Olympic College baseball coach Ryan Parker and softball coach Eric Buss were already in the beginning of their 2020 seasons.
A few hundred miles away, Willamette University freshman Alicia Goetz was preparing for her first season of college softball.
More than a thousand miles further, Raelee Moore was still looking forward to her first season of collegiate track and field at the University of Libscomb in Nashville, Tennessee.
All four were on separate paths yet all four are forever linked.
Parker and Buss had started their Northwest Athletic Conference seasons but the groundwork had been laid months earlier. Both programs completed their fall-ball seasons, worked and waited through the winter season and then turned their attention to spring.
After weeks of speculation that began in March, the NWAC shut down the spring sports season in lieu of the coronavirus epidemic.
“It was tough because we tried to keep our guys thinking there was a chance,” Parker said, adding it was hard to stay focused. “Ultimately I wasn’t happy they cancelled, but let’s not let these kids hang on.”
Buss said the meeting he had with his players — who had plenty of questions about their eligibility and scholarships — was tough because they were just getting ready to head into the North Region schedule.
“I just feel for the sophomores who were still looking at moving on to a four-year college,” he said. “This was their time to shine and make those final impressions. Not having the season makes it that much harder on them trying to find that new home for next season.”
There is some good news for the sophomores for both programs. They can return next season if they chose and retain their scholarships. For the freshmen, it’s like their season never happened; they just need to maintain their GPAs and complete their required classes, Buss said.
Buss did announce three signings this week — second baseman/utility infielder Sabine Cabales of Bellevue, Piper Jacquemart, a catcher/third baseman from South Kitsap, and first/third baseman Sosefina Aukusitino of Anchorage, Alaska. Parker signed Justin Finnegan, a right-handed pitcher from Olympic High, and Marco Santulli, a utility player from Bellevue.
Both Parker and Buss said recruiting has been a challenge. There are no on-campus visits, no in-person meetings and they are relying on skills videos and the opinions of their select coaches.
“Fortunately for us we had been talking to a number of recruits for some time, and for a few, they had been able to visit and check the school and our program out,” Buss said.
There could be a bright side for next season as more seniors might be looking at taking a year or two at a junior college for next season.
“It may force some kids to go to the junior college route,” Parker said, “there’s a trickle-down effect. There’s going to be some kids maybe had a chance at DI or DII, now because (college) seniors want to come back, they (freshman) don’t get that opportunity.”
At the NWAC level, Parker said many sophomores might not return because it doesn’t make sense financially even if college conferences expand their rosters next year.
While many questions can’t be answered right now, the reality is their season was taken away — something coaches talk to their players about no matter the sport.
“The ones that really, really care about it are finding a way to work out, play catch and get swings in,” Parker said.
Buss said his assistant Alissa Free told the players repeatedly play like today “as if it is your last game you will ever play, because you never know, it just might be.”
Goetz, a 2019 North Kitsap graduate, didn’t expect to be packing up her college dorm room in one night but that’s exactly what she did last month.
“I was in shock,” Goetz said. “I didn’t really have one set emotion I was feeling. We were granted another year, but I don’t plan on staying at Willamette for another year.
“My heart mainly goes out to our seniors because they were all really special and our time with them was cut short. This year, we really had a chance to prove people wrong but I guess it will have to wait until next year.”
Goetz said she’s been taking her classes online and has her own workout plan to follow and combines them with the daily workouts from her coach.
Skill drills have been tough. Goetz hits off a tee that is “roughed up and barely holding on” and hasn’t seen live pitching in weeks. She’s adjusted to fielding on loose gravel instead of dirt or turf.
Moore, also a 2019 NK grad, was approaching her freshman season differently. Moore had been dealing with a stress fracture since November — a holdover from her senior year of basketball — and red-shirted her indoor season. She was cleared March 10 to throw javelin 10 days later but wasn’t allowed to jump until her sophomore year.
“I really didn’t have a reaction right away until about a couple days later when I realized that my freshman year of college athletics was done before if even really started,” she said.
Moore said the good news is she will receive eligibility for her indoor season since she didn’t compete at all and all spring sports will be available to athletes as well.
“I came home March 13th, which was supposed to be a five-day trip which turned into a five-month ‘covid-cation’ with my family,” Moore said.