20210227 MBB v LMU Non-Action -CMcInelly

Corey Kispert got the chance to finish out the regular season in the Kennel for his senior night after the Zags missed out on a postseason last year.

A year ago to the day, I was in Scottsdale, Arizona at Spring Training watching the San Francisco Giants play the Chicago Cubs. As a Giants fan myself, seeing my favorite baseball team lose in that fashion didn’t make my day very nice, and it was something that I did not expect. 

Little did I know that one of the most unexpected periods of time I’ve experienced was forming right under my nose.

Once I got back to the hotel my dad was staying at in Scottsdale, I had seen the news of Utah Jazz forward Rudy Gobert testing positive for COVID-19, followed by a plethora of cancellations in the world of sports the following day.

The NBA would shut down for the following four months, and what would hit hardest for Spokane citizens in particular was that the NCAA tournament would be canceled. This left the No. 1 ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs men’s basketball team with no chance to compete for its first national championship in 2020. Spring and other winter sports championships were also canceled in response to the pandemic.

As a sophomore entering my first semester as a sports editor, March 12 was a very overwhelming day. I had recently finished covering GU men’s basketball senior night a few weeks prior and just released a feature on star forward Drew Timme. I was preparing to cover the first two rounds of the men’s tournament in Spokane, and when I got the news of the NCAA tournament being canceled, I couldn’t think straight for the rest of the day. It was all happening so fast, and I didn’t know how to react. Luckily, the upperclassmen I was working with helped me out and got everything settled, but looking back on it now, I had no idea that we would be in the position we are in today. 

The following months would bring many more questions to the GU community pertaining to the athletics season. GU athletic director Mike Roth held a town hall webinar speaking on the future of GU athletics. At the time, much of the progression of the 2020 fall sports season would be predicated on what would happen with the 2020 NCAA football season as well as universities’ decisions to have face-to-face class in the fall semester. Like many were saying at the time, Roth said he was unsure what was going to happen in the near future.

“I’ve told people if I had a crystal ball right now, my crystal ball would look like a bowling ball,” Roth said last April. “I can’t see in it at all.”

Three months later, the West Coast Conference (WCC) announced that no competition outside of the conference would occur prior to Sept. 24. Fall sports like men’s and women’s soccer, cross country and volleyball were all postponed, giving optimism that GU fall sports could still happen in the spring.

After Hoopfest was canceled on Aug. 12, that optimism for GU fall sports would fade away.

Aug. 18 was the day that all GU fall sports would be canceled due to concerns surrounding the pandemic. Teams were allowed to practice with each other in small groups, but nothing more would happen. Fall athletes took this stop to heart, as the hard work they had been putting in all offseason in preparation for the following season would be extended for another few months. However, these athletes understood what it would mean for them to have a season, and did so by taking as much precaution as they could.

“If we do joke around about [coronavirus], then who knows when we are going to be racing again, and who knows if we’re going to stay in school and go about our lives as we hope to in the future,” GU redshirt senior cross country runner Peter Hogan said in August.

Roth assured the GU community that everything would be fine and that fall sports would once again come back to the GU campus. Roth instilled optimism in GU athletes and GU sports fans that Zags will be scoring baskets, scoring goals, hitting dingers and completing bumps, sets and spikes in the coming months. 

“Gonzaga, both myself as athletic director and Dr. McCulloh as our president, are very supportive of this decision,” Roth said in August. “As painful as it is for our student athletes, we believe strongly it is the right thing to do at this point in time…We, Gonzaga University, have been through over the years some tough times with some tough situations, and we, Gonzaga University, will come out of this one, and will come out of it ahead in a positive way because that is who we are.”

And that is exactly what would happen, starting on Sept. 23.

The NCAA announced on that Monday in September that basketball competition would happen again on Nov. 25. Practices would begin on Oct. 14, and teams were given 42 days to have 30 practices, and were given a transition period “to provide additional time for players to prepare for the upcoming season based on the mental and physical challenges basketball players are facing as a result of the pandemic," per a WCC news release last August.

After the Zags basketball program began competition, the end of the semester introduced the schedules for some of the sports that would be coming back for the spring semester. Both tennis teams released schedules, and the following sports would follow suit, leaving us in the position we are in today with almost every sport on campus happening at once.

Looking back on the past year of GU sports, it has been clearly anything but normal. But if I were to make an educated guess on how the past year has affected the athletes, I would direct you to the success they are having on the field. The GU basketball program is one of the best programs in the country heading into yet another opportunity to compete in the NCAA tournament, the cross country team will be competing for a national championship and the GU women’s soccer program has only lost one game thus far. Other athletes and teams have had their fair share of success too, whether it be GU golfer Matt Ruel getting a hole-in-one in a tournament in Fresno or GU women’s tennis running the court.

Nevertheless, these athletes are appreciative to get the chance to play, regardless of how their season ends.

“To think about where we’ve come from as far as just the measures we took in the beginning of it, (shutting down the tournament, the NBA season [being canceled], worried that hospitals wouldn’t have enough room for people)... we’re really thankful that we found a way to piece together a season,” GU basketball player Corey Kispert said.

So yeah, a lot has happened over the past year. But like Roth said back in August, we will come out of this better than before, because that is simply who we are.

Happy March Madness and Happy GU Sports season to you all. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the promising future of GU athletics.

Vinny Saglimbeni is a sports editor. Follow him on Twitter: @vinnysaglimbeni.

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