On July 24, the Middle Atlantic Conference (MAC) announced the suspension of all intercollegiate athletic competitions for fall 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This means athletes involved in cross country, field hockey, soccer, tennis and women’s volleyball will not have competitive seasons this coming semester.
Sarah Gustin-Hamrock has a difficult job as she transitions into her new role as the athletic director for Messiah University under these recent restrictions announced by the MAC.
“I’m definitely disappointed,” Gustin-Hamrock said. “I don’t think anyone wants to start a new job in athletics and not be able to compete. At the same time, our coaches and our student athletes have already shown great resilience and excitement for what we will be able to do this fall as we continue to develop them in all areas of their lives, not just in their sports.”
While the announcement by the MAC is heartbreaking for student athletes, there is still some good news. The current plan is to hold competitions for fall sports during the spring semester and fall sports will be able to continue practice while following the health safety guidelines determined by the university. Winter sports will also work towards being prepared for competitions in 2021.
Maddie Kohl, a senior on the women’s soccer team, was individually affected by the MAC’s decision.
“Personally, the cancellation of our fall season has been a tough thing to wrap my head around. I’ve been playing soccer for the past 17 years and now it’s suddenly over,” Kohl said. “Every senior wants to experience their senior season and play that last game of their career, so, of course I am bummed I won’t be getting that opportunity.”
The NCAA has given more flexibility to Division III institutions by allowing for 114 days in the playing season for the 2020-2021 academic year. They have also put in place “resocialization guidelines” through a phasing system in order to ensure safe practice for the student athletes. Phase one involves small group training with no physical contact. Phase two includes larger group training, still without contact. Phase three enables teams to have full team practices with contact.
Kohl and her teammates will be putting their efforts into a different avenue this semester. Instead of working towards winning another national title, they will be concentrating more on each other.
“Messiah women’s soccer will be focusing our new found free time on creating deeper relationships with our teammates, strengthening our relationships with the Lord and preparing for next season,” Kohl said.
Gustin-Hamrock plans to continue working on skill development and personal enrichment as the athletes strive towards spring competition. All athletes, especially seniors should not give up on competing just yet.
“We are exploring moving all our fall competition to spring, if circumstances allow. So, seniors potentially have a season, just at a different time,” said Gustin-Hamrock.
Kohl will be looking forward to the possibility of the spring soccer season and many athletes are using that hope to incentivize them to press on during the next few months.
While everything is uncertain during this time of COVID-19, Kohl is staying positive and is thankful for what Messiah has provided.
“I just want to say thank you to Sarah, the new athletic director, and everyone else involved in making decisions in this hectic time. I’ve appreciated my time in athletics at Messiah and these unfortunate circumstances will not taint my view of it,” Kohl said.
Athletics at Messiah may look drastically different this semester but Gustin-Hamrock is already developing creative new ideas to keep the athletes moving and motivated. Cross country, and possibly other sports, will continue to have virtual competitions. When guidelines allow, full squad scrimmages on campus will be an opportunity for students to attend. And with more time available, the leadership development program will start to be implemented.
The NCAA has also given senior athletes another year of eligibility if competition is unable to happen this year. Students are able to go to graduate school and still have the opportunity to play next year.
“The phrase that I just keep saying over and over with our student athletes is that I don’t have all the answers and I don’t know what’s going to happen but I do know the one that does,” Gustin-Hamrock said. “I just trust that God has a plan for us and we just have to keep trusting Him through each part of this situation.”