We are in an unprecedented time amidst the pandemic that has affected billions. Many peo- ple have never experienced something that has shaken the world the way that COVID-19 has.
It has halted our daily way of living. Business- es are closing, schools are being shut down, and sports are being postponed or canceled. For many, this news came with little to no warning.
For many collegiate athletes, their seasons were either in full-swing or about to start up. With the fast spread of the COVID-19 virus, the NCAA was prompted to react quickly in order to help protect athletes around the country.
For winter sports like swimming, track and field and basketball, they were in the middle of their postseason competitions. A whole season’s worth of work coming to a climactic conclusion, all cut short by an unseen force.
IUP sophomore sprinter Dre Carr was about to compete in the Division II Track and Field Championships in Birmingham, Alabama. After flying all the way to Alabama on March 11, Carr got the bad news the following day.
“I had a lot of mixed emotions when it first happened because I was ready with my prepa- ration throughout the week before I even flew to Alabama,” Carr said last week. “Once I got there, as soon as I laid eyes on the facility, I fell in love with it. It was just the most beautiful track facility I’ve ever seen, the Birmingham Sports Complex.”
As one would expect, this news was incred- ibly difficult to hear for athletes like Carr who have devoted an entire season for the oppor- tunity to prove themselves on a national stage.
“I was just hurt because I was so ready,” he said. “I was looking forward to competing and finishing top in the nation. I wanted to show the world my talents, and I was looking to be an All-American sprinter and have that plaque, and it was all taken away from you in the snap of a finger.”
Similarly, swimmers Rachel Johnson (sophomore, hospitality management) and Paige Mikesell (sophomore, health and physical education) were in the midst of competing in their second straight NCAA Division II Swimming and Diving Championships appearance when the news was delivered.
Less than two weeks earlier, Mikesell won three individual titles – the 100 and 200 butter- fly and the 200 individual medley – at the PSAC Championships, held from Feb. 19 to 22. She broke two meet records, as well as an eight-year old school record in the 100 butterfly, and was named the meet’s most outstanding swimmer.
She qualified for the NCAA Championships in four individual events, and entering the NCAA meet, she was seeded second in the 200 butterfly, fifth in the 200 free and sixth in the 100 butterfly.
Her chances of becoming a multiple All-American were good to say the least. Heck, maybe even a national champion.
“When they canceled the meet, it was hard for me to know that I never got the chance to swim the 200 fly, my best event, and the event that I was seeded second in the nation in,” Mikesell reflected. “I was very excited for that event, and that was all taken away from me. I still think about it every day, wondering what I could have accomplished in that event.”
Rachel Johnson finished second in the 100 breast and third in the 200 breast at the PSAC Championships and was excited to compete and bring a climactic end to her season.
She recalled the events leading to the announcement of the cancellation.
“All week we had been hearing about meets getting canceled,” Mikesell said, “but we never thought that they would can- cel ours since we had already started and been around everyone. I didn’t believe it at first. When we finally got to the pool to know for sure, I was in complete shock.”
It was a hard pill for Johnson to swallow. “You swim 15 meets … so those four days you can drop time,” Johnson said. “So yeah, I got to swim my whole season, but the whole purpose of my season was that meet and you see your results at that meet. It’s hard because I got to swim my whole season, but I didn’t get to see the end result that you wanted to see.
“I don’t know how else to describe it oth- er than heartbreaking just because I didn’t get to like fulfill my goal of the whole sea- son.”
For athletes like Carr, Mikesell and Johnson, this is nothing short of an incredible moment in their collegiate careers. Noth- ing is guaranteed in life, and no one knows what’s going to happen next year.
IUP swimming coach Chris Villa weighed in on his athlete’s impossible situation.
“Both of them, Rachel and Paige, their best events were the next day, Friday,” Villa said. “I was back at home Friday or Saturday, and I would just say to Jenn, my wife, it’s just so crazy. It’s unbelievable. Surreal is a great way to describe it.
“I feel bad for our girls, they missed out, but hopefully they’ll come back better and hungry and ready to go. It was sad. It was hard and it was sad, and the girls handled it well, but it’s an unbelievable situation to deal with for a 19-, 20-year-old right now.”
For all these athletes this has been an abrupt end to their season, and an even more abrupt end to the collegiate careers for the seniors.
Seniors like forward Natalie Myers (senior, education), of the women’s basketball team, will not be able to have closure to their final season as a Crimson Hawk. The women’s basketball team was set to host the NCAA Atlantic Region tournament for the first time since 2008.
Myers and her squad were in the middle of a historic season and were unable to finish their work on the court.
The Crimson Hawks, who went 28-3 on the season, were eyeing a third straight trip to the Elite Eight.
Like their counterparts, the IUP men’s basketball team was also set to host the NCAA Atlantic Regional after winning the PSAC title and posting a 28-2 record. But the Crimson Hawks never got that chance.
“My initial reaction was that I was in disbelief and didn’t really know what to say or do other than cry,” Myers said.
“You work all season for this, and then it was all of a sudden taken away There are
some athletes that trained all year for their spring sports and were never able to take the field.”
“It was disbelief,” women’s basketball coach Tom McConnell said. “We were all there about an hour before team dinner when we found out it [the tournament] would be canceled.”
Many Crimson Hawk athletes were af- fected by this impossible situation and were struck with a litany of emotions and reac- tions. But in true IUP fashion, these athletes are handling the situation as best as they can with class.
“Looking back at the season, it brings a smile to my face” said Myers “We did a great job this season. We overcame adver- sity and played IUP basketball the way it should be played.”
“I was immediately hurt, but then I talked to my mom about it and she kind of cheered me up,” Carr said. “Once I figured I’ve just got to look forward to the days ahead and my bright future, that kind of cheered me up.”
It took her a few days to see the bigger picture, but Johnson has come to terms with the cancellation.
“Now that I see all the more devastating things going in the world, you understand why that happened,” she said. “All these people losing their jobs and people are dying. I can see the bigger picture.”
Even though all of these students were in different places and competing in different sports, they were all presented the same difficult circumstances, and all did their best to adapt and cope with their situation.
With the virus reaching record-breaking death tolls in the United States, it is mar- quee that we all stay together during this pandemic. Like these athletes, we need to remain strong and make the best of this sit- uation.
We will adapt. We will overcome.