After an important 4-3 win over then-No. 6 Florida on March 8, the Texas A&M men’s tennis team controlled its own destiny in the pursuit of a conference title. A March 15 matchup with No. 15 Ole Miss remained the No. 10 Aggies’ lone ranked opponent of the regular season.
But there will be no ring ceremony to kick off the 2020-21 season.
The Southeastern Conference announced the cancellation of the remainder of the 2019-20 athletic calendar on Tuesday, shutting down all sports due to concerns with the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
The decision also included canceling spring tournaments.
“A lot of thought and discussion went into making difficult decisions that impact all our sports in some way, but as the SEC, we stand together as one,” A&M athletic director Ross Bjork said in a statement. “We will continue to monitor this fluid situation and look forward to the day we can announce a return to preparation for competition.”
Teams in tennis along with baseball, softball, golf and track and field received the final answer to the question raised when the NCAA nixed the basketball tournaments and all other spring championships last week.
“Ever since we were told that the NCAA championships for the spring were all going to be canceled, I think it was pretty much just a matter of time that they would cancel the regular season since the endgame was canceled,” men’s tennis head coach Steve Denton said. “I think we all anticipated that.”
Denton, as with all of A&M’s spring sports coaches, agreed with the decision to end the seasons prematurely as growing numbers of Americans test positive for COVID-19. That includes the Brazos Valley now as the Brazos County Health Department announced the area’s first confirmed case of the disease Tuesday with a 20-year-old woman who had returned from a trip to Spain testing positive.
At 12-3 overall and 4-0 in SEC play, the A&M men’s tennis team will now have to wonder what could’ve been in 2020.
“The match we played against Florida stacked up to be one of the more important ones in the conference this year,” Denton said. “More importantly, it was more about how the guys felt about themselves and the momentum that the team had and the confidence they had gotten over the last couple of weeks. That part, obviously, makes it difficult.”
Several A&M track and field athletes hoped to carry momentum from the conclusion of the indoor season into outdoor and on to the 2020 Summer Olympics, currently slated to begin July 24 in Tokyo. Their indoor season came to an halt when the NCAA canceled the indoor championships hours before athletes were slated to begin the meet in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“It sent a really abrupt and tough message to our athletes,” track and field head coach Pat Henry said. “From that point forward, you know, it hasn’t gotten any better. It’s been a tough road for an athlete right now. Athletics are just a small part of what’s going on right now. We totally understand why the measures are being taken. Athletics are just part of what we do in this country, and there are a lot of people that are hurting right now and lots of change in our country.”
Now the Aggies’ Olympic dreams sit in the hands of decision makers at the international level. As of now, the United States qualifying meet is scheduled to run from June 19-28 in Eugene, Oregon.
“It’s a tough scenario to think about,” Henry said. “Whether or not we’ll even have the U.S. Championships to qualify to the Olympic Games is in the air right now. If the Olympic Games were to go on at a regular time but if we can’t have competitions in the U.S., how do we qualify? What do we do?”
A&M softball outfielder Kelbi Fortenberry is one of many seniors who must also wait on the NCAA to rule if student-athletes will receive an eligibility waiver for the season now officially lost. The NCAA’s Division I council coordination committee said Friday that it will be considering how eligibly relief can fit into the current rules such as scholarship allotment and roster size.
“I really am lost for words right now for the way the season ended,” Fortenberry said. “It breaks my heart that my senior year ended like this. All I know is if NCAA allows me to come back, you better believe I will be with a big smile on my face. I’m counting down the days until we can get back and play. I’m praying for those affected by this virus and hope they get this all figured out soon.”
Most of A&M’s baseball players have returned to their homes to weather the spread of the coronavirus and finish their classes online. Workouts, as is the case with all of A&M’s sports, are restricted to what those individuals can do by themselves under the digital instruction of program staff. Under SEC mandate, programs cannot conduct practices or meetings until at least April 15, and student-athletes cannot use athletic department facilities for practice. Support for academics, medical care, mental health and wellness, nutrition and housing are still available as needed.
With many private gyms and fields closed due to COVID-19, the simplicity of a childhood game of catch might be all anyone can muster at this time.
A&M head baseball coach Rob Childress said there is a blessing amid the chaos.
“They’ve got to look at it as a positive,” Childress said. “Maybe this is an opportunity for them to spend more time with loved ones that none of us would be able to spend time with given the normal circumstances. This is a time to step back and focus on your parents and being a great son and a great brother and being a great friend. That’s the only way you can look at it. You can’t look at it as what’s being taken away from me. It’s just what opportunity is in front of me.”