CMU athletes reflect on shock of cancellations
Coming off the field at POC Park in Madeira Beach, Florida following a 2-1 loss to Creighton, the narrative of the second game on March 12 turned for the Central Michigan softball team.
It turned for the rest of the country.
In a series of events, which occurred quickly, the NCAA closed its Division I men's and women's basketball tournaments to the public. The Mid-American Conference had done the same with its tournament.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the safety and health of the country became the highest priority.
The NCAA then canceled the rest of its winter and spring championships. The MAC and other conferences around the country then canceled the remaining competitions to prevent further spread of the virus which has swept across the world.
First-year CMU coach McCall Salmon addressed the team and informed the players what the situation was.
Bella Robles, a senior outfielder for the Chippewas, quickly realized the second game of the doubleheader against Merrimack was going to be her last game in a Chippewa uniform.
"(Salmon) didn't really say too much about it but that our season was canceled and that we needed to play our last game leaving our hearts on the field," Robles said. "We weren't going to walk off the field without a win."
The Chippewas defeated the Warriors 4-0, capping their season off at 6-13. Robles drove in the team's other senior, Morgan Gardner, for the game's final run.
A day after what turned out to be the final day of competition, Robles said she was hoping to retain her final year of eligibility.
Robles, a Fontana, California native, said her emotions were all over the place as her mind was racing with questions. Would the NCAA grant her the additional year of eligibility? Would she be able to play for CMU again? If she was, what would the logistics look like?
"I'm sure that was going through a lot of athletes' heads during that time," Robles said. "It was questions like, will we be able to get our scholarship back? I just had a bunch of questions in my head and trying to figure out what was going on and what it meant to get that extra year."
Robles and other seniors in spring sports across the country received their wish. The NCAA Division I Council Coordination Committee announced it would work to grant "eligibility relief" for the athletes in spring sports following the cancellations.
The announcement of the extended eligibility was the first piece of news Robles said she was waiting for, to see if it would be possible or not.
When it came down and was good news, Robles said she was excited, of course.
"I didn't want to make those couple of games I was able to play in my last," Robles said. "No one does."
'It's out of our control'
Just over 76 miles to the East in Winter Haven, Florida, the CMU baseball team had just wrapped up a two-game set with Bucknell.
The Chippewas won the first game in dominant fashion 22-2 but lost the second game 5-3.
CMU, which was the defending MAC regular season and tournament champions, was looking to defend its title and possibly make the NCAA Tournament again after picking up a win in 2019.
Senior Tyler Hankins, a left-handed pitcher for CMU, said he and the rest of the team understood why the season had been canceled, but the guys were heartbroken that their season had been cut short.
"It was pretty tough," Hankins said. "Hearing the news and knowing we wouldn't be able to play the season. We were all really upset because we all worked hard for it. It's not fair but we understand, we're not mad at anyone. We understand why it's happening, it's a crazy situation."
Hankins recalled the moment he learned the season was over. He said second-year coach Jordan Bischel called a team meeting and explained the situation to the team.
"(Bischel) said it was unfair," Hankins recalled, "but it's one of those situations where you can't drive yourself crazy over things you can't control. He was really supportive and understanding of the whole situation."
Hankins, primarily a relief pitcher, appeared in four games for CMU this season. The last coming March 6 against North Florida, a 12-6 victory for the Chippewas.
When Bischel talked to the team, he said each player only has a certain amount of games in their college careers. Those games need to be cherished and appreciated.
Hankins quickly understood the message from his coach.
"At first, I thought I played my last baseball game ever," Hankins said. "Fortunately, the NCAA was quick to give everyone another year of eligibility, which was good. I'm happy for that, it leaves an opportunity for seniors whose seasons were cut short."
While playing the additional season is ideal for Hankins, he is still undecided because of the academic piece of being a student-athlete.
However, Hankins said he is leaning toward coming back and playing next season.
"There's nothing I love more than playing CMU baseball," Hankins said. "It's been the best time of my life. It's just one of those hard situations you have to think about for a while."
With closures of facilities and other mandates in place, Hankins said he is not sure what he and the rest of his teammates can do in terms of training.
However he can, he will continue working on his game.
"Everyone on this team loves working, me included," Hankins said. "I'm going to keep throwing because I love doing it. It's our lifestyle at this point."
'It sucks, it's heartbreaking'
Oge Udeogu transferred to CMU before the 2019 campaign from Iowa State and quickly cemented himself as a starter on the Chippewa offensive line.
Udeogu started all 12 regular-season games at right guard before a broken arm in the finale against Toledo held him out of the postseason.
Since the season ended, Udeogu said he has been training at DSA Athletics in Atlanta, Georgia. Udeogu said the rehabilitation of his arm has gone well and said it feels better than it ever has.
The idea for him was to heal his arm, work on his game in preparation for CMU's Pro Day, which was scheduled for March 20.
Pro Day, too, was canceled.
"I'm putting a lot of work into my body, lots of training," Udegou said. "Pro Day is canceled it's unfortunate but it's a situation of the hand we're dealt. It's out of our control."
When professional leagues such as the NBA, NHL, UEFA among others suspended play, Udegou said he knew other leagues would begin to follow suit to either cancel or postpone events.
Although at first, Udegou said he was more concerned initially.
As for the seniors in spring sports, Udegou said he empathizes with his fellow athletes in the face of their seasons being cut short.
"It sucks, it's heartbreaking, especially for the seniors who had their season cut short by this," Udegou said. "Honestly, my message is to control what you can control. That's what I've had to live by these last few days to move forward and doing what I can on my end in order to continue to progress and work toward my goal.
"That's my message, control what you can control."