Not one of the conversations was easy.
Not the one that happened automatically, when the members of the Stony Brook women’s lacrosse team found out their season was over at the exact same time, leading to a flurry of questions and difficult answers.
And not even now, with the “good” news — the report Friday that said Division I players in spring sports will be allowed an extra year of eligibility after their season was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The new normal isn’t quite normal yet, coach Joe Spallina said, and though the stakes are huge, it doesn’t make the everyday reality easier. The thing is, sports may not matter much — not when people are quarantined and some are dying — but what they represent still matters a whole lot.
“It’s been a tough couple of days,” Spallina said. “So much of college athletics are your seniors and the connection you have with them after four years competing. We’re a family in every sense of the word. You spend a crazy amount of time together. You laugh. You cry. You do everything a family does, and then to have the carpet pulled out from under us with a sudden announcement from the NCAA . . . It was probably the toughest day of my career in terms of emotions and harnessing that. As a leader, you have to be there for your kids. You have to be stronger, even in the inside.”
And though the recent news can act as a little bit of a balm — the extra year of eligibility could allow seniors who have the means to do it to play again — it’s still not so easy.
Some, such as Ally Kennedy, a senior going into the graduate program, are prepared to play. Others, such as Sydney Gagnon, have a job lined up and need to choose their next move. And others, such as graduate student Sara Moeller, need to ask the NCAA if the rules apply to them.
The team went from ranked 12th in the nation to fifth, at last ranking. It has five seniors and Moeller, and had a realistic chance at a national title.
“No matter what, it’ll never be the same,” Spallina said. “I won’t make the decision for them. It’s something they have to honestly really want and feel and it has to come from them. I want them all back because I love them as my own.”
Spallina said the last few days have brought a lot of tears — from him, too. The NCAA’s announcement Friday did make it easier, and he already has heard from high school seniors committed to Stony Brook who are excited about playing with the graduating seniors they admire.
And in the end, the wrenching ending was very much in line with how sports always are, even in the best of times.
“Those guys got to see the finality of what this whole thing is and how brutal [it is], quick and so special,” he said. “This game is special.”
Then Spallina quoted his midfielder, Kennedy, who has been on social media expressing her intent to end her career on her own terms.
“Not the ending we wanted, but the good news, the story isn’t over.”