Suspended – that’s the word that uprooted the fall season for Wilkes Athletics and postponed any potential competitive play until January 2021.
“We still have a lot of goals in front of us,” said Jonathan Drach, Wilkes’ head football coach. “It may not be a MAC championship in 2020, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a MAC championship in 2021. That doesn’t mean we can’t start working for it – if you stay ready, you never have to get ready.”
On the morning of July 24, the Middle Atlantic Conference, which governs 18 institutions and 7,000 athletes, announced the decision to suspend competitive play. The decision came only two weeks after the MAC approved a conference-only plan, in which universities in the MAC Commonwealth and the MAC Freedom would be able to compete against each other beginning on Sept. 18.
With unwavering concerns regarding COVID-19’s impact during the fall, the MAC revised their initial plan and is considering a reconfigured fall season in the spring.
“The MAC worked nonstop this summer to come up with the safest and healthiest way for our student-athletes to compete,” said John McNichol, women’s soccer head coach. “I am optimistic about the spring, as that is a few months away.”
A women’s soccer season in the spring would afford senior athletes the opportunity to play one last time and finish their careers – a sentiment that rang true amongst all fall athletic teams.
“Having my final year of competitive soccer filled with uncertainty and questions is a bit scary,” shared Niamh Harkins, a senior defender. “Of course, I would love nothing more than to have some type of final season in the spring, but knowing there’s still a chance even that won’t happen makes it hard to stay positive.”
Harkins isn’t alone, as fellow senior Lauren Baldwin, a member of Wilkes’ field hockey team, expressed her concerns.
“In one word, it’s stressful,” said Baldwin. “Not knowing whether I should mentally prepare to red shirt, play a fifth year and pursue a master’s degree or to play an unconventional spring season is difficult. You truly take for granted when you’re told to ‘play like it’s your last’ – you never really take that seriously until it actually is.”
For men’s and women’s volleyball and cross country coaches Joe Czopek and Nicholas Wadas, the opportunity to play in the spring is motivation enough to begin preparation plans.
“I am hopeful that volleyball will be able to play in the spring, and even a shortened season is better than none,” shared Czopek.
Following NCAA guidelines, Division III athletic teams are able to define the playing season by a certain number of days instead of consecutive weeks. With 114 days allocated for impacted teams, athletes will still have the opportunity to practice and weight train.
“I sent a message to the team that said, ‘I’m bummed out. I love coaching you guys, but let’s make this work and make this the best experience possible,’” explained Wadas.
In addition, Wadas noted that some athletes are optimistic about what advantages this extra time can have for making improvements.
Despite this elongated time frame being advantageous for some, it creates a host of problems for dual-sport athletes.
Maddie Kelley, a senior field hockey and women’s basketball player, has concerns about the quality of her final seasons.
“Thinking about having two sports potentially start in January of the spring semester is definitely one of the first things that crossed my mind once I heard the news,” said Kelley. “I would never want to pick one sport over the other, and I hope I don’t have to.”
One thing is certain for Wilkes Athletics, and that is these decisions are a work in progress.
“I think it’s important to be as transparent as we possibly can be. We don’t know what the spring is going to look like, just like we don’t know what the fall is going to look like,” said Drach. “We need to be very cognizant and data-driven when we’re making decisions, and I think we need more time and data to make those decisions on what the fall and the spring are going to look like.”