Days after the USA South Athletic Conference announced the cancellation of the spring sports schedule as a precaution against the spreading coronavirus, Averett University’s coaches and athletes still are struggling to comprehend the very abrupt end of their seasons.
The USA South followed similar actions taken by other professional and collegiate leagues around the world in an attempt to preserve the health of athletes, fans and communities.
The urgency of the situation is recognized across Averett’s athletic department, but the emotions of the situation are hard to escape.
“They understood that we have a greater responsibility not just to our health, but the health of the community and trying to keep people safe,” men’s lacrosse coach Tony Mackin said of his players’ reaction. “I was actually very proud — although there were some long faces and obviously some disappointment — that they understood this is a little bigger than a game and a season, even though that’s all we’ve been training for all year.”
As late as Friday afternoon, before the league’s decision had been announced, the men’s lacrosse team still was anticipating playing in its Saturday game against Piedmont College. Ultimately, that session turned into an opportunity for reflecting and honoring junior Miska Granlund, who plans to graduate early.
“It was great to have everyone come together another time before we left because we are such a tight-knit group — a family — that just us being together and talking about the good times and laughing with each other was a light side of having our season end so soon,” junior Nate Hann told the Averett athletics website.
Some athletes could see the writing on the wall during the middle of last week that their team’s schedule was going to be affected in some way.
“My initial reaction when I heard that other schools’ seasons were being postponed was worrying,” said junior women’s tennis player Louise Hovhammar, according to Averett’s athletics website, “and I had a feeling that it was just a matter of time for us as well. Even though I was emotionally prepared for a similar situation at Averett, I still got very upset and shocked when the USA South announced it.”
The women’s tennis team got off to a 4-0 start, putting the Cougars at the top of the conference before the year ended prematurely.
Similarly, Averett’s softball team opened the year 10-2, including a win over nationally ranked Virginia Wesleyan on the season’s first weekend.
“It’s certainly hurtful that they were doing so well and now it’s come to an end,” softball head coach Steve Alcorn said.
In lieu of a traditional senior day celebration, the softball and baseball teams held softball scrimmages Saturday to honor each team’s seniors. It wasn’t the most perfect of circumstances, but it was something.
“To spend that time together, there were tears, but it really gave us the closure that I think we needed because we didn’t have that last game,” senior pitcher and infielder Kaitlyn Aherron told the school’s athletics website.
“We really felt like we could go all the way this year, and to have it cut so short was really hard for us.”
Seniors in every sport were forced to deal with the reality of the situation and quickly realized many of them likely had played their last games.
“As a senior, it’s always emotional and with everything happening so quickly within 24 hours, I was truly impressed and am always thankful my team found the most perfect way to make the last get-together special for me,” women’s lacrosse senior Abby Taylor said at her team’s last practice, according to Averett’s athletics website. “And that 100% helped soften such a hard situation and get my mind off of it for a little bit.”
Averett’s baseball team finished the season 1-17, but the lone win came in the team’s final game of the season, March 12 in a 5-0 victory against Guilford College.
“It was amazing to leave the university in the win column,” senior Chase McKinney told the school’s athletics website. “I am proud to say my first and last game as a Cougar was a win. I’m excited for all us seniors that we came out on top in our last game, and I know it meant a lot to all of us. Only a few teams ever win their last game. … I am glad I chose to play my four seasons as a Cougar.”
Fellow baseball senior Nick Winston also mentioned the significance of the team winning its final game. He also said the senior day softball game was the last of a handful of memories he’d savor from his collegiate career.
“The softball game was a great time and I was thrilled to be able to just have some fun and compete with my teammates one last time,” Winston told the athletics website.
“With all the uncertainty around what will come these next few weeks, it’s hard to know how many more moments we’ll be able to share together as a group. So being able to spend a whole afternoon having fun with those guys meant a lot to me.
“Looking back in the future I’ll remember my teammates and the moments we shared together over the years a lot more than the wins and losses.”
Parker Cotton is a sports reporter at the Martinsville Bulletin and Danville Register & Bee. You can reach him at (276) 638-8801 ext. 215. Follow @ByParkerCotton.