Imagine you’re playing a game of UNO with your friends. You had a very strong hand, and you have tone card left, but you also do not know what cards your friends have. It gets around the circle, and then all of the sudden, your friend next to you puts down a wild plus four card, ending your chances of winning the game at the moment.
Gonzaga fall sports unfortunately received that UNO plus four card last week.
The West Coast Conference announced Thursday morning via a WCC news release that all fall conference competition will be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The decision was made in consultation with WCC commissioner Gloria Nevarez, the WCC presidents’ council and the conference’s 10 athletic directors over several weeks of discussions.
Mike Roth, GU athletic director, said there have been preliminary discussions about how scheduling would look in the spring for postponed fall sports, He is waiting to hear what the NCAA plans to do with fall championships in the spring. Roth also said the schedule will be set based on the dates of the championships.
Roth said GU will have lots of flexibility figuring out a schedule if the NCAA decides not to hold fall championships in the spring.
“We empathize with our student-athletes,” Nevarez said via the news release. “This is a difficult decision, but it is the responsible decision based on the available information associated with conducting competition in the current environment. WCC programs compete for national titles and we never want to take these opportunities away. However, health and safety will always be paramount in guiding our decisions.”
Men’s and women’s soccer and cross country, along with women’s volleyball will not be competing in fall sports this season. GU spring sports that have fall seasons, such as tennis and golf, will also not be participating in fall competition this season.
Members of the GU community and athletic department, including President Thayne McCulloh, Roth and the head coaches of each fall sport, released statements in the news release expressing the same sentiments of the WCC. The
health and safety of the student athletes was put first, and the coaches said their teams will be ready to play whenever the season returns.
“Our first obligation is to keep the health and safety of all of our students always at the forefront of our decision-making,” McCulloh said via the news release. “Gonzaga supports, together with our colleagues from the West Coast Conference member institutions, today’s decision and we will stay committed to supporting our student-athletes intellectually, spiritually, culturally, physically and emotionally as prescribed in the university’s mission.”
Roth said the student-athletes will continue to practice on campus, adhering to all health protocols to GU and the state of Washington. Teams have been training in groups of five with coaches, wearing masks when not training and keeping social distancing protocols.
A hotly debated topic during the conference during the discussions was mentioned in the news release, “The postponement of WCC fall sports seasons and championships does not preclude member institutions from scheduling non-conference competitions in low risk sports in the fall.”
This gives schools the opportunity to decide individually if they want to compete in non-conference fall competition for low risk sports, which for GU is tennis and golf. Roth reiterated that GU will not be competing in any sports of any kind in the fall season, including spring sports that have fall competition such as baseball and rowing.
With all of this in mind, the WCC said it will be working with campus leadership closely and are committed to continuing plans for a 2020-21 men’s and women’s basketball season. Both teams are scheduled to start conference play in December, and Roth expressed similar hopes.
“We are committed to continuing to move forward with doing our best to compete in men’s and women’s basketball this year,” Roth said.
Multiple GU athletes felt the inevitability of a postponed season came around a couple of weeks ago when the Big 10 and Pac-12 conferences postponed their football seasons and their subsequent fall sports due to the coronavirus pandemic. Men’s soccer player Frankie Ljucovic was entering his junior season with the Zags after an underwhelming season last year, finishing with a 4-10-2 record. With this stoppage, Ljucovic and the team are even more motivated now to begin their revenge tour adding a large and talented group of freshmen to the squad.
“I think having this break only leaves more room to get better and to grow,” Ljucovic said. “If anything, it’s going to help us out, and we’ll just keep training to be prepared for when [the] season comes.”
Volleyball players Katelyn Oppio and Chapin Gray are entering their senior seasons at GU. After an 11-19 season, Oppio and Gray are excited to use the time to build chemistry with their teammates, especially with sophomore Tia Andaya and freshman Lindsey Russell, who are the setters for GU. Gray said the time spent with Andaya and Russell will help her establish a connection with her fellow setters, allowing for a transition to success when the season returns.
Not only does this decision affect student athletes on the court, but it also translates to off the court adjustments. Oppio said an adjustment she had to make was changes to her class schedule. As a redshirt senior, Oppio got into the routine of loading up her class schedule in the spring in anticipation for the fall season, and now with the circumstances at hand, Oppio and her teammates will have to change things up.
“I would say that myself and other teammates were on Blackboard and Zagweb trying to figure out more classes we could take in the Fall just in preparation of having a spring season,” Oppio said. “It’s definitely going to be an adjustment, if we do have a spring season, having it flipped.”
Cross country runners Brittney Hansen and Peter Hogan are excited to get back into the swing of things once their respective seasons return. As one of the veteran leaders on the team, Hogan said the team has high expectations for themselves, and the mentality to want to get better is instilled in each cross country runner.
“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,” Hogan said.
Hansen has been using her offseason to get better individually, and as a sophomore, looks to set an example to her teammates. Hansen said she was able to add more miles this summer, increasing her ability to run 45-50 miles a week to 60-65 miles a week. Hansen is looking to continue to stack up mileage and show consistent growth.
The thrill of a long rally in a volleyball match, a game winning goal in a soccer match and crossing the finish line in a cross country meet are what make the emotions of sports unparalleled to any other form of entertainment. The hard work and commitment put in the offseason pays off for every experience college athletes go through, the good and the bad.
This fall, GU athletes will continue to be in their offseason period. And just because GU fall sports received the plus four UNO card, that does not mean that the game is over, and there is an inevitability that they will come out on top and win the game.
“Gonzaga, both myself as athletic director and Dr. McCulloh as our president, are very supportive of this decision,” Roth said. “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.”