After days of swirling rumors, the Big Ten and the Pac 12 both announced on August 11th that all fall athletics would be postponed to 2021 following a vote from conference presidents and chancellors. This followed similar announcements from conferences like the Ivy League, the MAC and all of Divisions II and III.
Dozens of Naperville area athletes are affected across the country in sports like soccer, golf, women’s volleyball, cross country, and football who will now have to wait until the spring of 2021 at the earliest to compete. Even that is not guaranteed considering the uncertain future of the pandemic combined with the logistics of playing a spring and then fall 2021 season so close together.
Risks and Uncertainty Leads to Decision
The uncertainty that comes with close contact athletic competition while traveling to different campuses and states were among the factors that led to this decision. Potential future health ramifications even for athletes who recover from COVID also played a role.
Disappointment and Understanding
Despite the obvious disappointment felt by these athletes, many of whom began practicing with their teams just days before the announcement, most understand the difficult decision and try to remain positive while looking at the future.
“Obviously this stinks for the Big Ten and the Pac 12, I understand why they did it with all the uncertainty and the reasons they gave are legitimate reasons,” said Michigan State quarterback Payton Thorne. “But obviously we wish we could play and it would suck if the other conferences play and we have to watch them. But we’re looking forward to the spring and hopefully we get some games in then. So whatever that brings we’ll be ready. And if not I know we’ll be ready for next fall for sure.”
“It was surprising, at the same time we all kind of knew it was coming, but we really built up this hope in our minds that it was going to work out. So that was a struggle,” said University of Illinois women’s soccer player Maggie Hillman. “But we met as a team with our athletic director [Josh Whitman] and our coaches and kind of talked things out. People are going to take different amounts of time to calm down and deal with their emotions but I think we are all on a pretty good road going forward where we are here, engaged and ready to keep going.”
Senior Seasons in Jeopardy
Former Naperville Central soccer standout Maggie Hillman has three Naperville area teammates with her on the University of Illinois roster, junior Haley Singer from Neuqua Valley, junior Katelyn Buescher from Naperville North and fellow senior Elizabeth Cablk from Naperville North. Despite the hope for a spring season in 2021, nothing is 100% certain at this point which could lead to a difficult decision for Hillman and Cablk if women’s soccer is not able to play again until next fall.
“In the spring when all the spring sports were being canceled, it actually didn’t cross my mind. I was like “Oh, we’ve got five months, we’ll figure this all out,” Hillman said. “Unfortunately that hasn’t happened. But I’ve had time to think about that a lot and what it means in terms of my post graduate plans. I’ve kind of come to terms in that I would take an extra year of eligibility in order to have closure of this chapter of my life. I think a lot of us hope we’ll be able to play in the spring, but if we have to wait until next fall, a lot of us seniors would take that extra year.”
Silver Linings Playbook
Former Naperville Central All State quarterback Payton Thorne spent his freshman season redshirting for the Michigan State Spartans. Former Redhawk teammates Cade McDonald and Jayden Reed are also on the MSU roster as wide receivers after Reed transferred from Western Michigan following the 2018 season. While having to wait even longer to get onto the gridiron is frustrating for athletes, the fact that the Michigan State has a brand new coaching staff this season provides a silver lining for the Spartans.
“We were four days into fall camp and that was the first day we had with them so it was going to be tough going into a year with new coaches and only having 20 practices under our belt,” Thorne noted. “So we get a lot of time with our strength and conditioning coaches to build our bodies and get ready for the season. We also gain spring ball back, we lost that this year when we got sent home so we have that now. I think there are a lot of good things that are going to come from this if you look at it the right way.”
Former Neuqua Valley standout Donny Navarro has already gone through a winding football journey. After a strong freshman season at Valparaiso, an FCS program, he transferred to the University of Illinois to play as a walk on and sat out the 2018 season due to transfer rules. An eye opening performance as a sophomore in 2019 earned the confidence of the coaching staff and head coach Lovie Smith. Near the end of the season, Navarro was surprised at practice with a full athletic scholarship. As someone who has already missed a full season of football, Navarro is also looking to stay positive despite the disappointing news. His statement to NCTV17 reads:
“When I returned to campus on June 8, 2020 for volunteer workouts, there was uncertainty and a fear of the unknown. I realized at the time I had to embrace change. And today I still believe that. I also believe that staying united is more important than ever. Like many of my brothers, I am crushed by the recent announcement. I realize this decision was a difficult one and how extremely important it is to listen to the medical experts. My teammates and I have worked really hard over the last few months and although we will not be able to play this fall, it brought us closer together and will pay off in the long run. I commend the University of Illinois for the way they handled this very unique situation and it starts with our athletic director Josh Whitman. I am extremely thankful for the tremendous efforts and support of the coaching and medical staffs during this challenging time. I’m confident we will have an opportunity to play football soon. In the meantime… stay safe, stay positive.”
Nobody is happy that there won’t be fall sports for so many collegiate teams and athletes in 2020, but the overall tone of our local athletes is one of understanding and optimism that they will be able to compete once again in the next few months.
For Naperville News 17, I’m Justin Cornwell.
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