‘A lot of things happened on that day‘: The day the season stopped

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Head Coach Chris Young during the Oklahoma State vs. Arkansas women's tennis match on January 31, 2020 at the Michael and Anne Greenwood Tennis Center in Stillwater.

On March 12 at 4:07 p.m. the NCAA issued a memo that officially canceled all spring championships due to the threat of COVID-19. This essentially ended the Oklahoma State women’s tennis season. 

“We were getting ready to go to Manhattan and play Kansas State the following day,” coach Chris Young said.

The team was told to hold off traveling to Kansas because of the constantly changing situation. 

“It started taking on different steps," Young said. "It went from we weren’t going to travel and play that weekend, to we were going to have two weeks off from the conference, to the nationals being canceled all in the span of an hour, hour and a half.

"All those things started happening pretty fast.” 

While Young headed to his office to get more information, the players found themselves eating lunch inside the locker room wondering what exactly the rest of their season would look like.

They certainly could have taken the uncertain and stressful time worse; instead they practiced their TikTok videos.

Young learned about the NCAA’s memo the same way most people did: social media.

“I Initially found out because someone sent me the release (the NCAA) had done on Twitter,” he said.

“I think things that day were happening so fast we were focusing more on how this was going to affect our Big 12 play. I was (on the phone) with our administration thinking about the conference, and the NCAA put (the notice of cancellation) out without us really having time to react to it.”

Young was the one tasked with breaking the difficult news to his team.

He had already told them that some sort of cancellation looked likely, but it was still a tough pill to swallow.

“I think it was all so new and there were so many unknowns that it was a difficult decision for the girls (to handle)," he said. "It was surprising, and with the way we were playing as a team and with the momentum we had, we only lost once, had won several matches in a row and got off to a good start in Big 12 play.

"Just to feel that it ended was something no one saw coming and I think that was a challenge."

The sudden end of the season presented logistical challenges for the team as well.

“We had most of the girls stay here over spring break because there was a lot of unknowns about what we were going to do," Young said. "We tried to keep them busy and give them some structure.

“The biggest thing we were waiting on was if (OSU) was going to online school the rest of the semester, because some of the international kids couldn’t just move out and go home. And if (physical) classes picked up as scheduled to come back to Stillwater would have been impossible.”

Once the university made the move to online-only classes, Young and his coaching staff worked one by one with each of the five international players on his team to help get them back to their home countries. 

“Every country was a little bit different on what they needed from us and what paperwork (the players) needed to travel with,” Young said.

All but two of the international players returned to their home country. The two remaining players are unable to return due to international traveling regulations and the 14-day isolation that would be required upon landing in a foreign country, so they will be finishing the academic semester in Stillwater.

Perhaps the most important element of a team is the chemistry and the relationships between its members. Although the almost daily interaction the team is used to is impossible with players scattered across different continents, Young is doing his best to keep that chemistry alive.

“We actually have a call Saturday as a team on Zoom where we are all going to get on there and catch up with everybody," he said. "It is a good way for me to stay on top of things, stay in contact with them and find a way to grow throughout this process."

A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the team, fans and city of Stillwater is now clouded as a result of coronavirus.

The 2020 NCAA Men’s and Women’s National Championships were slated to be played in the Michael and Anne Greenwood Tennis Center, the home of OSU tennis.

In July, the NCAA is supposed to award the bids for the NCAA championship host sites for 2023-2026. 

“(I’m) hoping that (the NCAA) sees our hard work, and that they would give it to us one of those years maybe at the beginning of it,” Young said.

The reality is, nobody, not even Young, knows if OSU will be able to “cut the line” and host a championship in the near future.

“There are just a lot of unknowns on our end on what their thought process is," Young said. "I think, as the governing body, the NCAA is looking at what kind of precedence it sets with championships not just with our sport but other sports as well."

As disappointing as the abrupt end of the season is for his team, Young also identifies some much-needed positives. 

“I think it is an opportunity to grow and have some downtime we typically don’t have this time of year," Young said. "The kids can see how quickly things can change and how quickly things end. Whether it is good or bad, there is change coming down the road, so how we deal with that is really important.

"Anytime you have this amount of downtime it is important to grow, and hopefully our kids can all do that and get better on and off the court."

Sports.ed@ocolly.com