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Northwestern athletes cope in the aftermath of Big Ten fall sports’ cancelation

Wildcats across all fall sports have dealt with the news in different ways.

Athletes can face all types of adversity through their collegiate careers — tough losses, devastating injuries, battles for playing time. But none could’ve been prepared for the blow that COVID-19 would bring, sidelining them for the entire fall season at least.

It’s hard to fathom how athletes are handling the sudden announcement of the postponed Big Ten fall season, as they experience heartbreak and grasp on to any hope that lies in the spring.

While football’s cancelation has made headlines nationwide and delivers a significant blow to both campus culture and finances, athletes in a number of other sports are experiencing this crushing change as well.

Northwestern volleyball player Temi Thomas, who was set to have a dominant year after being named Big Ten Freshman of the Week four times last season, recalled the day the career-altering news broke.

“I was very disappointed to hear that the season was canceled,” she said. “The first people I thought about were the seniors and how this would affect their volleyball experience here at Northwestern. We had a team practice about an hour after we heard the news. For the moment it was nice to just think about volleyball, and after the practice ended things were pretty somber and sad because it seemed like everything we had been working towards since we left in March was taken away.”

After a challenging 2019 season where Northwestern finished in the bottom half of a competitive Big Ten conference, Thomas and her team were eager to find success in 2020, but now, they may not even be given the chance.

In addition to the cancelation of games, student life changes for athletes as well. While some will remain on campus and hope to savor any chance to play their sport this fall, the pandemic and ensuing postponement sent some athletes that have been on campus for summer training packing to go back home. For field hockey player Maren Seidel, it meant she would stay home in Germany and miss the opportunity to return to Evanston this fall.

“I do miss my team a lot, but looking forward, I know that I will see them again and these circumstances will not last forever,” she said.

Luckily, for the Wildcat field hockey team, who is coming off a stellar 2019 performance where they finished 11th in the nation, their 22-game starter is hoping to be back in January once she feels it is safe to do so, which would be in time for a spring season if it occurs.

Athletes are not the only ones who mourn the loss of a fall season. Northwestern coaches are facing these challenges in a similar way, but must remain positive and encourage their players to look forward. Through these unprecedented circumstances, they have remained optimistic and hopeful for the spring season with some taking tangible steps to make that possibility a reality.

“We don’t really know what lies ahead but will attack whatever is thrown at us next,” football senior Travis Whillock said Pat Fitzgerald has continually reminded the team throughout the pandemic.

As the fall approaches with students returning to campus in a few weeks, it starts to feel even more real for the athletes and student body who know life will be different this fall. Without game days on Saturday at Ryan Field and athletics guiding the campus culture, it’s undeniable Northwestern will look different.

But while it may not be the fall we expected or hoped for, it has the potential to be a spring that we all will never forget.