Northwest Athletics was blindsided March 12 by the NCAA’s cancellation of all spring sports due to COVID-19 related complications. In response, the University’s athletic administration has done its best to ease student-athlete’s transition into a rather unconventional semester.
Athletic Director Andy Peterson is working to help athletes, coaches and staff through this adversity.
“We’re trying to focus on our student-athletes and their well-being,” Peterson said in a phone call. “Our student-athletes are entering uncharted waters with classes that aren’t designed to be taught virtually. There needs to be a lot of grace between (administrators), the coaching staff and our student-athletes.”
As Bearcat student-athletes temporarily become exclusively students, Peterson advised that this early offseason be utilized to better their futures outside of sports.
“We want what’s best for them ... even when they graduate and move on to the real world,” Peterson said. “It is a challenge, but athletics kind of builds that resolve and that grit, and this is just another opportunity for our students to display that and come out that much stronger on the other side.”
Student-athletes work hard on a daily basis to perform at the highest level possible. For Northwest senior golfer Bekah Donner, the news that her final season was over reached her while she was home in Neenah, Wisconsin.
“My heart just dropped and I almost started crying,” Donner said in a phone call. “I knew there was a possibility but I just didn’t want to face the truth about it, and after it happened, I kind of collapsed internally. My mentality was still that I was going to head back to Northwest the next week and prepare for our next tournament.”
Another senior torn up about the loss of her farewell tour was Tess Lovig, a member of Northwest tennis. Lovig was on her way back from a tournament in Arkansas when news reached her.
“We stopped at a gas station and our coach gathered us around and I was pretty devastated,” Lovig said in a phone call. “I never expected that something like this would happen. I also, all of a sudden, wouldn’t have a lot of senior experiences that I thought I would.”
Lovig said she was looking forward to her Senior Day and seeing how far she and her teammates could get in the NCAA Tournament, opportunities many seniors were robbed of with the decision made by the NCAA.
As a means to make amends for its decision, the NCAA will allow an application for an additional year of eligibility for spring athletes. This means that Lovig and Donner would both be allowed to return next season to finish their athletic careers at Northwest on their own terms. However, neither Bearcat will exercise that option.
“I definitely considered coming back,” Donner said. “I finished my last tournament on a high side, so I just want to hold on to that and be able to dwell off my strong finish. I think it’s time to close my book with that and open up a new one with my professional job.”
Donner recently accepted an assistant golf pro position for this summer which will have her teach lessons and help in golf course management. If she were to reclaim her amateur status to play for Northwest, she would lose this opportunity.
Lovig’s testament in choosing not to return is similar in that she is also looking to move on to the next chapter of her life.
“I really appreciate the NCAA’s decision to let us have another season,” Lovig said. “I’m glad that I even have the option to do that. I will not be going back for another year just because I’ve been planning to graduate, and getting a master’s (degree) right now isn’t really the best path for me at this time.”
Lovig is in the process of looking for a job in the business field and likes how broad her options are at the moment.
The student-athletes who haven’t yet finished their degree in the allotted four seasons of eligibility are in favor of the NCAA’s extension. Senior Connor Quick, who belongs to Northwest baseball, will return next year to finish his degree as well as his final run around the diamond.
Quick was on a bus ride March 12 down to Claremore, Oklahoma, to face Roger’s State when the MIAA suspended all sports until further notice, which he said he expected. He also expected to hear the NCAA cancel all spring sports, yet still labeled the news heartbreaking.
“It means the world to me (to come back next year),” Quick said. “I definitely feel for those guys, not only on our team but all across the nation, that aren’t getting the opportunity to come back. Going down not knowing it’s your last at-bat — your last game, it hit me really hard.”
This isolation period will be the longest break from baseball Quick has experienced since he first picked up a bat at 5 years old. “Weird” is what he repeatedly uttered when describing the current situation of being away from baseball.
For those who won’t pick their training back up in the fall, their time as an athlete at Northwest will be remembered dearly.
“I was given an opportunity to come to Northwest and it has been absolutely everything I’ve ever dreamed of,” Donner said. “I’ve met amazing teammates that helped me push to be the player I am. Having the opportunity to leave Wisconsin and be in a state I’m not comfortable with, my teammates made me feel like I was at home.”
“These past four years have been everything I could’ve asked for and more,” Lovig said. “It was way better than I ever expected it to be. Getting to play at the collegiate level is something so few people get to do and I appreciated every moment of it.”