A spring break they wanted no part of

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - COLLEGES - By Eric Ol­son

OMAHA, Neb. — Creighton righthande­r Ben Dot­zler was sup­posed to be in the bullpen at TD Amer­i­trade Park this week­end, ready­ing him­self to pitch against North­ern Colorado.

Molly Lit­tle, who plays lacrosse for Den­ver, ex­pected to be on the road for a much an­tic­i­pated match against Michi­gan, the team the Pi­o­neers beat to reach the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tour­na­ment last year.

Avrey Steiner thought she would be with her soft­ball team­mates for Illi­nois’ first home games of the sea­son against Bowl­ing Green and Green Bay.

Ev­ery­thing changed for thou­sands of col­lege ath­letes when the NCAA an­nounced Thursday it was can­cel­ing all spring sports cham­pi­onships, along with re­main­ing win­ter cham­pi­onships, be­cause of the coro­n­avirus pan­demic. Con­fer­ences fol­lowed, say­ing they were tem­po­rar­ily or per­ma­nently shut­ting down their regular sea­sons. Sud­denly, ath­letes who put in long hours jug­gling com­mit­ments to their sports and aca­demics had lots of free time. And they’re mis­er­able.

“We didn’t work a whole year,” Dot­zler said, “to play 15 games.”

Lit­tle said she woke up at 6:30 ev­ery morn­ing to go to the train­ing room to re­hab an in­jury and stretch be­fore lift­ing weights and run­ning — all be­fore go­ing to a 2 1⁄2-hour prac­tice and then her classes.

“There’s noth­ing that can pre­pare you for the feel­ing of your sea­son be­ing done, and it’s not be­cause you lost in NCAAs,” Lit­tle said. “I spent many hours cry­ing with team­mates. You work your whole life to get to this point, to play on this big stage, and to have it taken from you is dev­as­tat­ing.”

Steiner said she was do­ing fine emo­tion­ally un­til she started clean­ing out her locker Friday.

“That re­ally got me,” she said. “A lot of peo­ple are go­ing to say, ‘Oh, yeah, this is like a week off or get­ting a cou­ple days off. I guar­an­tee you it’s go­ing to hit me and other peo­ple in the com­ing weeks.”

Some good news ar­rived on Friday when the NCAA in­formed schools that spring ath­letes would be given an­other year of el­i­gi­bil­ity to make up for their lost sea­son. De­tails must be worked out. States Fort, a se­nior on the Coastal Carolina men’s golf team, hopes to re­turn for an­other year even though he’ll grad­u­ate in May.

“I would try to make it work with grad cour­ses,” he said. “I would do ev­ery­thing in my power as long as the fi­nances are there. I would love to come back and play with th­ese guys.”

Not all se­niors will be able to take ad­van­tage of be­ing granted an ex­tra year. Some al­ready have jobs lined up. Oth­ers have been ac­cepted into grad­u­ate pro­grams at other schools. There are ath­letes who cur­rently are on par­tial schol­ar­ships, and they may not be able to af­ford pay­ing the dif­fer­ence for an­other year.

Though the el­i­gi­bil­ity ex­ten­sion of­fers some con­so­la­tion, it will be im­pos­si­ble for ath­letes to du­pli­cate the ex­pe­ri­ences of play­ing with their 2020 teams.

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