We endured a grueling eight months of pushing our bodies to the breaking point day after day, all with one common goal in mind: to be ready for the tennis season, and to capitalize on the opportunity to claim a conference championship for your school and your seniors.
Except, this work and preparation was all for nothing, as the Southern Conference spring seasons were cut short due to COVID-19. This global pandemic pushed the Southern Conference and all the conferences in the NCAA to do something previously thought unimaginable: cancel the seasons for the health of the student athletes, leaving student athletes everywhere feeling lost and confused about what to do and what comes next.
The Southern Conference was one of the last conferences in the NCAA to make the final call to cancel the season on March 17. After seeing my coach’s stress and uncertainty as he had to have call after call with the other coaches in the conference, it was clear that his confusion was shared across the board.
Teams in our conference were not only denied the chance to compete, but also the chance to represent their school on a national scale in the NCAA championship. This is a feat that few teams, especially in the Southern Conference, are able to achieve. Seniors who reached their own personal highest in the conference and national ranking were denied their last opportunity to compete.
My team included two seniors. We had our last practices and games alongside them without knowing it would be the last. So many lasts were lost through this process. Without ever knowing it, we were taking for granted the time we had to spend with them.
In a student athlete’s senior year, they are given a senior day where the team comes together to give the players a celebration of their careers at the university on the day of their match. This is a day that falls on the last home match during their time being a student-athlete at the university. Our seniors didn’t get to have that.
Although the NCAA has graciously extended eligibility relief to the spring athletes who lost their seasons due to the pandemic, this doesn’t give everyone the opportunity to make up for what was lost.
At least one of my team’s seniors, Marie Mottet, cannot take advantage of this opportunity to wind back the clock and take back her last moments on a college tennis team. Mottet, like many other seniors, has their future planned beyond school. Whether it is a master’s program lined up, a job or just set plans for life beyond school, some seniors were robbed of something that can never be returned.
I find myself in a very different situation since I am a redshirt sophomore who just recently transferred to Mercer last semester. This is the second season in a row that has been interrupted for me. My last abruptly ended because of surgery. After all the months of recovery and extra work to try to have the best season, the season ending like this is heartbreaking, to say the least.
Not everyone may understand student athletes’ reactions to our seasons being canceled, and they may think that we are overreacting, but speaking for myself and the tears shed over this situation with my teammates, I would say that we love the sports we play with all our hearts.
We have spent years cultivating our talents and sacrificing sleep, social events and sometimes our sanity to get the opportunity to compete for a university as great as Mercer. Having one of those precious four years ripped away at a moment’s notice is a loss that is just unexplainable.
My heart goes out to all who have been affected by this pandemic, but a special part of it goes out to my fellow student athletes. Players who will and won’t return to the game again, I hope that you never forget who you are and continue to persevere.