2020 athletic season ends amid Coronavirus concerns; Eagles fly home

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AU Athletics

In their four years on the Eagle team #23 Sara Loomis, #33 Sarah Hart, #21 Jodi Johnson and #4 Renee Stimpert won the national championship in the 2016-2017 season with an undefeated record, were national runners up in their 2017-2018 campaign, had an undefeated 2019-2020 senior season, and achieved an overall four-year record of 133-4

Evan Laux, SPORTS EDITOR FOR THE COLLEGIAN

On March 17, “An Open Letter to Eagle Nation” was posted on the Ashland University athletic website, goashlandeagles.com by Director of Athletics Al King.

The final lines of his solemn letter offered a glimmer of hope and positivity amid the sea of disappointment that AU athletes and community members alike have shared.

“Times like these reveal character and in addition to size, speed and strength, we have plenty of character,” he said. “We’re not accustomed to failure. We won’t fall short now.”

Just a week earlier within the two-day span of March 10-12, the NBA, MLS, XFL, PGA, NHL and other various sports organizations either cancelled or indefinitely suspended their athletic seasons and competitions.

With sports across the world being cancelled, suspended or postponed amid Covid-19 concerns, it was inevitable that collegiate athletics would soon follow suit.

On March 12, the NCAA announced it would cancel all remaining 2020 spring championships. The next day, the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletics Conference halted all remaining athletic-related activity through May 31.

“It certainly snowballed,” redshirt senior wrestler Bret Romanzak said. “I really didn’t feel like Coronavirus was getting much attention at first, but within a few weeks everything went crazy. With the Big 10 and March Madness getting cancelled… it was just inevitable.”

Romanzak, a power player on the wrestling team, had won a national title previously his sophomore year. But this year was different for him. Coming off a junior year injury and quickly approaching graduation, he had one last chance to hold up that NCAA trophy. Unfortunately, that dream was cut short.

“We were already in Sioux Falls the day before and everything was set-up,” he said. “We heard about Division 1 championships getting cancelled but I didn’t think it would hit us this quick.”

The team was ranked No. 10 in the nation and sent seven grapplers to Sioux Falls, two of which were seniors (Lawrance Dudgeon and Chandler Minnard). That evening the championship would get cancelled.

Like many college seniors in athletics, they would not get to take in their last time on the court, track, mat or pool.

“It was unfortunate for sure,” women’s basketball head coach Kari Pickens said. “We don’t always remember that last game but we remember the process of the season as a whole. We had the expectation of competing for a national championship but it got cut short for everyone, not just us.”

Ranked No. 2 in the nation, the women’s basketball team was scheduled to play the NCAA Division II Midwest Regional quarterfinal against Southern Indiana on March 13, the day after the NCAA cancelled national championships.

The near-unstoppable team had a senior squad composed of Jodi Johnson, Sara Loomis, Sarah Hart and Renee Stimpert … names known across campus and across Division II.

In their four years on the Eagle team (three for Hart), the women won the national championship in the 2016-2017 season with an undefeated record, were national runners up in their 2017-2018 campaign, had an undefeated 2019-2020 senior season, and achieved an overall four-year record of 133-4.

“This is one of the best classes that will ever graduate from our program,” said Pickens. “The records they were able to set… it’s gonna be hard to match. But even the impact they had on this community, that’s not gonna go away for a long time. There are little girls and boys out there that want to be just like the four seniors graduating here.”

The Eagle swim and track teams were also planning on making an appearance at Division II nationals this year.

Freshman Amar Sapcanin and sophomore Franci Aleksi were both sent to Geneva, Ohio to compete in the championship. It was the first time that AU had sent swimmers since 2016, and the first time men had been sent since 2014.

Despite being younger than most athletes at the championship, Sapcanin and Aleksi held the No. 17 and No. 14 spots respectively in their events.

Track and field was fresh off the grandeur of back-to-back national championship titles in the 2018-2019 season, winning both indoor and outdoor competitions. This was a first for the Eagle team, and this season they planned on continuing their conquest.

Entering the championship, the Eagle men ranked No. 5 in the nation with six athletes competing, while the Eagle women ranked No. 17 in the nation with 5 athletes.

Two seniors were set to compete at the championship: Alex Hill (weight throw) and Ellie Jindra (high jump).

“Everything happens for a reason,” track and field head coach Jud Logan said. “It’s gonna hurt for awhile and you guys aren’t going to be able to see it immediately. But when you get to be my age and you get to look back, you’re gonna be stunned to believe that life’s events led you to a place you might have never gotten to if they hadn’t happened.”

The athletic season’s cancellation also sees the end of AU lacrosse, baseball, softball, men’s/women’s tennis and men’s/women’s golf, many of which were just beginning to start.

“The emotional side of me was really upset and still is upset,” Romanzak said. “But in reality it was probably the right thing to do for the betterment of everyone and to keep everyone safe. It had to happen.”