Changing seasons: athletes, coaches reflect on defeated hopes, new possibilities

Truman State University’s football, volleyball and men’s soccer teams are among the sports whose fall 2020 championships have been postponed to spring 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Head Football Coach Gregg Nesbitt said it was a Great Lakes Valley Conference decision that postponed most fall sports to the spring. In compliance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, the football team has eliminated all in-person practices, weight training, meetings and social activities for its roster of 101 athletes.

“Oftentimes, right or wrong, young male athletes — their identity is wrapped up in sport, and it certainly is their fraternity, their sense of belonging, and that was taken away,” Nesbitt said.

Jaden Barr, last season’s Quarterback, scores in a game last season. Without play this season, other concerns are addressed this semester. Photo from TMN Archives

Six out of seven fifth-year seniors had the opportunity to graduate in the Spring of 2020 but remained in school for a semester with hopes of playing a final season, Nesbitt said. He is also concerned for the roster of 40 freshmen, who will not know Truman football until at least the spring of 2021.

Because his players’ identities are often wrapped up in sports, Nesbitt said the mental health of the team is one of his primary concerns in this new off-season.

Defensive tackle Robert Greco acknowledged the pain that losing the football season could have on members of the team.

“I won’t lie, I feel a little agitated about the fact I can’t play the sport that I love,” Greco said in a written statement. “I know safety comes first but this still stings a lot. Football is more than just a game to me and my team. It’s home to us. It’s a place where we bond, share memories, laugh and cry. It’s a place where we sharpen our skills and better ourselves as men, and most definitely, it’s a place where we also relieve our stress. At least for me, football is a place of peace where I can look to my brothers for a good time. Where I can focus on something fun instead of pressuring assignments and tests. So, all and all, I really miss the home that football provided.”

Wide receiver Spencer Newell has also expressed grievances with the loss of the season, but he remains optimistic that the team will maintain their fraternity by safely working out together and staying active off the field. 

Newell said he feels confident the team will be prepared for the season in the spring.

“Without football in the fall, it can definitely cause hardships for guys in different ways,” Newell said in a statement. “As a way to help cope, we as players have gotten together to work out on [the] field and continue to bond as teammates and stay active. This is of course with masks and staying 6 feet apart as much as possible. Even without a clear outlook of the season, we are optimistic that there will be a chance for us to compete in the spring, and as we continue to stay close as a team, we will be ready for that time.”

Nesbitt said he encourages his players to come visit him whenever they are feeling stressed about the situation, as a means to help them destress and to get to know them.

Head Volleyball Coach Ben Briney, whose team is also not able to meet or practice, is  worried about the mental health of his players. With the inability to meet in-person, he has found other ways to be sure that his players are staying mentally healthy.

The volleyball team rallies in a game last season. Play this season has been cancelled. Photo from TMN Archives

Briney said he wants to make sure that his team feels engaged and mentally healthy without the volleyball season.

The volleyball team works with a company called MindSport to support mental wellbeing during both the on and off-season. The MindSport app features sessions that are tailored to the volleyball team, as well as programs like meditation and yoga.

“We really wanted to make sure that [mental health] was something that we focused on,” Briney said. “Volleyball is what you do, not who you are.”

Men’s Soccer Coach Duke Cochran said his players have taken time to practice outdoors with masks and other safety precautions, but they have not had any official practices together.

The men’s soccer team celebrates in a game last season. The team has been independently practicing this semester. Photo from the TMN Archives

“I think it’s good because it’s forcing them to do a lot on their own,” Cochran said. “Those that are getting together, the chemistry can build from there because, you know, it’s just them.” 

It is important, Cochran said, that the team is still able to get to know each other and build the “family” feeling that the team needs to be successful in the on-season.

The athletic weight room in the Pershing Building has recently reopened for use by a reduced number of athletes. Because of this, athletes may begin weight training in anticipation of spring championships.

Scholarships for these sports have remained intact despite the postponement of the championship season as mandated by the NCAA.