Kelly Nangle, in her seventh season as the Liberty womens lacrosse coach, has had to address dejected locker rooms throughout the years. Those normally come in the familiar confines of a locker room following crushing defeats when the outcome of the game was decided on the field.
How could she tell a room full of players their season was over with more than a month to go in the regular season? There would be no more games. The road trips that build team chemistry had to be canceled.
That was one of probably the hardest things Ive ever had to do as a head coach and probably will ever have to do because I dont really have a lot of answers, Nangle said.
The ASUN Conference announced Friday evening the cancellation of its spring sports season, roughly 26 hours after it suspended play through at least April 5 because of concerns over the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.
The decision to suspend play came 90 minutes after the NCAA canceled its winter and spring sports championships.
At this point right now, I think everybodys just stunned, LU baseball coach Scott Jackson said. I think its more disbelief and just kind of stunned, like wow, I cant believe that this is a possibility let alone a reality. Its pretty much the sentiment from our players, pretty much the sentiment from other coaches that Ive talked to, and just kind of hard to believe.
The ASUN is one of 20 Division I conferences to cancel all spring sports competition. That list includes the America East, Atlantic 10, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Big West, Colonial Athletic Association, Ivy League, MAAC, Missouri Valley, Mid-American, Mountain West, Northeast, Patriot League, Pac-12, Southland, SWAC, Summit League and West Coast.
The other 12 conferences are suspended to varying degrees.
The MEAC announced its spring sports competitions are suspended through the end of the semester, but did not say if the suspension will be evaluated at a later date.
The ACC, American, Big Sky, Conference USA and Western Athletic conferences are suspended until further notice. The Sun Belt is suspended indefinitely.
The Horizon League suspended competition through Friday and has not released a statement whether play will resume Monday.
The Big South and Southern conferences both suspended competition through March 30, the Ohio Valley Conference suspended play until April 3, and the SEC suspended spring sports until April 15.
This is unprecedented, Liberty softball coach Dot Richardson said. I think that its a situation with the virus that people dont know how its going to respond, and being how quickly and infectious it is in other countries, the caution makes sense.
The sports at Liberty affected by the ASUNs decision to cancel the spring sports season are baseball, softball, mens golf, womens lacrosse, mens and womens tennis, and mens and womens outdoor track & field.
The track & field programs had not competed in an outdoor event this season. The first meet the CSU Spring Break Invitational was scheduled for next weekend in North Charleston, South Carolina.
I hate it for all the teams and those seniors that dont get to finish their careers, football coach Hugh Freeze said during Fridays fifth spring practice.
There are 39 seniors on those eight rosters who are in their final season of eligibility.
The NCAA on Friday said its council leadership agreed eligibility relief is appropriate for all Division I student-athletes who participated in spring sports.
Additional issues with NCAA rules must be addressed first, such as how the return of seniors will impact roster space with incoming freshmen and how the additional scholarships will be funded.
Jackson said three of his seniors had plans lined up following the conclusion of the upcoming season right-handed pitcher Garret Price is getting married, shortstop Cam Locklear has a job lined up with the Air Force, and third baseman Ben Highfill has been accepted to grad school at Duke.
He is hopeful those three, along with utility infielder Trey McDyre, elect to return for the 2021 season.
Its going to be interesting because for the programs that get their seniors back, its the best recruiting day ever, Jackson said.
Richardson added three of her five seniors Emily Sweat, Addison Baele and Kayla Harris are either planning to take or already are taking graduate classes and would welcome the extra year of eligibility. Her other two seniors, twins Amber and Autumn Bishop, are both getting married, and Richardson was unsure if they wanted to return for another season.
When [the NCAA] made the decision, it wasnt our place to dispute it, Richardson said. I quickly, in talking with [the players], said that the NCAA in the past has always tried to do the right thing for the student-athlete. I said to them, I would not be surprised if they try and give each of you another year. When they heard that, they were a little more in tuned a little bit of some promise and hope.
The other spring sport coaches were unsure what their seniors had planned following the conclusion of the semester.
I think its something theyll all sit down and look at and take some time to decide. I think its a lot for them to really try to grasp right now and to try to really think through, Nangle said. It does help. I know for them, its hard because theyre so focused on this year with this season with this team that the idea of anything besides this season [and] this group is just something they cant really wrap their heads around. But its helpful. I told them its helpful to know that they have that, but they dont need to rush to make any decision this second. I definitely think its something theyre going to look into and think about and kind of try to digest.
Nangle and womens tennis coach Jeff Maren said they are taking advantage of the ASUNs decision to grant member schools the discretion to resume practice activities under their own campus policies related to face-to-face activity.
Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. announced early Friday that academic instruction at LU is planning to resume as normal, with in-person classes, after this weeks spring break.
We actually are going to practice, even next week. Even though its our spring break, we had planned to be there because we were going to have matches to prepare for, Maren said. We decided as a team that we would still continue to practice. The girls wanted that sense of normalcy, they wanted to be able to still train, which I was very proud of hearing them say that if our season is over, we want to continue to get ready for the next season. I was really proud to hear that.
Maren and his team learned the season was being put on hold Thursday while they were in the hotel lobby in Honolulu, Hawaii, following a two-match stay in the Aloha State.
They had an opportunity to visit national landmarks and scored a victory over North Texas. The second match, against Hawaii, was rained out with the Flames leading.
It was absolute extremes. We just had the absolute extremes, Maren said. We felt great about ourselves tennis-wise; we felt great about being in Hawaii and seeing all the sights. Then to have that news broken to us, we went all the way to the bottom in terms of our emotions and how we felt. It went from smiles to frowns real quickly. Yeah, it was very tough.
Jackson and his team were on a bus from Morgantown, West Virginia, to Columbus, Ohio, to begin a three-game weekend series against Ohio State.
Jackson had the bus driver pull into a nearby truck stop about an hour outside of Columbus so he could communicate with Ohio State coach Greg Beals about the transpiring events.
Dan Brown, Libertys director of baseball operations, delivered the news about the College World Series being canceled, and Jackson heard from Beals that the Buckeyes season was also canceled.
The ever-changing landscape of college athletics was felt in the six-hour bus ride back to Lynchburg on Thursday.
I think they were just stunned, Jackson said of how his players reacted to the news. I mean, it wasnt a lot of emotion. It was just a lot of silence and some pretty long faces and just sadness. I think thats the best way to describe it. They were pretty sad kids.
Damien Sordelett covers Liberty University athletics and local golf for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5550.
Damien Sordelett covers Liberty University athletics and local golf for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5550.
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