With Illinois State University essentially closing its campus due to COVID-19, it has meant canceling spring sports competition for the rest of the semester.
ISU softball, baseball, and other spring sports recently got the news that all NCAA competitions were canceled because of the pandemic. ISU sophomore baseball player Jake McCaw said while spring sports players are disappointed they won't be competing with their teammates, they understand that their health is a top priority.
"People look at spring athletes and just think that we’re all so angry about everything going on,” McCaw said. “I think most of our mindsets at this point is that we want to be safe and that we want to keep other people safe.”
The NCAA announced it is granting an extra year of eligibility to spring sports athletes to compensate for the lost season. However, the ruling excludes winter sports athletes who are left without a postseason that takes place in the spring. The ISU women’s basketball team, for example, was not be able to compete in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament and earn a possible appearance in March Madness. The team had one of the best seasons in history, earning 19 wins and defeating a nationally ranked team for the first time in 28 years.
ISU senior Lexi Wallen said with the season ending so abruptly, the team's hope of an NCAA tournament appearance is over.
"It was a sad way for the season to end so unexpectedly,” Wallen said. “We really believed that we had a chance to win the tournament and possibly go to the NCAA tournament, or just playing in the postseason.”
The women's team was scheduled to face the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) in the MVC tournament on March 13 before it was canceled. Wallen is a nursing major and will continue her college career at ISU by pursuing a master’s degree. With healthcare workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 battle, Wallen said she’s proud to one day be able to join healthcare workers who are helping others in need.
Wallen’s teammate, junior JuJu Redmond, said she cherishes the bond her teammates and coaches built this season. As a transfer student, Redmond said the success and relationships she’s made with the Redbirds made her wish she’d join the club sooner.
“It’s really bittersweet how everything played out,” Redmond said. “I had a great time this year and built a bond. I wish I had more time at Illinois State than the time that I had. I wish I would’ve as a freshman going into my sophomore year moved over to Illinois State.”
Like other ISU students, student-athletes are now at home completing online courses instead of competing with their peers. Redmond said despite not competing on the court, lessons she’s learned from basketball can translate over to schoolwork.
“I just thought about it as a drill or a task I have to do on the court,” she said. “It’s just like when coach gives us a drill and they expect you to get it. That’s how I thought about it. Professor sends out an email and tells you how to do the assignment, just try to figure it out the best way possible.”
ISU junior softball player Andrea Coursey also is disappointed she is not be competing with her teammates, but has been finding other ways to stay active while transitioning being at home.
"Whether it’s playing cards at night or playing ping pong or catching a frisbee outside or different things like that to try to keep up with the competitiveness and not losing that mental aspect of everything,” said Coursey.
She agreed the NCAA's decision to grant an extra year of eligibility to spring sports students was the right decision for students, but she hasn't decided on whether to take advantage of it and play another year at ISU.
Coursey’s teammate, senior Alyssa Wiebel, said she was devasted to have her last season at ISU end sooner than expected and will miss the chemistry the team built.
“This was the best preseason that I’ve had in my past four years individually and as a team,” Wiebel said. “I feel like this team meshed so well together and we played really, really close games with some top teams and for a lot of years, we haven’t been able to do that. This was my favorite team and I was really excited to play it out with them.”
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