Let me take a moment to introduce the first of our three new writers for Its Sports Magazine.  Her name is Abigail Hope and you can call her Abby.
Ms. Hope is currently a student at the University of Tampa majoring in Sports Management.  She is also a member of the Spartans Women’s Lacrosse team.
For her inaugural article, I asked her to give you, our loyal readers, an “up-close-and-personal” first hand review of what a collegiate athlete was going through from the time athletics came to an abrupt halt in mid-March of 2020 until today.  After you read her column, I believe you will agree with me that Abby hit the “nail on the head” with this heartfelt first person account.
So, without further adieu, I want to welcome A-Hop (don’t expect me to EVER use that anacronym again) to the fold.  Look for her to also get involved in our YOU TALKIN’ TO ME and POLL QUESTION pieces.  Enjoy!
HOPE HIGHLIGHTS – APRIL 22
By Abby Hope
A day in the life of a student-athlete since COVID

For superstitious people, Friday the 13th is spine-chilling. For most, it’s another day on the calendar. For the University of Tampa DII Women’s Lacrosse team, it was a day that brought the book of Proverbs 27:1 verse ‘Tomorrow is not promised” to life. On that Friday in 2020, our coach gave each of our seniors one yellow sunflower and thanked them for all they had given to the lacrosse program. Our team cried together and hugged our seniors tightly, for we all knew the reality but nobody wanted to say aloud.

The following day, March 14th, the University of Tampa DII Men’s Lacrosse team sat at the top of the national rankings.  The Spartans beat Emmanuel (GA) in dominant fashion, and the following day boarded planes to their home states. They would not finish their undefeated season. Seniors had no idea that they were lacing up their cleats for the very last time. Athletes grind all season long to prepare for game day, but no athlete was prepared for the blow that the coronavirus pandemic would bring.

More than a year later, Tampa lacrosse has resumed under circumstances never seen before. Mental training over Zoom, bi-weekly rapid testing,
shortened game schedules, no Sunshine State Conference tournament, but we are still playing for the quintessential goal.  That is to win the NCAA Division II National Championship for Women’s Lacrosse.

The UT Men’s team has controlled SSC Conference play thus far in the 2021 season and looks to make a clean sweep. Their biggest opponent? A positive PCR test and postponed games.

To qualify for an NCAA bid in a coronavirus year, teams must play a minimum of seven games. Normally, the focus is on getting ready to beat your rival, preventing injuries, and studying film. Now, the issues have changed completely.  Extra emphasis is placed on the team’s own locker rooms, like avoiding high-risk situations and keeping out of quarantine so we can just play the game.

Athletes in the Sunshine State Conference have the basic privilege that Ivy League athletes don’t even have and that’s competing. But the opportunity to practice and battle for #1 does not come without significant costs to each and every competitor. Before the start of our season, as a team, we laid down ground rules like blacklisting certain bars and restaurants in Tampa that are high traffic areas, to keep our team healthy and out of the “Q” as we call it.

In an open state like Florida, seniors on our team had to make decisions that athletes in other locales, like the Northeast, did not necessarily have to make.  Sadly, some of my teammates were not willing to sacrifice the fullest ‘senior experience’ to play a lacrosse season that could be taken away at any given moment; a feeling we knew all too well. Those of us that were willing to give up whatever it took, were ready to get down to business.

It is with contentment that I can say my team of 33 members, has not had one positive test since pre-season, due to our diligence. Almost every other team in the SSC on the men’s and women’s side are playing musical chairs with their schedule.

Sports have been at the core of my life for as long as I can remember, and I can’t imagine my college experience without it.  This goes for countless other college athletes too. COVID discussions seem to always center around how deadly it can be on the respiratory system, but if you ask me, other major effects are overlooked. I imagine that to non-sports fans, when some colleges and universities canceled 2020-21 college sports to aid in slowing the spread of the coronavirus and keeping communities safe, it appeared to be a sound decision.  In fact, in some people’s minds it was a crystal-clear decision. But, when a season is taken away from the athletes who put in overtime hours during a long and lonely summer to accomplish their paramount goals, or the one who suffered an ACL tear and spent all year persevering through grueling rehab, or the senior who had a clear focus on reaching new heights and in a position to set school records, those mental effects cannot, and should not, be ignored.

Besides increased anxiety, depression, hopelessness, and devastation, student-athletes with canceled seasons are forced into isolation.  They experience a lack of purpose and a blow to self-esteem that should not be pushed aside when considering future decisions.

Please do not misconstrue what I am trying to bring to light. The horrific death toll that coronavirus has taken, the families that have been left without loved ones, the now unemployed struggling to make ends meet, my greatest condolences extend to you.

I am deeply grateful to be in the classrooms working toward my degree, playing lacrosse on a field encircled by palm trees. Those athletes who are less fortunate I truly hope will be stronger because of it. The pandemic has forced students to find new meaning. Who are you aside from a ballplayer? What will your future look like when it’s time to hang up the jersey?

Here’s hoping there’s silver lining in all this mess. I don’t even want to hazard a guess as to what the ramifications would be if there isn’t one.  Stay safe, everyone.