Multi-sport athletes from the Saginaw region face tough tournament decisions

The challenge remains the same year after year, along with the disappointment and feeling that someone is letting someone down.

But every year, high school multiathletes must choose between sports and teammates during one of Michigan’s busiest high school sports days of the year.

This season, Freeland’s Evelynn Rybicki and Michigan Lutheran Seminary’s Ava Slieff face the same choice and come up with different answers.

Rybicki, a standout on the Freeland softball team, qualified in the pole vault for the Division 2 state meeting. Slieff, who helped lead Michigan Lutheran Seminary to a 21-win softball season, qualified in the 200-yard Run, along with the 400m relay and 800m relay.

They have to choose between playing in the softball districts or the state track finals on Saturday.

“I love softball and I want to play softball,” Slieff said. “It’s disappointing not to be able to play softball with my district teammates. You would hope something could be done, but I’m going to the track meet.”

Slieff, who plays shortstop, pitcher and outfield for the Cardinals, hits .369 with 16 stolen bases for a seminary team that is 21-12. Last season, Slieff also competed in the Division 4 state track meet and helped the Cardinals finish third in the 400 relay.

She wrapped up the 2022 regular season Thursday, throwing a full game to help Seminary earn a split against Birch Run.

“It is policy at our school that dual athletes must make a preseason decision as to which sport is primary and which is secondary,” said seminary coach Seth LaBair. “In the event of overlapping dates, the athlete decides on the primary sport.

“Ava missed about 10 games for us when there were track meetings. And since it is her main sport, she goes to the state meeting on Saturday.”

While Slieff competes in Hudsonville, her softball teammates meet Breckenridge in a district semifinals Saturday afternoon in Merrill.

Rybicki, a junior, is part of a strong Freeland track and field team and a 24-11 Freeland softball team. The Falcons placed third at the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association team-state meeting, led by a trio of endurance stars: Mara Longenecker, Whitney Farrell and Kiera Hansen. Farrell has signed on to run for Ferris State while Hansen will run for Eastern Michigan next season. Longenecker will run as Michigan’s preferred walk-on next season.

They will line up for the Falcons at the Division 2 state meeting at Grand Rapids Forest Hills Eastern while Rybicki will play at the Division 2 softball district at Bullock Creek and face Essexville Garber at 10 a.m. in a district semifinal.

“It’s just a shame she can’t do both,” said Freeland softball coach Mike Rybicki. “You would hope that the state would be able to create a situation for these athletes to do both. I understand you can’t change the state track meeting. There are hundreds of volunteers and it takes a lot of coordination.

“But there’s no reason you can’t have a four-team, three-game district softball tournament on a Friday.”

Currently, the Michigan High School Athletic Association has made Saturday the standard date for softball and baseball districts. The Saturday date for baseball is important because of pitching restrictions, but those restrictions don’t extend to softball.

“Right now, all four teams in the district would have to agree to play on Friday,” LaBair said. “It’s the best train, and some districts are Friday. It would be a good idea, especially for smaller schools like ours where there are more two-sport athletes.

“But right now, Ava will miss playing softball. If we don’t win, their season is over. That’s unfortunate, but that’s the situation.”

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