Lehigh’s rowing team gathers during a training trip in California over spring break. Before the Patriot League canceled the rest of the team's meets, the rowing season was about to begin, with the first meet taking place on March 14.

First-year spring athletes forced to develop with no competition

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While the NCAA spring sports cancellation has affected athletes around the country so far in 2020, the situation presents another challenge come 2021.

Junior athletes who play a spring sport will be expected to take on the roles of seniors sooner than anticipated, and freshmen, many of whom hadn’t yet begun conference play, will be tasked with providing valuable performances as sophomores.

As is commonplace throughout college sports, freshmen often use their first seasons to adjust to collegiate-level athletics before they are expected to provide more quality performances as they amass time spent with their teams. Next year, however, sophomores on spring rosters will be expected to contribute with little first-year experience.

The Patriot League, like any conference, is competitive and intense when league play starts,” said women’s lacrosse assistant coach Katie O’Donnell. “It is a season within the season and carries a certain excitement with each competition. It’s unfortunate the freshmen did not get to experience it this year.” 

Women’s rowing freshman Sara Gould said while the rowing team competes in a few matches in the fall, their spring season, which comprises the bulk of their competition, didn’t even begin before the spring sports cancellation. 

Their first race was scheduled at Loyola for March 14.  

“One of the seniors I talked to said she really missed out on getting to know the freshmen,” Gould said. “The spring season is where everyone kind of gels together, (and) the fall is very segregated, but we never got that spring season.” 

Men’s rowing freshman Max McFadden echoed this sentiment, explaining that the rowing team’s fall season consists only of three races. 

In the spring, McFadden said they had planned 10 races, taking up almost every weekend starting after spring break.  

The Patriot League provides not only the competition, but also the chance to become more integrated on their teams. 

“I sort of assume a lot of the bonding happens during racing,” McFadden said. “Everyone hopefully seeing the work pay off together. We didn’t exactly get that.” 

Many freshmen regard the championship and onseason as a missed opportunity to get to know their team and sport better, including freshman distance runner Jacob Martinez.

Martinez said the season got cut at a critical part of the year, where he and his teammates began forming connections. He said he feels bad for the seniors who lost a chance to compete at Nationals.

“Losing the spring season, that’s like the big finale,” Gould said. “As freshmen, that’s where we would be making our mark on the team, setting the stage for the next three years. We missed out on that chance.”

Coaches have been sending out training plans to their athletes, despite the end of their official season, O’Donnell said.

Right now, checking in on our student athletes to see what their needs are and how they are handling everyday life in these unprecedented times — as well as keeping lines of communication open — is a main priority,” O’Donnell said.

Even as a coach, O’Donnell said she is unsure how the cancellation will affect individual athletes’ careers but concurred that every team in the Patriot League is going through the same situation. 

She said while the NCAA is providing eligibility relief, it is unknown how things will pan out in the future.

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