The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating to so many people in so many ways that it’s almost impossible to add them all up. Whether directly or indirectly, it has impacted many people’s lives and most in a negative and difficult way.
Tess Yuhas was ready to flip the page to the next chapter in her already exciting and successful young life. She has dealt with her own challenges and has proven that perseverance, determination, faith and strength can turn the page on difficult times in a young woman’s life.
She was in the final months of her high school life when life changed course for everyone in early March. Pioneer High School, like every school in the state, sent the students home for the remainder of the year but she eventually would earn her diploma and graduate with the rest of the class of 2020.
Yuhas’ future school wasn’t as fortunate. Some colleges and smaller universities weren’t able to overcome the financial burdens caused by the pandemic and either cut programs or closed all together. Urbana University was the latter as the small, private D-2 school in Ohio completely closed in April.
The Pioneer senior was all set to attend Urbana and continue playing her favorite sport, lacrosse. Then everything changed when her future coach called in mid-April and informed Tess that she needed to find another school.
Yuhas responded by leaning on those character traits she has developed in her young life – perseverance, determination, faith and strength. And she landed, like she often does, on her feet at the University of Charleston in West Virginia. While fall lacrosse has been limited because of the pandemic, she’s looking forward to continue playing the sport that she fell in love with at an early age.
“I first got into lacrosse in seventh grade,” says Tess, the daughter of Moira and Paul Yuhas. “When my childhood soccer career came to an end, I was looking for a new sport to pick up. My older brother Nate had always played lacrosse and after picking up one of his sticks and playing with him in the backyard I decided I’d give it a shot.”
She gave it a shot – and scored.
“My years of playing lacrosse at Pioneer have been the best years of my life,” she said. “The spring season is what I looked forward to the most during the school year. I have played varsity all three years and this year I was one of the captains for the varsity team.”
Yuhas learned quite a bit on and off the field her “rookie” year at Pioneer.
“During my freshmen year I was a very timid player to start off, but with a lot of work with the amazing team that I was on and with help and support from my coach, I became a more confident player,” said Yuhas, who had 15 goals, 57 draw controls and was named SEC All-Conference Honorable Mention.
“During my sophomore year I really focused on my left hand and tried to always use it at the appropriate time and never shy away from using it,” she said. The Pioneers reached the Regional semifinals and Yuhas finished with 39 goals and 117 draw controls to earn SEC First-Team All-Conference honors.
“My junior year team was really close,” she says. “I feel like we really worked well together and all of our personalities mixed together really well on and off the field.”
Pioneer reached the Regional finals in 2019 and Yuhas had 52 goals and 128 draw controls to earn another SEC All-Conference First Team.
Needless to say, she was very much looking forward to her senior year and taking her play to an even higher level.
“We were going to have a lot of underclassmen that were new to the game and I was very excited to help them improve and see their growth over this season,” she says. “My personal goal was to be the best captain I could possibly be on and off the field. Since freshman year I have been working towards being a captain and now that it was finally here, my goal was to give my team the best captain and teammate they could have.
“As a team, my goal was to grow and improve and ultimately win regionals. I believe it’s something we could have accomplished. I wish we had the chance to try.”
There were many highlights over her three seasons on the field for Pioneer. But Yuhas is a big-picture type of person.
“A big thing for me when I think back about highlights in lacrosse is that no matter what happened or what the outcome was in a game or whatever it may have been, we were always tight as a team,” she said. “This is something that is so important as a team and something that kept me going through the program all these years. Not only were we tight as teams on the field but off the field as well. When one of us had personal problems going on we were all there for each other.”
She added that no matter what social group someone was in during school, they were always welcome and always had a place on the lacrosse team. And that attitude started at the top of the program.
“I hear a lot of sports having multiple coaches during their high school career and the fluctuating coaching affecting their improvements as a player and that’s just something that I have never had to experience,” she said. “Being under the outstanding guidance and coaching of Zachary Maghes all these years has made my Pioneer lacrosse experience the best it can be. His care for his players goes beyond winning a title or having a winning record, it goes beyond the field. A lot of athletes can’t say that about their coaches and it’s something that really impacts your high school experience. He does an outstanding job year after year improving this program and teaching girls how to love the game.”
Tess’ brother, Nate, will be a junior this year at Elmhurst University where he has become a key member of the school’s lacrosse team. And he, too, helped share not only his talents and insights but also his love of the game.
“When it comes to lacrosse and what I learned from Nate, there is a lot I could say,” she said. “From the second I picked up a stick he was encouraging and patient throughout my early and very rough stages of learning to play. He also taught me to be a great leader.”
Another passion for Yuhas is helping others. She was Co-President for Unified Champion Schools Club which supports the special education kids at Pioneer as well as throughout AAPS.
“Ever since I was little, I have been interested in special education,” she says. “I have a cousin who is special ed and she is the sweetest girl I have ever met. I really started thinking about going into special ed when I met her. It had always been a thought in my head that I wanted to do that but I really decided that’s what I wanted when I started in the Peer Connections program at Pioneer.”
Yuhas says a big challenge working with Special Ed kids is that each and every one of them has a different way of learning. Another challenge is “that there is no student that is just like another.”
“There is a different approach to take with each kid when helping them with their work,” she says. “On the flip side, every challenge has a reward. When you find a way that the student you’re working with responds well to it is the most rewarding experience you could have. When a huge smile creeps across their face, it’s the best feeling in the world.
“Ultimately, I do feel like working with Special Ed kids will be my life’s work.”
Senior photos by Greg Yuhas