Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, collegiate athletes in their final year of eligibility were left with a season that was squandered after NCAA President Mark Emmert released a statement March 12, one that halted the remainder of championship events for winter and spring sports.
In a direct correlation, the MIAA canceled all competition and league championships in a statement from the CEO Council March 17.
Among those left in the wake of cancellations in Maryville were the seniors of Northwest softball.
“It all just hit us at once,” standout senior infielder Kaitlyn Weis said in a phone interview. “We had no preparation for it at all. We weren’t even, like, thinking about it until conferences started shutting down. So, when ours shut down, it just like, all hope was lost for it.”
Nearly 48 hours after the MIAA’s announcement, the NCAA’s Division II Administrative Committee determined over a teleconference that spring sport athletes would be provided the opportunity to apply for an additional year of eligibility. The stipulation resided in the fact that athletes could only apply if their remaining eligibility was going to be exhausted this spring.
Weis decided that she’ll be back for a final season with the program, leaving her to sort out the complications that arise between softball and her supposed-to-be student-teaching gig in Omaha, Nebraska.
It’s another opportunity for the program leader in career home runs (43) to add to that mark, as well as complete a mission that Weis described as lifelong, to this point.
“I’m not done yet,” Weis said. “I still wanna make my mark. I still wanna do something for this program, for this school, my teammates, for my family. It’s just gonna be a whole year of getting better and making my mark and standing up for what I’ve worked for my entire life.”
The opportunity, although welcomed by Weis, isn’t something that every Bearcat is going to exercise.
At the time of publication, Weis was the lone one of five seniors that decided to move back to Maryville instead of moving on. Senior infielder Karli Allen said that along with herself, Rachel Smith and Erin Keeney are also leaving the program to pursue life after collegiate softball. Sidne Brashear, she said, is questionable on what to do at the moment.
“It was very difficult,” Allen said via a phone interview. “It honestly took me a while to make the decision. I guess because, for me, I’ve been looking forward to Senior Day and going to conference and all these senior things that were coming up. Then all of a sudden, within 24 hours, it just — done.”
Along with having made plans for life after graduation, Allen attributed her departure from the program to student loans. On top of those, the wear and tear that athletics have had on her body to this point in her career influenced the decision to step away.
Weis had concerns about her body withstanding another year as well, but figured the pros outweigh the cons of a return.
“Sometimes our bodies can’t really deal with it, either,” Weis said. “The older we get, the more our bodies go through it. I don’t even know if I’ll be able to do it, but we’ll see as the year goes.”
The decision, Allen said, affects the underclassmen as much as it affects her. Amid reminiscing on the occurrences of her freshman season at Northwest, she was reminded of the impact that her presence, or lack thereof next year, might have on the younger people in the program.
“For the underclassmen, I think it’s been kinda harder for them,” Allen said. “Because they, like, they’re losing their seniors this year. A lot of them didn’t even get a full year with us. And for them, it’s sometimes hard when you don’t get to learn from seniors who have been doing it for four years.”
The decision, of course, is one that is unprecedented. For softball, the regular season was supposed to conclude April 25 with a double-header against Pitt State. Instead, the last game was March 8, a 14-6 win over Illinois Springfield.
The situation started with the limitation of fans. It progressed with suspensions. And concluded with the halt to seasons and collegiate athletic careers.
“As we’re preached to from the moment we get here, we’re students before we’re athletes,” Allen said. “So if this isn’t going to work out for you, school wise, I wouldn’t do it. If it’ll work out for you school wise, and you really want to play, then 100% go for it.”