Southwestern softball’s season will get back underway in three weeks, as an association-wide suspension has gone into effect over the weekend due to the growing concern of COVID-19 (coronavirus).
The National Junior College Athletic Association handed down a three week suspension on all spring sports activities Friday, one day after the NCAA canceled the rest of their winter and spring sports seasons. The NBA, MLB and NHL are also on suspension for extended periods of time.
SWCC softball head coach Nick Weinmeister watched as chaos unfolded Thursday, leading to the eventual decision by the NJCAA to suspend the spring sports season. Weinmeister, a second-year head coach of the Spartans, works closely with Southwestern athletic director Doug North on seasonal activities.
The first thought for Weinmeister was of the kids who had their seasons cut short prematurely.
“The main thing that was going through me head, ... [I] felt sorry for all the kids who’s season has ended, especially the seniors that had big plans for their final year of college ball,” Weinmeister said.
He feels the decision Friday from the NJCAA was the correct one, and that after the domino effect of professional sports leagues worldwide, it was an inevitable decision.
“You see all that, and you kind of think the trickle down effect is becoming more and more a potential reality for us (Southwestern),” said Weinmeister. “I think it was only a matter of time and I think we were only trending in that direction to make the same call. Unfortunately it had to happen, but I think it was the right decision because it’s about the health of (everyone).
“The NJCAA held out as long as they could and they finally made the call, and it was one you couldn’t disagree with,” Weinmeister said.
As concerns grew throughout the weeks whether or not professional leagues should play or not, the worries of SWCC softball were present, but pushed back in preparation for what was going to be their home opener for the 2020 season.
The Spartans were scheduled to take on Marshalltown Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. in a doubleheader.
“It was kind of all week, they kept asking questions and wanting to get a feel as to where we stood,” said Weinmeister. “Thursday, I kind of just told them ‘until we’re told, let’s keep approaching it like we’re playing this weekend and prepping for games.’ The one thing I will say, they all came every day and worked hard. ... I think they were excited to play and were relieved they hadn’t heard anything on our end (Thursday).”
Breaking the news to the team was something Weinmeister tried to get ahead on and do personally, as opposed to the players finding out from social media. Friday, just before 3 p.m. local time, the NJCAA announced it was suspending the season until early April in a statement on Twitter.
Weinmeister went to the dean of student services prior to the announcement, requesting to tell his players personally in an attempt to get out ahead of an official statement.
“When it finally came, I think it was less about disappointment and more we saw it coming,” said Weinmeister. “... I broke the news to them, ... Luckily, I was able to do it so I could answer any questions and put them a little more at ease as opposed to the ‘what ifs’ and have them overthinking anything.”
The news now leaves seven sophomores in limbo. The group, instrumental in their own right to the early success for the team this season and for the year prior, now have a chance of retaining eligibility for the next season if the season is canceled all together.
In the statement released by the NJCAA, it said it would be “extending the hardship season completion ruling to 60% - should teams cancel their season before the limit is reached, student-athletes will not be charged a year of eligibility.” To retain eligibility for next season, players need the schedule to be reduced to to less than 40% of what it was scheduled at.
Weinmeister noted if games up until April 10, previously April 3, were to get canceled all together, current sophomores retain eligibility.
“I’ll be honest, it was a really difficult conversation to have, because you don’t prep for something like that as a coach,” said Weinmeister. “You could see it on their face, there was a little bit of disappointment, a little bit of anger, and you just try to give hope as best you can. Although no matter what they still have two years to use (due to Southwestern being a community college), ... I think you can give the hope where some programs and seniors are losing their senior season and they’re never going to play again.”
As for recruiting, Weinmeister said it’s not going to change his recruiting plans, should the season cancel. He will continue to put his players in a position for success, regardless of what happens to the ‘20 season.
“If we do have to cancel the season, and maybe get some of these sophomores back for another year, we do everything we can as a program and as an institution to give them that opportunity to come back,” said Weinmeister. “It’s a tough situation all around and we want to give them every opportunity we can, especially since they’ve put in all the work.”
With over a month of the schedule, including 22 games, officially postponed or canceled with no official make up dates set, the Spartans are now in a position to play a very busy back end of the season against a schedule almost entirely including NIACC teams.
“I think, quite honestly, is going to make it very tough for us,” said Weinmeister. “... If we can start April 4th, which I’m really hopeful for, I think we’re going to have so many conference games. ... It’s tough because you go from the highs and lows of all of this happening, and directly effecting areas where our girls are from, then having to seemingly get back into another start to the season.
Weinmeister is unsure of how the future conference schedule will be reconfigured, proposing a possible adjustment of specific doubleheaders with conference opponents while mixing in non-conference games.
“It makes it tough, that’s for sure,” said Weinmeister. “I think it’s something you don’t ever expect to happen or know how to prepare for, so it’s something we’re taking day by day at this point. ... Our April, we’ll probably be playing four to six days a week every week until the conference tournament comes.”
With much of the rest of the season to be determined, Southwestern will take a break as students go on recess for spring break.
The next Monday back, however, they’ll get back into the swing of things and gear up for what the Spartans hope will be their next game.