College athletes wrestle with decision to end spring season

  • Dartmouth senior Allison McCann, of Amherst, is shown playing for the Big Green this season. McCann’s season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. DOUG AUSTIN/DARTMOUTH ATHLETICS

  • Dartmouth senior Allison McCann, of Amherst, is shown playing for the Big Green this season. McCann’s season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. DOUG AUSTIN/DARTMOUTH ATHLETICS

  • Dartmouth senior Allison McCann, of Amherst, is shown playing for the Big Green this season. McCann’s season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. DOUG AUSTIN/DARTMOUTH ATHLETICS


For the Gazette
Published: 3/30/2020 6:17:31 PM

Devin Kellogg watched his roommates’ careers end from their couch.

The Northampton graduate and University of Hartford sophomore baseball player lived with four of the team’s 14 seniors: Jackson Olson, Nate Florence, Alex Moconyi and Zach Ardito. They were watching ESPN on March 12 when the NCAA canceled all winter and spring championships because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was tough to see their reactions. We were gonna be a good team this year,” Kellogg said. “We had everything going, and to have it all taken away was pretty heartbreaking.”

The Hawks were 6-6 and had found out their season was suspended during the previous week’s practice. They began the week on a high note after winning a weekend series against the Citadel. Pitchers were taking batting practice because they threw a shutout March 6.

Halfway through the practice Hartford coach Justin Blood was called to a meeting where he learned about the suspension and the school moving to remote learning. The American East Conference called off its season not too long after.

“You could definitely tell after we beat some good teams to start the season we were going for something special,” Kellogg said. “It hurts to see it get taken away, but we’re not going to forget what it was like.”

Smith Academy graduate Kevin Banas and his Elms College baseball team were in Florida for their annual spring trip when the news broke. They felt an inkling something was amiss when some teams weren’t traveling, so their stay might get cut short.

“We thought ‘I guess we’re pretty lucky to be down here,” said Banas, a senior. “I didn’t think any of us were thinking anything past Florida trips would stop. It started to set in like this obviously isn’t good, but maybe we’ll be back in a couple weeks.”

The Blazers played a doubleheader March 12 against Crown in Lake Myrtle, Florida, and had a home game scheduled against Becker on March 15. Banas played the final game of his baseball career without knowing it. He pitched for the Blazers, striking out five.

Also playing their final game for the Blazers were catcher Andrew Serio, of Northampton, pitcher Brandon Bennett, of Easthampton, and infielder Will Kennedy, of Holyoke.

“A lot of us knew it could be our last couple games,” Banas said. “It was sitting in our minds.”

They returned to western Massachusetts to the news that Elms was halting in-person classes and the NECC canceled the spring season.

“It wasn’t like out of nowhere but it was pretty surprising,” Banas said. “In past years you have your end of the season kind of thing and you know where you stand. We didn’t really have that.”

Kate Sarnacki, of Granby, and the Springfield College women’s lacrosse team still had a game against Stevens on March 17 that they planned to end the season with for their seniors.

“We had a little hope,” Sarnacki said. “We were trying to stay hopeful given our school is into athletics and doing whatever it could. It got to the point where it was out of our hands and out of our athletics hands. It was devastating because you put in so much work for that season.”

The team received a call that the game was canceled and they would have to move off campus the next day.

“It wasn’t something that would have happened if it didn’t need to happen,” Sarnacki said. “Everybody’s experiencing this.”

Very few of the nation’s collegiate spring athletes experienced their senior day and the closure that comes with it after how quickly the coronavirus pandemic developed. The Ivy League was the first conference to eliminate its spring season on March 11. That closed the tennis career of Dartmouth senior Allison McCann, an Amherst Regional graduate.

“I was not expecting that decision to happen right then. It was upsetting at first,” McCann said. “It did feel like part of what I’d been working toward had been taken away from us.”

McCann was one of the Big Green’s captains along with fellow senior Racquel Lyn. They developed a rapport at No. 2 doubles and had won five matches in a row. McCann also played at the No. 6 singles position.

“Tennis, I think we’re lucky because we play all year around,” McCann said. “Not being able to have a senior day and ending when you know you’re going to end changed things a lot.”

Fellow Amherst grad Sophia Jacobs-Townsley was at the start of a potentially great spring. The Boston University freshman was preparing to run the 5,000 at a meet in Los Angeles when the team learned their trip to California was canceled.

“I’d been having the best training of my life, the best workouts of my life and I was excited about what was going to happen,” she said. “I was definitely in the best shape of my life.”

On March 12th when everything was wiped out, Jacobs-Townsley was on a 9-mile training run with her teammate Corinne Batsu that serendipitously finished at BU’s track and tennis center. They saw most of their team entering the building and their coach Paul Spangler outside. Jacobs-Townsley waved at him and started to walk away. Spangler flagged them down and brought them into the building. He sent an email for an emergency meeting while they were out on the run. They found out the Patriot League had canceled its season along with the NCAA championships.

“It was sobering and really shocking. Everyone was crying,” Jacobs-Townsley said. “The more emotional piece of it was that I wasn’t going to be training with my team anymore and I wasn’t going to get to see my teammates. These are all new but really deep relationships. Having that new community has been the biggest part of my college experience.”

The experience will last another year for Jacobs-Townsley and other Division I athletes like her and Kellogg. They will receive an extra year of eligibility, the NCAA organization announced the day after it canceled the championships.

“I had big goals for this year. I wanted to qualify for the NCAA regionals. My workouts and races had put me into the place where it was a realistic goal,” Jacobs-Townsley said. “I’m glad I had a good indoor season, too. It confirmed everything was working.”

Now she’ll take that training program back home to Amherst. Jacobs-Townsley moved back home like most college students.

“The quarantine for me has been super relaxing. I was feeling scared in Boston. I didn’t leave my house for like a week,” she said. “Being safe is the most important thing.”

Banas found time to be outside and away from everyone at home in Hatfield. He took up fishing again.

“It’s a good time to gather myself,” the Criminal Justice major said. “School is really the only thing we have going right now.”

Kellogg is staying in shape the best he can. Hartford’s strength coach sent the team workouts they can do with just their body weight. Occasionally he takes some swings in the Northampton High School batting cages with former teammate Nick Heafey or other members of the Blue Devils’ varsity team.

Sarnacki has kept in contact with her teammates. They regularly host video chats to be together.

Jacobs-Townsley settled in to spend more time with her family. She backed off training initially but will likely start running soon.

“Once I get back into it, it’ll feel increasingly normal,” she said. “In hardship it does bring people together. The couple of days I had with my team before I went home we were all sacred but we were all there for each other. I’ve been feeling closer to my family and been able to relax and reflect on my freshman year. If you’re safe try to see the positive in your situation.”

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