NW Cross Country

Juniors Augustine Lisoreng, Mike Lagat and sophomore Jake Norris debrief with coach Brandon Masters after racing in the Missouri Southern Stampede in Joplin, Missouri, Sept. 21, 2019. 

One year ago, Makayla Hewell was questioning if she wanted to continue her collegiate running career after fracturing her ankle. It was ultimately a decision that, among others, led to her transferring to Northwest from Emmanuel College in Franklin Springs, Georgia.

As of March 17, the Northwest track and field graduate student is once again faced with the same question. In a correlation with the MIAA announcing the cancelation of spring sports for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, spring athletes are presented with the opportunity to apply for an extra year of eligibility.

Not every athlete will take advantage of that opportunity, including Hewell.

“I mean I have the option, but it’s kind of like, I’m ready to get a job and get on with it,” Hewell said during a phone call. “I want to run, but you have to pick which is better for you in the long run. I think getting the career that I’ve been going to school for is more important than another outdoor season.”

Hewell’s situation is one that differs from any other on the team this season. The Alto, Georgia, native transferred to Northwest with limited eligibility. She competed in cross country events but wasn’t affiliated with the University. She sat and watched the women’s team compete for the entirety of the indoor season during the winter.

Hewell transferred to Northwest because it offered her major, along with an opportunity to compete for national awards. The hold that she placed on her life to compete this spring was all for naught.

The day that the sports world halted, eventually leading to spring athletics being canceled, Hewell’s career did as well. There wouldn’t be an outdoor season, one that was long-awaited. There wouldn’t be a furthermore than what already was..

“I was pretty sad about it,” Hewell said of the cancellations. “I was mad and sad. I spent all of that time over the summer and cross and indoor training … then everything got canceled, so I was pretty upset about it.”

“She was coming in for one reason and that was to be great,” Northwest track and field coach Brandon Masters said over the phone. “Everything worked out great, right? Up until it didn’t.”

Along with Hewell, and an abundance of athletes across the nation, the uncertainty caused by the pandemic places a burden on the shoulders of Masters. What he loses with the certain departure of Hewell, he said, was an athlete that had the potential to be an All-American in multiple events this season

But instead of holding onto what might have been with Hewell and the outdoor season, Masters’ focus shifted to what is. Amid trying to coach in the spring, his recruiting efforts hadn’t settled. Now, a wrinkle is thrown into those same efforts with the possibility of senior athletes coming back.

“It’s a difficult time because I’m recruiting for next year assuming that the seniors were gone,” Masters said. “Now that that’s not necessarily the case, they’d only be coming back for an outdoor season, how does that affect scholarship-ing, budgets, everything? It’s a really tough situation to be in right now.”

“I’m very young next year,” Masters said. “We expected to take a little bit of a step back. Now, I have several of our seniors that could potentially come back. So that affects how I recruit.”

It’s a profusion of complications, ones that are unprecedented, Masters said. He isn’t sure where the money will come from, he said. He doesn’t know how much or what to offer recruits due to decisions that are hanging in the balance.

It’s a ripple effect that doesn’t only touch this spring and Hewell, but leaves everyone else associated with the program questioning what is next.

“To be honest,” Masters said. “I don’t know how we move forward.”

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