COVID-19 cuts short Willamette athletes’ seasons
Senior athletes experienced a myriad of emotions when they first heard that all spring athletic events would be canceled on March 12.
Some were shocked, like senior baseball athlete Ben Whitten: “I was completely stunned. I knew [COVID-19 is] a significant issue but I did not think things would move so quickly.”
Others, like senior softball athlete Vanessa Almaraz, were not as shocked: “I had a feeling it was coming and it was just a matter of time before it actually happened, but that didn’t make it any easier. I was upset and felt as though I didn’t get closure which makes this whole situation difficult because of how sudden this was.”
Senior track and field athlete Jamie Smith added: “It was definitely a little strange to start out the day planning on going to practice and then finding out over the course of the day that things were being canceled.”
Whether the cancelation was expected or not, many student-athletes were devastated and upset on the day they found out. “I was at work as the emails were trickling in on Thursday. At the beginning I was feeling disappointed [at the news of fan attendance being limited], but overall hopeful. No fans would suck, but it would only affect our senior day when I know other people’s parents would be coming. Then the news came out about the championships being cancelled by the NCAA and my heart dropped,” senior softball player Maya Shipway remembered. “I knew that my competitive season was over, that I wouldn’t play another game in my collegiate career, but maybe I could still practice. Wrong again. I was barely holding it together for the end of my shift. I was devastated. Not only would I never compete in the same way that I had been competing for the last four years, I wasn’t allowed to spend time with my team and continue to work hard and grow together. The very heart of my community was no longer available to me in the way it had always been before and that was heartbreaking.”
Many, like senior softball athlete Jocelyn Glasgo, did not want to believe that their season was over, “I felt a sense of denial, like the news wasn’t actually true and there was still hope this wasn’t the actual truth or that hope to still have part of the season and just postpone the games.”
Others, like senior track and field athlete Saige Swan, experienced anger: “I have waited a few days to come up with the words to describe the anger and hurt that I won’t be able to compete in my last track and field throwing season. The amount of hours I have dedicated to this sport from the surgery and injury recoveries, to pushing myself to get stronger and stronger every year has put a total on my body, but I wouldn’t take it back for anything.” Despite this, he remains understanding of the situation. “Although I am angry and upset, my family and friends are safe and healthy and that is something to be grateful for.”
After the initial shock of the situation subsided, many seniors reflected on their shortened seasons. Shipway reflected on her emotions: “I feel that I lack closure. Softball has brought me [closer to] some of the most influential people in my life, from mentors to my best friend. I have gained and learned so much through this sport and my time at Willamette so in that sense I am fulfilled. But I do feel incomplete. I feel as if I have a few more reps left in the tank that are itching to be used and they never will be, not in the way they ought to be at least. All that said, my career isn’t defined by the last few days. I had three full seasons I got to participate in and I am leaving behind a legacy of a team who has benefited from my leadership and guidance and who I know will never take their time as an athlete for granted, who will work harder than they ever have, and who I hope will look fondly back on their 2020 seniors as inspiration in the game and reach out to us as friends in years to come.”
Others on the softball team harbor similar feelings from the short season. “I think the hardest thing for me is not having closure, not knowing [we were playing] our last game or practice as we played. This season in particular getting cut short hurts especially because of the talent the team has. It was evident as a player and from seeing previous years, this team had what it took to turn the program around and be successful in our conference,” senior softball athlete Olivia Scott reflected.
Unlike some others, Smith does not necessarily feel a lack of closure given her situation: “I am really happy with where I am at with running right now and glad to have been a part of the track and cross country teams throughout my time at Willamette. I have had a few injuries during my collegiate career and so I am mostly just happy to be healthy and enjoying running right now. Under different circumstances I would have loved to have the chance to finish out the season but I am glad I got the chance to race a couple times this spring.”
Given how emotionally trying the current times are, the student-athletes have relied on their friends, families and teams for support for support. Shipway mentioned: “My fellow seniors and friends have been my biggest support. We are all in the same boat, facing the same concerns, in the same unstable state and in that shared uncertainty we have been each other’s strength. We are focusing on celebrating the little things as they come and pulling ourselves out of this place of sadness and disappointment.”
With all sport activities being canceled, student-athletes are looking for other ways to fill their time. Senior baseball athlete Joey Faudskar is turning to several activities, “As of now I am going to try and be more active with outdoor activities, focus more on class (even though it is online), try and develop some better relationships with friends and find ways to take my mind off COVID-19 and [the baseball] season.”
Swan plans to take a different approach. “I need to have competition in my life so I will fill this void with powerlifting.”
Reflecting on the situation, Glasgo thought back to the lessons she has gleaned from sports: “If anything, sports has taught me to face hard times of opposition with strength and to continue past trials with strength. Although we don’t get the chance to play the sport we love anymore, it has prepared us with the character to know that when things are hard you fight back harder and move on, even when that means moving on from the sport you love. I am heart broken that I will never lace up my cleats again in representation of Willamette but the lessons and memories gained will never be lost.”