Postseason interrupted

Greg Sense, Sports Editor

How UWO athletes are coping without championship competition

As professional athletes and professional sports organizations await the ability to return to competition, college athletes across the country will not be afforded the same opportunity.

“Honestly, it didn’t really hit me that our season was over until like two to three weeks after I left campus,” UW Oshkosh women’s basketball forward Nikki Arneson said. “It didn’t feel real, none of us on the team really had closure. Ever since our season ended, I always wonder ‘what if?’ and I guess we will never know.”

On March, 12, ESPN reported that the NCAA cancelled all winter and spring athletic championships for the 2019-2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The same day, the National Collegiate Gymnastics Association cancelled its national competition.

“I haven’t really been able to find closure yet and I am not really sure when I will,” UW Oshkosh gymnast Baylee Tkaczuk said. “I try and remember my team and I ended on the best note we could — winning conference — but deep down I am very upset about not being able to compete in my last meet ever.”

COVID-19-related college sports cancellation ended many promising seasons for UWO athletes prematurely.

The UWO Women’s basketball team had earned a berth into the NCAA Division III championship tournament, after winning the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship.

In the tournament, the Titans blew out Edgewood College of Madison by 21 points in the first round, and fought back from a 12-point, fourth-quarter deficit in the second round to defeat Bethany Lutheran College (Minn.), in the second round.

UWO was set to play Loras College (Iowa) on March 13 in a “Sweet Sixteen” matchup in Holland, Michigan.

While Arneson said the team was aware of the worsening situation surrounding COVID-19, the players were still shocked that their season came to an end so abruptly.

“I had a feeling our season was going to end early with COVID-19 getting worse and worse,” Arneson said. “But I thought we would get to continue our Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight games, since we were already there in Michigan. We were all obviously very sad, but I felt bad for our two seniors, Olivia and Emily. They gave so much to this program and having their careers end like that was just heart wrenching.”

In addition to the UWO women’s basketball team, the UWO gymnastics team also missed out on their opportunity to compete at nationals.

After a dominant regular season, where the UWO gymnastics team went 8-1 against WIAC opponents, UWO gymnastics won their first league title in 24 years, qualifying them for the NCGA Championship, which was scheduled for March 27.

Despite a season full of success, it is hard for the Titan gymnastics team to look past a missed opportunity to compete at nationals.

“We worked so hard this season for that one meet,” Tkaczuk said. “That one chance and one opportunity to bring home a gymnastics national championship back to UWO. Winning conference for the first time in 24 years really showed this team had something special and that we weren’t done. This was our year to win and it is really sad to look back and see what could have been.”

UWO diver Matt Wilke also had his opportunity to compete on the national stage taken from him by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wilke, who competed at last year’s national tournament, said it has been difficult to accept he will not be able to partake in what he has worked so hard for.

“I was disappointed and frustrated at the cancelation of the national meet, Wilke said. “While I knew that it was for the best, it was also tough not being able to have the opportunity that I had been working towards my entire season.”

Despite the unfortunate circumstances that led to the collegiate athletics cancelation, Wilke has been able to find some solace in the fact he has another year left of eligibility.
“I can’t be too mad about it,” Wilke said. “I know they are looking out for the safety and wellbeing of their athletes and everyone else involved. It also helps knowing that I have another year to compete and have a proper end to my athletic career.”

Although many UWO athletes are heartbroken their season was cut short, Arneson believes the NCAA made the right call.

“Obviously I was a little frustrated at first,” Arneson said. “But the fact that COVID-19 was spreading so fast and we didn’t know much about it, it was in everyone’s best interest to cancel the tournaments.”

Despite losing the ability to interact with their teammates face to face, UWO athletes have made a point to stay in touch with one another.

“My teammates and I are very close,” Arneson said. “I talk to a lot of them every day. We have our group chats, a lot of us FaceTime and Snapchat. It’s hard going from seeing each other every day for seven months to not being able to see them at all, but we try our best to keep in touch.”

Although the collegiate athletics season was cut short, many UWO athletes received recognition for their accomplishments.

Junior guard for the UWO women’s basketball team, Leah Porath, was awarded NCAA D-III Women’s Basketball All-Central Region First Team and NCAA Division III All-American by

Despite receiving recognition for a stellar season, Porath said it is hard to accept that her team will not be able to compete for an NCAA championship.

“I am very appreciative of the awards that I have received on the year,” Porath said. “Although for me it doesn’t necessarily provide the closure on the season. I truly believe our team was ready and prepared to go fight for a Final Four, and it is hard not being able to know the outcome of that. So as honored as I am to receive Division III All American team, it doesn’t portray all the hard work everyone on my team has put into this season to get to where we were.”