On March 13, 2020 the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) announced that member institutions, including Macalester, have decided to cancel the spring sports season in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. One day earlier, on March 12, the Macalester Athletic Department cancelled all seven spring break sports trips.
For senior athletes on the baseball, softball, golf, tennis, water polo and track and field teams, this meant they would not have the opportunity to compete during their last sports season at Macalester — in addition to the cancellation of commencement and other senior activities.
“Our coaches teared up and we all sat together and cried,” softball player Julia Carpenter ’20 wrote in an email to The Mac Weekly. “We knew it was the right thing to do in light of the pandemic, but it was hard to suddenly lose such a huge part of your life.”
“I think it made the most sense,” women’s tennis player Claire Buehler ’20 said. “Obviously there’s a lot of grief that comes with a lot of these things being cancelled, but health and safety is a top priority… Especially when you come in and you’re going to do varsity athletics there’s an understanding that the school will protect your health and safety.”
For most athletes the hardest parts were how fast everything changed and anticipating the season cancellation as they saw professional sports and other college conferences announce cancellations and postponements throughout the beginning of March.
“[The season] was cancelled on Friday [March 13] and on Thursday [March 12] all of the big DI conferences were cancelling stuff, so I was feeling like there was no way we would continue.” women’s water polo captain Oriana Galasso ’20 said. “I was trying to prepare for that, but there was still a chance and a lot of my teammates were more hopeful.”
Track and field distance runner and captain Jake Lepak ’20 cited a similar experience, after hearing that the National Basketball Association (NBA) suspended its season on March 11.
“I’d say one of the big moments for me was when the NBA suspended the season,” Lepak said. “Once that happened, in the back of my head, I was like ‘Everything’s going to get cancelled now.’ Even if it wasn’t official, I just had a feeling that other stuff was going to be cancelled as time went on.
“Then, obviously, things got so weird, so quickly,” he continued.
For many of the teams, the week leading up to spring break felt almost normal since all the spring break trips were still happening. While some like Galasso and Lepak were anticipating a cancellation, others like Carpenter and golf player Alexander Young-Williams ’20 were hopeful that the seasons may continue.
“That whole week [before spring break], we weren’t sure whether we’d go to Florida to play, but it was never a question of whether or not we’d play the rest of the season,” Carpenter wrote.
“The last week was somewhat normal, because we had to act as if everything would continue as planned.” Young-Williams wrote in an email to The Mac Weekly. “There definitely was that feeling [of the end], as well as a mounting feeling of resignation, but it didn’t really hit me until a few days after everything was cancelled.”
Despite the shock of losing their final seasons, many seniors expressed that, compared to other pandemic-related events, it was not an overwhelming hardship. They also noted a deep gratitude for the support and recognition efforts from coaches, teammates and the Athletic Department.
“Everybody has been very supportive, my coach in particular,” Young-Williams wrote. “He’s only just become our head coach, so I know it’s been difficult for him as well, but he’s been compassionate and empathetic throughout, even initiating what now have become weekly team Zoom meetings. He’s gone out of his way to ask me if I need any support, which means a lot to me.”
Other seniors agreed, noting the efforts of the Athletics Department on social media to recognize all spring sports seniors through “Senior Salute” posts which acknowledge each seniors contributions to their respective teams.
Some, like Galasso, put the loss of the season into perspective with the larger global events.
“I’ve just been reminding myself that there have been so many other true traumas and sadnesses to come out of this,” she said. “It is very sad what happened to our season but I think until the world is doing better, it’ll be hard for me to really comprehend what directly happened with the season because I think what else is going on is just extremely significant and unfathomable.”
However, for these seniors their athletic careers at Macalester were an important and memorable part of their college experience. They cited opportunities such as serving on the Student Athlete Advisory Council, representing Macalester to the greater community and growing both as a person and player as highlights.
“If you had told me, when I was in my freshman or sophomore year of high school that I would play varsity athletics somewhere I would’ve looked at you and said you were crazy because I just didn’t think I was good enough,” Buehler said. “Finding DIII athletics was an amazing surprise. I think one of the things that drew me towards choosing to try and participate in athletics was to create a community and I think I really found it.”