Fall sports return to Wilkes after 2020 season drought

Since the news released by the Mid-Atlantic Conference on July 24, 2020, fall sports teams have suffered through an entire school-year without a true sports season. Only some of the teams were able to play an exhibition game/scrimmage to get their seniors on the field one last time. 

Richard Ermeus shake-n-bakes two Lebanon Valley College defenders in the 2019 home opener.
Niamh Harkins looks to clear a ball away from their goal.

However, the NCAA has allowed for fall  2021 sports to resume as normal.

“We are very excited to get back on campus and be able to compete together as a team,” said women’s soccer coach John McNichol. “Last year we had a lot of work in pods or small groups so it was tough not having everyone together.  We are excited to have everyone at the same sessions and having competitive training sessions each day.”

Campus has already begun to buzz with the excitement of fall sports returning. As of Aug. 2, no official statement from the NCAA was released stating what conditions need to be met for the players to play. The university, however, issued a statement saying that all students must report their vaccination status. 

“At this point the NCAA has not come out with any increased regulations so we are going to continue as normal,” said football coach Jon Drach. “We will get the kids here on Aug. 10, do our administrative things on Aug. 11 and start practices on Aug. 12.” 

The NCAA Division I board of directors voted to give all fall sport student-athletes an additional year of eligibility and an additional year to complete it through a blanket waiver. The move eliminates a cloud of uncertainty for athletes in fall sports whose seasons have been postponed or disrupted because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

“The main driving factor for me to come back and play a fifth season was the fact that I only got one scrimmage in my senior year of college,” said fifth year student Niamh Harkins. “After three successful years on the team I was so excited to be a senior and finish out my four years as a member of the team. When it became evident that that was not going to be able to happen due to COVID-19 I knew if the opportunity presented itself I would do what I could to stay and get one final real season with the team. 

“With what seemed like my last chance of playing at this level slipped away, I couldn’t imagine it just ending on that note, so I decided, after getting into the 4+1 MBA Program, it was a no brainer to be on the team for one more season.”

Harkins is not the only student who is using their extra year of eligibility. Notable players from Wilkes rosters who are returning are Cole Jesmer, Nick Yanik, Vinnie Rogers, Vicky Burkhart, Danny McGinley and Richard Ermeus. 

“This is an amazing blessing,” Ermeus said. “It was very disappointing to have the season canceled last year. Although understandable, the hype and anticipation of an upcoming season is incomparable to any other emotion. I’m excited for my family, friends and other colonels to come out to the games and enjoy Saturday afternoons together again. 

“Being a senior is a big responsibility, as you are required to lead your team both physically and morally at all times. This is a responsibility that I accept whole-heartedly and will put forth my best effort to ensure success.”

Despite having abbreviated seasons last year, the coaches were able to use the time to get their first-years fully prepared to play a regular season. This time allowed the coaches to better evaluate their players, correct their errors and get them some much needed time in their sport competing at the collegiate level.  

“Even just having a short season in the spring, there were great benefits to playing,” said women’s volleyball coach Joe Czopek. “The now sophomores have some actual court experience at their new level of play, and with it being an exhibition season, all the athletes had an ample amount of court time to showcase their skills.  

“Last season we played with a young team, having graduated six starting players the season before.  In the spring matches we played all five sets instead of the best of five.  This provided the opportunity to play throughout our whole roster.  Taking that experience forward to this fall will provide the team with confidence even being a younger team.”

All Colonel sports kick off their appearances on Sept. 1 with women’s and men’s soccer traveling to Penn State Berks and cross country traveling to Misericordia for an invitational 4k. The football team will return to the field on Sept. 4, hosting Keystone College.