As the pandemic progresses, cancellations and postponements continue, too.
The coronavirus forced the Mountain West Conference to postpone its fall sports season. The decision effectively cancels football, women’s soccer, women’s volleyball, cross country, tennis, track and field, swimming and diving and men’s and women’s golf at Nevada, forcing hundreds of student-athletes to put their seasons on hold.
Hope remained that Nevada’s fall sports season would return to campus beginning no earlier than the week of Sept. 26. That plan quickly changed when the Mountain West officially postponed all fall sports on Aug. 10.
As the conference puts together a jam-packed spring schedule, Nevada student-athletes are stuck waiting for their seasons to return, including Hannah Souza, a senior midfielder for the Nevada women’s soccer team.
“I was super disappointed knowing I won’t be able to compete with my team this fall,” she said. “I keep telling myself that everything happens for a reason throughout this process. I’m just trying to stay positive hoping we’ll be back playing in a safer environment.”
Souza is one of many collegiate athletes entering their senior season in the midst of an unprecedented year. If Nevada women’s soccer returns in the spring, several safety measures will be put in place along with limited fan capacity. It will be an environment unlike any other.
“It’s one of the hardest things to think upon,” she said. “Knowing this will potentially be my last season ever playing soccer is hard. But I’m just training and staying positive to play a few games, which are better than none.”
Nevada women’s soccer opened its 2019 season Aug. 22 and played its final regular season contest Nov. 1. With fall sports being pushed back in 2020, it could mark a year and a half before Nevada women’s soccer plays again.
With such a large gap in between seasons, it will take time for Nevada’s fall sports teams to develop chemistry and gel as a unit. Team practices are currently up in the air, and student-athletes must find alternatives to prepare for the spring.
Souza will continue training in hopes of a spring season. She didn’t come off the field in Nevada’s 18 games last year and led the team with 1,676 minutes.
“We still don’t know if we’ll have training or practices now that the season is postponed,” Souza said. “We’ll be doing individual workouts and keep our focus up until we compete in the spring. It’s going to affect our chemistry, but we’re all in the same boat. ”
The postponement of fall sports also affects members of the Nevada men’s and women’s golf teams. Sophomore men’s golfer Mitch Abbott was taken by surprise knowing his season had been put on hold.
“It was kind of sudden to me,” he said. “The whole summer we didn’t hear anything, we just planned on having a season with new precautions and things. But it was canceled all of a sudden. I understand the circumstances, it’s hard to keep everyone safe as well as the financial aspect, so we just need to do what’s best.”
Abbott made his debut with Nevada as a redshirt freshman last season. He played in three of the Wolf Pack’s seven events with a scoring average of 76.62. Once the coronavirus spread, Nevada’s five remaining regular season contests were suddenly canceled when the Mountain West suspended all spring sports on March 12.
It will be nearly a full year until Nevada’s golf teams hit the links for competition. For now, Abbott is focused on improving under the new guidelines.
“It may take some time for me to adjust but I’m trying to avoid that,” he said. “I’m just trying to plan outside events to keep my game up in case anything happens. Preparing for the spring is all that matters now.”
While Abbott prepares for the new year, Nevada women’s golfer Katy Rutherford is grateful for another opportunity. Rutherford’s senior year was cut short due to COVID-19 last season. The NCAA granted an extra year of eligibility for all spring athletes whose seasons were canceled due to the pandemic.
Head coach Kathleen Takaishi gave Rutherford another year on the team, and she’s intent on making the most of it.
“Mentally I thought I was ready for my college career to be done when last season was cut short,” she said. “I was extremely upset and anxious. But when coach Kathleen gave me the opportunity to come back I was excited and I’ve been working hard since.”
Rutherford will train in her home country of Alberta, Canada during the fall semester. She posted a career-low 75.38 scoring average last season and plans to return to Nevada more prepared for the spring.
“It’s going to be different going back to competitive golf,” she said. “I’m just going to golf here for as long as I can. There’s going to be a lot of snow come winter time, so I just need to prepare and stay sharp for my return to Nevada.”
The coronavirus halted Nevada’s fall sports season. Despite the challenges ahead, optimism remains for student-athletes to come back even stronger.
“Playing in the spring is giving us hope,” Souza said. “That’s the thing that’s getting us through and we’ll do whatever it takes to be ready to play. I can’t wait to get back out there.”
During the shutdown, Abbott learned the severity of staying healthy and safe during a worldwide pandemic is more important than a fall sports season.
“I’ve learned how serious sanitization and keeping healthy really is for all of us,” he said. “No matter if we’re playing or not, limiting this pandemic as much as possible is crucial… This experience helped me connect back with my family and get some reflection, so there are important things outside of sports.”
Nevada athletics will be in for drastic changes this season as the world returns to a sense of normalcy. The fall sports season’s cancellation greatly impacted student-athletes, but they recognize it’s a decision made with safety in mind.
“I know that the athletics department, our coaches and the conference have our best interest at heart,” Rutherford said. “They’re going to do what’s best for us so it was nice to know they were putting our safety and well-being in general.”
Isaiah Burrows can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @SagebrushSports.