I didn’t get to have the ending that I wanted. I was hoping to show what my best season would’ve been like. It’s an experience I know I will never forget.”
What has happened over the past month is that Morren says he has grown a feeling of protectionism for his family and others.
“If I were to get it (virus) and pass it on to someone else, I think that would be irresponsible,” he said. “You have to exercise caution. You see people who are struggling so it’s an issue to stay at home and try to kill this thing.”
With respect to his academics for the remainder of the spring semester, Morren said he’s been taking a couple of his classes using Zoom, meeting his teachers through the online program.
“Some of the teachers we check in with regularly,” he said, “and with others we get a week-at-a-glance handout on Monday and have to have the assignments returned by Friday. I feel like I’ve adjusted well to this. I’m taking three college classes, so this doesn’t seem to be too much of an inconvenience.”
While events such as prom and graduation are still uncertain as to how they will occur, or if they will take place, Morren said he is taking a wait and see attitude.
“Graduation is the biggest thing for me,” he said. “I hope it can happen. You want to have those moments to remember for a lifetime. My brother said his graduation time was one of his greatest moments.”
Family meals have been more of a regular item these days, Morren said.
“Trying out some new recipes and just enjoying a little more down time,” he said. “My main thing is to try and stay healthy and not get too close to people.”
For his future plans, Morren plans to follow his brother Tyler to Michigan, where he will enroll at Calvin University, an NCAA Division III school, and hopes to play tennis there.
“I want to try out for their team and I know they’re graduating four or five players and they need to rebuild,” Morren said of his future tennis plans.
For now, like so many others, Morren is doing his best in a difficult time. He’s looking forward to the time when things will return to normal.
“I think I’ll be much more appreciative of the things I’ve been able to do after this is all over,” Morren said.