‘Unreal’, ‘Heartbreaking’: UVA Wise student-athletes react to cancellation of spring season

“It was honestly unreal. It felt like a bad dream.”

“It was honestly heart wrenching.”

One week after UVA Wise announced that the remainder of the spring athletics schedules had been cancelled, student-athletes from across the seven teams in the middle of competing are still reeling from the news.

“It is still terrible to think about. Knowing that I will never play with that exact team again hurts my heart,” softball senior Taylor Woodlief said. “I walked on my junior year and ever since I met those girls that have done nothing but show me love and given me such amazing friendships that I will cherish forever. I am sad that the end of this season was taken from seniors not only here, but at other schools as well. These are opportunities that some will not get back.”

The softball team had just completed a doubleheader against Anderson University on Thursday afternoon when they were informed they had played their final game.

Jesse French
Jesse French

“We knew that they were cancelling other schools sports, but we were all hoping it was some kind of bad dream. And especially finding out after we had just played, that was the real kicker,” Woodlief said. “We started running out to right field for our post game chat and (co-head coaches Karen Bitter and Nick Bitter) told us to line up on the first base line. At that time, that is when we knew our season was officially over.”

The doubleheader marked the only game action for UVA Wise on that day, as seniors from the other teams on campus slowly learned that their most recent games ended up being the final game of their careers. The lacrosse team had just returned from a two-game road trip in Florida when they heard their season had ended.

“We were all in the airport. We had just landed from Florida and it just didn’t feel real. I was in denial when I heard the news but once I realized it was real it was just heartbreaking,” senior Jesse French said. “We were all consoling each other. There wasn’t a lot of talking really just hugging and trying to grasp what just happened.”

With all of the emotions and reactions from student-athletes, the biggest swing in emotions likely occurred with the Cavaliers baseball team, which had just earned a 10-9 victory over King University on a walk-off double by sophomore Bret Roberts the day before finding out the rest of their season had been cancelled.

“I had a bad gut feeling where once the NBA shut down as well as the IVY League D3 I just had that feeling that the clock was ticking. My reaction to it all once it hit still even having it in the back of my mind didn’t feel real. Training and grinding with your classmates for four years you feel like it should end the right way and this way the NCAA did it just was not it,” senior Greg Duncan said. “Emotions are still kind of raw. The seniors were all talking about what’s next step on either coming back for one more go, transfer to a master program and play there or just hang it up and start working. It’s all just a giant mess right now.”

Greg Duncan
Greg Duncan

While most of the teams at UVA Wise were already in the middle of their seasons, the men’s golf team had barely begun their spring season, while the women’s golf team had yet to play a tournament after weather had caused their first scheduled outing to be cancelled.

“Our first tournament was cancelled in February because of weather on the coast (the tournament was in Myrtle Beach) so we hadn’t even had a single tournament yet,” women’s golf junior Bailey Anderson said. “It sucked because all of the work we had put in during the off-season. We didn’t even get to step onto the course for a tournament this year to showcase our hard work.”

Men’s golf junior Alex Arnold added that he’s disappointed his team only competed in one tournament before the cancellation, but he feels more disappointed on behalf of the seniors whose careers came to an abrupt end.

“So we only played in one tournament and that does suck. I also understand our season ended earlier than most, but that doesn’t really bother me because I understand that all of our seasons were ended early,” Arnold said. “I just feel really bad for all of the seniors whose final year was practically stolen from them.”

That feeling of having the season stolen away is one that men’s tennis senior John Hamilton also shared.

“Well, my first reaction was kinda in disbelief, and I was pretty upset to find out I wasn’t going to be getting to experience my last ride with my teammates. I felt robbed of my senior season,” Hamilton said. “I came a long way playing tennis from when I walked on as a freshman and it was very upsetting thinking that my mom wasn’t going to get to come see any of my senior season matches. My teammates were all texting me about how much they appreciated me and it was pretty emotional.”

Women’s tennis sophomore Liza Akimenko said that along with the disappointment of seeing their season end early, she and her sister Katya Akimenko have also had to deal with uncertainty surrounding their travel arrangements. The Akimenkos have had to continue to stay on campus, as they are unable to fly home to their family in Ukraine because of travel restrictions in place due to the spread of COVID-19.

Amidst all of the emotions and reactions to the cancellation of the spring season, some UVA Wise seniors received positive news on Thursday, when the NCAA Division II Administrative Committee announced its decision that student-athletes who were seniors during the Spring 2020 semester would be able to receive an additional year of eligibility — giving these seniors a second chance at gaining closure on their collegiate careers. This announcement had been a matter of speculation in the days following the cancellation of the spring season, with UVA Wise seniors giving mixed reactions as to whether they would or would not take advantage of the eligibility waiver.

“I have actually talked to my parents and Coach (Karen Bitter) about it and I believe that as of right now I will be taking advantage of (the extra year of eligibility) because this is the last chance I have to play my favorite sport at the college level,” Woodlief said. “So hopefully, everything works out and we will be able to have a better senior year ending than this one.”

Duncan also expressed his intent to play again either at UVA Wise or another college, while Hamilton said that he is still trying to decide whether he’ll come back for one more year or if he has played his last match at UVA Wise. French said that she would not be returning to the Cavaliers, but she is considering the possibility of playing one more year.

“I’d love to be able to come back and use that year but I’ve already been accepted to grad school,” French said. “So I’m not sure if I will be able to but I have been exploring that option.”

As the rest of the student-athletes on campus regroup and consider their options for the future, Woodlief said that this abrupt end to the year serves as a reminder to every student-athlete regardless of sport or class year to make the most of the time they have playing the game they love.

“These are opportunities that some will not get back. Some of the seniors already have jobs lined up and they are not able to use the other year of eligibility given to us,” Woodlief said. “There are no words to explain how hard my heart breaks for the people who are not able to come back and play their favorite sport again. This really makes you think about playing every game your hardest, because you never know when it will be your last.”

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