Leer en español: Los equipos ‘extramurales’ deportivos de BYU afectados por el cierre de COVID-19
Written by Sarah Houssian, Kevin Hatch, Chelsea Adams, Anneka Southam, Elisa Huhem, Gabby Stockard and Josh Carter with photography by Elisa Huhem, Addie Blacker and BYU Photo. Compiled and created by Josh Carter.
March 12, 2020, is a date that will long be embedded in the minds of sports fans throughout the world. Beginning with the NBA, professional sports leagues across the country began to accept the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic until eventually every professional sport was suspended.
The NCAA and universities throughout the country followed suit, and the remainder of the winter and spring seasons for all extramural, club and NCAA-sanctioned sports were canceled shortly thereafter.
“My initial reaction is similar to how I still feel now — confused, angry, but mostly sad,” women’s lacrosse senior Haley Harris said. “To go from playing lacrosse every single day to never being able to be a part of a team like this again is heartbreaking.”
THE BYU MEN’S SOCCER TEAM was riding the high of an undefeated fall season that ended in a national championship as players geared up for what head coach Brandon Gilliam called the “toughest spring schedule the program had ever faced.”
The team was excited to prove, once again, that it did belong atop the rankings of the college soccer world.
“There was just a ton of anticipation around (the spring season),” senior Seth Fankhauser said. “All of us were so excited at the prospect of showing out and proving ourselves against some big-name teams.”
Freshman Chris Jenkinson was particularly excited, having decided to postpone his mission service for a few months in order to gain valuable playing experience in the spring. Several members of his extended family had booked flights and hotels to come see him start as keeper in BYU’s spring season debut at UNLV on March 13.
The day before the team was to leave for Las Vegas, Gilliam received a phone call from UNLV head coach Liam Connors, who told Gilliam that the game had been canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“To see my family’s love and support, and then to have to tell them my season was cancelled, it was crushing,” Jenkinson said.
BYU WOMEN’S RUGBY was looking forward to the remainder of the 2020 season after outscoring its first seven opponents, 415-0. The Cougars were ranked No. 1 in the Pacific Desert Rugby Conference despite not playing a single home game.
Speculation about COVID-19’s potential effect on the season floated around the Indoor Practice Facility as the team held what would end up being its final practice on March 13. Shortly thereafter, universities across the country began to announce their move to remote learning in order to keep students safe from the virus. As a result, the rugby season came to an abrupt halt.
Within hours, team members were told that the remainder of their practices and games were canceled, as well as the postseason. BYU’s chance to defend its national championship vanished.
“(Once the news broke), we met up at Sonic and just kind of mourned,” junior Kacey Sorenson said. “We have some really motivated seniors. It was hard to watch them absorb everything that was happening and knowing that they had put in so much work and heart into the sport and into the team. For me, that was the hardest part — seeing how deeply it impacted the seniors.”
The team received permission to hold an end-of-year banquet before squad members left campus, so they gathered in the Wilkinson Student Center to reminisce about their successful season and to honor the seniors. Although bittersweet, the event helped bring a sense of closure to the season.
BYU MEN’S LACROSSE was “on fire” seven games into the 2020 season, according to head coach Matt Schneck.
The Cougars notched a 6-1 record, scored 107 goals and earned a No. 11 ranking in the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association during the 2020 campaign. BYU also sat atop the Rocky Mountain Lacrosse Conference at the time of the cancellation.
“The team had just come home from a trip where they outscored their opponents by 40 goals,” Schneck said. “They were one of the top teams in the country and they were hungry for more. I guarantee this season will be something they all remember and will always wonder, ‘What if?'”
Schneck gathered his team to break the cancellation news.
“We all need to be prepared and diligent in our efforts to respect how serious the situation is,” Schneck said to the team.
Although players had been preparing for the possibility of such news, they still couldn’t believe what their coach was telling them.
“Tears were shed,” Schneck said. “Athletes prepare for the conclusion of their season and, in some cases, for the conclusion of their career. This came without warning and without preparation.”
THE BYU MEN’S RUGBY TEAM’S confidence was on the rise following a 3-2 start to the 2019-20 season as players began to find their footing with the home portion of the schedule still to come.
“We had played a very close game with Saint Mary’s a few weeks earlier, just losing in the final seconds,” senior captain Tosh Wilcox said. “We were just about to play Saint Mary’s on South Field for our first home game. We were eager to get back and get a win, but then everything was canceled.”
“I felt especially bad for our seniors,” Head coach Steve St. Pierre said. “They had given so much to the program and weren’t able to finish their careers in the way they had dreamed.”
With so much time and effort put into the season, and with the team seemingly trending upward, having it cut short was hard to accept.
Freshman Alma Schoenfeld was sad that the season had to end because of circumstances beyond their control. “It was all out of our power.”
BYU RACQUETBALL senior Nic Smith was the team’s best bet to win the 2020 National Intercollegiate Racquetball Championship. While it would have been Smith’s fourth trip to nationals, it would have been his first time competing in the top division while being ranked as BYU’s No. 1 player.
“I was excited to play some top opponents and try to claim a fourth All-American position,” Smith said.
Just two weeks before the team was to leave for Nationals in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, however, the event was canceled. The team had first received a group message from head coach Paul Snyder concerning the cancellation, which was then followed by confirmation at the final team dinner on March 13.
“It was kind of surreal,” Smith said. “It didn’t actually hit me until we had our last team dinner. Once we were together as a team, it became real and quite somber.”
Snyder felt for seniors like Smith who may never get another chance to compete at the collegiate level.
“I understood the rationale for the decision, but it hurt,” Snyder added. “It especially hurt my heart for the seniors and those who worked hard to make it on the nationals team who won’t have that opportunity again.”
THE BYU WOMEN’S LACROSSE TEAM started March 13 off with speculation about COVID-19’s potential impact on its season. As the day went on, however, rumor became reality when the Women’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association made the official announcement that the season was over.
Team members were in different situations when they got the news. Head coach Nikki Dabrowski was getting her children ready for the day when she received the cancellation email. She then notified her team through a group chat.
Senior Jess Christensen was doing homework when she received the shattering news. Fellow senior Haley Harris was in a meeting for a group project assignment when she learned her lacrosse playing days were over. Others, like senior Logan Coon, were already on their way home — initially to visit, but ultimately to stay.
A global pandemic had suddenly ended a season with great potential, as the Cougars were kept from their goal of reaching nationals. The initial reaction among most of the team was one of anger and frustration.
“I was livid,” Coon said. “I’d been playing great games and had found my rhythm, so when the season was officially over, I was first livid, but then I was incredibly sad. I was especially sad that I wouldn’t get to play with this group of girls anymore. My best friends had come from this team and we have made so many great memories. It was so sad to just see it all over in an instant.”
THE 2019-20 SEASON will forever be remembered as the year that athletes, coaches and fans alike were left wondering “what could have been.”
While many of BYU’s extramural senior athletes will have the option to return next season after being granted an extra year of eligibility, the emotions felt on March 12 and 13 remain unchanged.
“I thought I hated waking up at 6 a.m. to practice,” women’s lacrosse junior Mary Barton said. “I thought I didn’t like traveling long distances to play games. And then, in the blink of an eye, it was all taken from me and I realized it was something I was choosing to do. I miss it.”