At the end of the 2020 spring semester, we caught up with three standouts from three spring sports - softball's Jennifer Sweeney (Wind Gap, Pa./Dumont), women's lacrosse's Jill Henson (Baldwinsville, N.Y./Christian Brothers Academy), and baseball's Connor Harding (Vestal, N.Y./Vestal) - on how they dealt with the cancelation of their seasons in March.
As the calendar turned to March in the John Long Center, The University of Scranton's Department of Athletics went into overdrive.
This time of the year is usually the busiest for staff. The winter sports season winds down and leads into the spring season, a time of not only better weather, but the chance to see student-athletes in nine different sports compete through the month of May.
But, as days ticked away in early March, the world was flipped upside down when the COVID-19 pandemic raged into the United States. By March 18, all spring sport seasons throughout the Landmark Conference had been canceled, bringing a sudden and abrupt end to a season that had, in earnest, really not even begun.
Recently, three student-athletes with junior eligibility in 2020 - Jill Henson of the women's lacrosse team, Jennifer Sweeney of the softball team, and Connor Harding of the baseball team - shared with us their thoughts on the end of their respective seasons and the promise of a new year to come.
An Abrupt End
All three student-athletes received the news that their respective seasons would end in similar fashions.
Henson received the news (officially) after going home to Baldwinsville, N.Y. outside of Syracuse on Mar. 18, but knew the worst was to come after an emotional meeting with her coaches and teammates before leaving campus in which the Royals' senior class was honored in front of the team.
Sweeney described being told that the softball season was canceled "three times", the first coming when the Royals' annual spring break trip was canceled, and the last when the official announcement came down. Harding, in a meeting with baseball head coach Mike Bartoletti in which the Royals' skipper simply stated that "things do not look good."
The week before the University went on Spring Break was chaotic for all spring student-athletes and coaches. To ease the tension, the head coaches of men's & women's lacrosse, along with baseball & softball, organized a fun practice at Fitzpatrick Field. But, at the end of the practice, reality set in for everyone who took part.
The NCAA had announced that not only would remaining winter championships across Divisions be canceled but spring championships, as well.
"At that time, it felt that the season was over, but I also did not want to accept that thought," said Sweeney. "We tried to spend as much time together as we could because we didn't know when we would all be back together on campus."
A week after departing for Spring Break, the Landmark Conference canceled the rest of the spring season. A new reality now set in for all spring student-athletes, as they began life from their homes.
The Challenges of Being Home
With their junior seasons ended, the trio of spring sports stars now set out on the challenges of quarantine. First, getting to the end of a rigorous academic slate and second, staying in shape with no gyms or fitness centers open due to the pandemic.
"Having class online was tough," said Harding. "It was a big transition for both the professors and students, but everyone did their best to make it work."
"The biggest challenge of having classes online was getting motivated to sit down and get work done," said Sweeney. "Some of my classes were pre-recorded lectures, I had the ability to watch them whenever, pause for breaks, and to rewind if I missed something. Therefore, assignments were taking longer than they should which was frustrating."
"One of the main challenges that I had was with being online with exams," said Henson. "I spent a lot of time teaching myself the material to prepare for the different exams that I had, which was very stressful."
In terms of working out, Harding and Sweeney utilized local fields to work on mechanics. For cardio, Sweeney began using a bicycle again, while Harding utilized a free weight set in his home.
Henson did similar things (running around her neighborhood, using local fields to work on her game), but also began doing daily workouts posted on YouTube and fitness apps. She also got re-acquainted with another sport - golf.
"[Golf} is something that I love to do, but haven't had the time to focus on in a long time," she said. "With the free time that I now have, I have been working on getting better at golf and for me, it's a great workout and gets me outside for a good part of my day."
The Promise of a New Day
With quite possibly the most difficult semester of their careers both athletically and academically behind them, the trio of juniors now looks forward to being back at Scranton in the near future.
All three are looking forward to seeing their friends and teammates again, particularly Sweeney, who can't wait for the softball team's first trip of the year to a local ice cream parlor, Jitty Joe's.
And all three are eager to get back out on the field and chase Landmark Conference titles in their respective sports in 2021.
[Getting back to campus] I think excitement will be the main feeling," Harding said. "The entire team worked extremely hard this past year, so it was tough to not be able to see any results. Quarantine is an opportunity to continue to work on your game, and I can't wait to see which guys make big jumps."
"I am going to feel more motivated than ever," said Henson. "I know that I am also going to feel extremely determined as well because I will not only be playing for the current team, but also for the seniors who were unable to finish out their full four years as student-athletes."
"Our team has always been driven to succeed, but with this season being taken away from us, I think we are going to come back with a totally different mindset," said Sweeney. "Knowing that the game can be ripped away from us in the blink of an eye, and remembering that feeling of being told we would no longer be competing this season will not only make us more grateful for every opportunity to play, but it will also be what motivates and drives us to continue working towards success no matter what challenge we may face."
This story has already been published in the 2019-20 Landmark Conference Yearbook and will be featured in the next edition of The Scranton Journal.
To read the 2019-20 Landmark Yearbook, click here: http://publogix.com/e/201920-lcyb/