Student athletes grapple with loss of spring season

by Lili Stern and Anna May Mott | 3/31/20 2:10am

womens-lax-season-cut-short
No. 7 women's lacrosse finished its season 5-0 with its championship hopes cut short due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Source: John and Matt Risley/Courtesy of the Dartmouth Athletics Department

When Kipling Weisel ’18 arrived in Bozeman, Mont. earlier this month, he was ready to compete in an NCAA skiing championship for the last time in a Dartmouth ski suit. On the first day of competition, he placed 11th overall in giant slalom — the highest score of the Dartmouth men’s alpine skiers in that race. With a top-five finish from Tricia Mangan ’19 on the women’s side and a lot of racing left to go, the team was ready to rally to achieve an overall podium finish. A text from Weisel’s coaches before his second and final day of competition, however, brought the team’s comeback aspirations — and Weisel’s Dartmouth ski career — to an abrupt halt. The NCAA had canceled all athletic events for the remainder of the school year, including the skiing championships.

Amid rising concerns over the spread of COVID-19, the Ivy League announced its decision to cancel all spring sports competition on March 11, just a day after announcing the cancellation of the Ivy League postseason basketball tournaments. On March 12, the NCAA made a similar ruling, canceling all athletic championships for the remainder of the school year as most conferences canceled spring competition. This decision came as a devastating blow to student athletes around the nation.

While the skiing team was forced to stop competing during the postseason, each spring athlete lost an entire season. Though these athletes recognize the severity of the global health crisis and the pressing need to take action to slow it, many students, particularly seniors, remain devastated that they never got to experience their last time suiting up for their school.

Cha’Mia Rothwell ’20, a track and field standout, was in practice when she got an email notification on her watch from the athletics department. Her season had been canceled.

“I just remember being there, standing around with all my teammates, and we were very much in shock and kind of denial,” she said. “We really didn’t know how to process it in the moment.”

The notification that Rothwell received was a unanimous decision from the Ivy League presidents. Since the NCAA had not yet reached the same verdict as the Ancient Eight, Rothwell said the decision to cancel spring seasons felt premature at the time. However, despite her initial frustration, she has come to believe that the decision was the right one.

“It’s definitely been justified more and more as we see the virus develop and all of the negative consequences that have come with it,” she said.

Katie Erdos ’20 and the rest of the women’s rowing team received word during Dartmouth’s finals period that their annual training trip to Clemson, S.C. would be canceled. They assumed that they would instead remain in Hanover to train, buoyed by the Connecticut River’s early thaw. The warm end to winter term seemed a good omen, until the team learned their boats would not see the water at all this season.

Erdos said the weight of the NCAA’s decision didn’t hit her until a few days later, once the dust had settled. 

With gyms shut down and some states and countries enforcing strict lockdowns, continuing training and maintaining fitness poses a significant challenge for many Big Green athletes. And for rowers specifically, no independent workout can fully replace training on the water. While Erdos recognized the difficulty her team would face recovering from the quarantine, she was optimistic that when they did, they would be much stronger.

In the days following the NCAA’s decision, Erdos said the adage often on her mind has been “play every game as if it is your last.” She didn’t realize the team’s last row in the fall would be her last row at Dartmouth, but Erdos is confident that her younger teammates will approach their next season with a valuable new perspective.

After the No. 7 women’s lacrosse team took down No. 5 University of Florida on March 3, the team certainly did not see its season ending any time soon. The win over Florida took the team to 4-0 in what ended up being a 5-0 season, providing a fiery start for a team that was the Ivy League runner-up last season. So when head coach Alex Frank had to talk to her players after they found out their championship-caliber season had been cut short, she had a tall task.

“I kind of told them they’re going to feel every emotion right now,” Frank said. “They’re gonna be sad, they’re gonna be angry. They’re, at some points, gonna laugh and look back and reflect on all the good that there was this season, and that’s okay.”

Frank said that her team had strengths on all parts of the field, was playing well together and had exceptional senior leadership. Additionally, given last year’s experience, the majority of the team knew what it took to sit near the top of the league. The team’s potential, according to Frank, made the cancellations sting a little bit more.

While the women’s lacrosse team will lose an outstanding senior class — including Katie Bourque ’20, who led the Ivy League in scoring — Frank said she is confident that the team’s motivation to win remains strong, and that the lasting legacy of this year’s senior leadership will serve the team well into next season and beyond.

For tennis player and Hertfordshire, England native Charlie Broom ’20, the situation was further complicated by his status as an international student. 

“At the time that most people started to leave [campus], we weren’t sure yet whether classes were going to be fully online in the spring,” Broom said. 

Before the end of the winter term’s final exam period, the College had announced its decision to hold online classes for the first five weeks of the spring term, but had left open the possibility that students could return to finish the year. Broom, however, had to decide if he should return home to the United Kingdom, taking into consideration the travel restrictions announced by President Trump on March 14, which might prohibit him from re-entering the U.S.

“The coaches and I made the personal decision for me to go back home. We thought it would be best under the circumstances, with the College suggesting all international undergraduate students leave,” Broom said. “We were able to have a team meal, just the guys, and managed to spend time with each other … It wasn’t necessarily like a proper goodbye, because [at the time] we didn’t know if we were coming back or not.”

For some spring athletes who did not get to finish their seasons, this won’t be the last of their collegiate athletic experience. Soon after the cancellation of remaining spring and winter championships, the NCAA announced that Division I spring athletes will be granted another season of eligibility to compete. The details of this extension have yet to be decided, though the Division I council met to discuss and vote on the issue on March 30.

This opportunity is gratifying for senior athletes caught off guard by the abrupt end to their college careers, but for others it may prove logistically infeasible. Erdos said that she and her teammates are considering the opportunity, but amid work and graduate school, finding the time to compete in Division I athletics is difficult to imagine.

Broom discussed the NCAA’s announcement with his coaches and ultimately came to the conclusion that, given his intentions to play professionally, it did not make sense for him to pursue eligibility relief for Division I.

Rothwell, however, has entered the transfer portal and will look to finish her athletic career at another institution. Frank said some of the seniors on the women’s lacrosse team would definitely consider using their eligibility next season.

Rothwell and many of her fellow student athletes who compete in spring sports will continue to mourn the loss of their season. Yet Rothwell is confident that for herself and her team, the road doesn’t end here.

“I think just through the bonds and the relationships that I have with the people on the team that’ll be something that I carry with me and people that I’ll stay in touch with and meet up with for the rest of my life,” she said. “And so I think, if anything, there’s closure in knowing that I have that, and that’s something that I can hold onto for a very long time.”

Advertise your student group in The Dartmouth for free!