Teams react to cancelled seasons

Mitchell Breuer, Editor-In-Chief

The week of spring break was supposed to be one not much different from a regular week for Winona State University athletics.

Teams traveled out of the state for competition as they usually would during this time hoping for success, not knowing that this would be their last week of competition for the rest of the spring season due to the rise of the COVID-19 in the United States.

The men and women’s golf teams were making their way home after a trip to Las Vegas. The men were impressive in their two invites, placing second in the Minot Vegas Invite and first in the Warrior Vegas Invite, while the women placed eighth of ten teams in their lone invite of the week.

“I mean, what you do?” Jeff Straight, head coach of the men’s golf team said. “I guess it’s helping, who knows? It’s just sad they straight away cancelled everything but, it is what it is.”

For Straight it is especially tough because he believed his team was one of the best Winona State has had, as they ranked fourth in the Central Region and 43rd in the nation (the next highest-ranking conference member being 95th).

The team also ranked 15th in the nation in scoring with a team average of 290.

There was a good chance that the Warriors could move into the top-25 by eight a year.

“We would have definitely made regionals, that was a given, not a gift but given because of our status,” Straight said. “Our goal was to make national at St Louis, we definitely had the team to do that. So, this is very disappointing.”

The positive for Straight’s team was that they had played a majority of their season, being a both fall and spring sport, similar to women’s tennis, who were also competing during this time frame.

The same could not be said for Winona State’s baseball and softball teams, who had not started conference play yet.

Both were in Florida as the talks of potential postponement were quickly getting louder as the week progressed.

“It was so fast,” Greg Jones, head coach of the Warrior softball team said. “Obviously, it is very unprecedented but I think it was the speed at which it was happening made it more challenging. You were constantly doing two things; you were trying to learn and absorb the information and, at the same time you were trying to disseminate the information. You’re trying to be honest and upfront with your team, while at the same time trying to wrap your own head around it and that became really challenging because it was literally happening as we were playing.”

The softball team had played six games, winning four and losing two, when they began hearing more about the coronavirus on Wednesday, March 11.

“We had an off day on Wednesday, like we normally do in the middle of the week and that night we always meet as a team,” Jones said. “We addressed [the students] because that was the first time they made a decision about the NCAA basketball tournament being played without fans. It was then that first email had come from campus about spring break being extended. It became very real that things were going to change.”

Despite the feeling that a change was coming, Jones said there was no indication that a full-on season cancellation was about to happen.

However, during their games on Thursday, March 12, Jones said he began to hear more speculation on the future of the season and by the end of the day, the announcement had come that the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC) was canceling spring sport’s championships.

Jones said he would try to handle the situation through things he could control.

“In our sport, there is a lot of stuff that can happen that is out of your control from umpires to fans to weather, things of that nature,” Jones said. “The other is that we always preach to our players that this game doesn’t define us, and it is never about us, the game is bigger than us. We still had games to play on Friday, we didn’t know what was going to happen when we got home, so let’s stay focused on what we can control.”

As for how his team reacted, Jones recognized how well they handled the situation but did not dismiss the sobering feeling, to which he described as “somebody flipping the checkerboard in the middle of the game.”

However, this did not stop the team from ending their season on a high note.

The Warriors would come out and win their final four games, ending their season with a record of 13-6.

“I think our performance was one of my biggest takeaways for me,” Jones said. “It was the maturity that were able to deal with it early in the day. It would’ve been really easy for them to be selfish there and they weren’t. They played for each other.”

Among the key factors to the team’s success were their seniors, a group that will go in Winona State history as one of the best, with the highest winning percentage of any class in Warrior softball history.

Senior pitchers Jordyn Kleman and Alyssa Van Valey scored wins in their final starts at the mound and fellow senior Alexis Keklsey ended her Winona State career the same way she started: with a home run at her final at-bat.

Heading into the team’s final games, Jones knew that he needed to honor the graduating group.

“We’ve made a big deal every year how important our senior class was to us,” Jones said. “We don’t name captains, we never have, so our seniors are kind of our pseudo-captains, they are our leadership. So, it has always been a big deal to celebrate them one last time. It was going to be a big year anyway, then to get it cut short and then to do things on the fly, it was really emotional. Thursday night, after our games we met with just the seniors, there was a lot of tears and a lot of emotion. On Friday, I just made the decision that winning and losing didn’t matter and that it was all about getting them to walk off the field together. This was a group that really help shaped our culture the right way.”

So, where are we now?

The golf team made moves to attempt get more tee time before courses shut down like many other businesses in the country.

“Some of my guys went to Arizona and they are there now playing golf,” Straight said. “They were just like, ‘let’s go to Arizona’. Flights [were cheap] and there a couple of guys had family members from there, which is really nice”

Meanwhile, the softball team continues to adjust to living without their usual busy spring schedule.

“I think some of the other challenges they are facing is loneliness,” Jones said. “We were used to being a family and being around each other. Now, everybody is back at their homes and we are scattered around the map. They have handled it extraordinarily well because they understand this isn’t about them, but I think they are heartbroken. I’ve been getting a lot of texts and communication from our team and, I know they just want to get back here and get started again.”

 

The opinions expressed in this paper are not necessarily those of Winona State University, the Minnesota State Colleges and University system, or the Winona State University student body.