Northwest indoor track and field was supposed to end its season on a track 787 miles away from Maryville. The Bearcats did that, but not the way they intended.
The Bearcats were getting a workout in prior to the NCAA Division II National Championships March 13-14 in Birmingham, Alabama, when an email gave them the news that the championships, and the Bearcats’ season, were canceled due to COVID-19.
“We were just in the middle of a cooldown, and when we stepped off the track, one of the girls was like, ‘They canceled it,’” senior Tyrell Maddox said. “There was just a moment of disbelief.”
The NCAA officially canceled all winter and spring sports championships for the spring semester, meaning that the outdoor track season will have no national championship The MIAA has also canceled competition for the rest of the season, effective March 17.
The men didn’t want their trip to be a complete waste, so they decided to race each other on the track after hearing the sobering news. These races helped the team come together after the shock of the news had worn off.
“We were like, ‘Yo, we didn’t come here for nothing.’ So we stepped on the track and started racing 200s,” Maddox said.
Coach Brandon Masters thought that something may happen in terms of limiting fans or changing how the meet was run, but he was hoping that since all attendees had made the trip to Birmingham, Northwest would get the opportunity to compete.
Masters’ immediate reaction to the abolishment of the meet was surprise, which later turned to frustration that seniors like Maddox would probably never get to step on a track and compete for Northwest again. Six seniors from Northwest had qualified for nationals.
The Bearcat women, who relied heavily on seniors Hiba Mahgoub, Jordan Hammond and Audrey Wichmann, were ranked fifth by USTFCCCA prior to the national meet and were eyeing a podium spot as a team.
“They had an opportunity to do something no Northwest team has ever done,” Masters said. “Not having the opportunity to coach them again is a sad, sad thing for me.”
Masters characterized the 2019-20 Northwest indoor track and field team as one of the best in school history and said that the unknown of what the team could have accomplished is tough to process.
The question of how to respond to this cancellation was one that stumped both athletes and coaches. The news caused Masters to transition into more of a mentor than a coach to address the situation, and he said he wanted to put into perspective how important not being able to compete for a national title was.
“You kinda have to look at reality and know that in the grand scheme of things that this is a big deal, but being healthy is a bigger deal,” Masters said.
Masters wants the athletes to stay in shape and emailed them March 15 with workout routines.
“My mindset, my message is that we have to get ready for MIAA Championships in seven weeks, plain and simple,” Masters said March 16.
The MIAA officially canceled all spring and winter sports March 17, effectively ending all hopes of another meet for Northwest track and field for the remainder of the season.
The uncertainty also boils over into next season as the question of eligibility will be one that could greatly change the makeup of the next Northwest track and field team. The team has a pretty set scholarship situation but could see some things changing if seniors get the opportunity and decide to renew their eligibility for next season, Masters said.
The NCAA has made no definitive ruling on restoring eligibility to Division II athletes at this time, and the track program will need clarity before deciding how to proceed, Masters said.
The season didn’t end how they expected or how they wanted. The Bearcats will move forward the same as many other sports programs in the wake of the coronavirus, with unanswered questions and an uncertain future.