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UL sports lost to coronavirus: ‘We all hurt in this moment’

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, March 13, 2020

Shock. Pain. Even defiance.

Word that spring sports have been suspended by the Sun Belt Conference and national championship tournaments canceled by the NCAA was met with a variety of reaction from Ragin’ Cajun student-athletes and others this week.

The Sun Belt and NCAA took the actions they did Thursday night in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that has sickened some, killed many and — as a result — shut down sports across the country and in various hot spots around the world.

“This is INSANE,” tweeted Julie Rawls, starting catcher for the nationally ranked UL softball team. “I can’t believe it.”

Related: Maggard says suspending all sports was ‘the correct decision’ but ‘disappointing’

More: Athletic UL catcher Rawls finds a home behind the plate

Jonathan Windham, a third and second baseman on the Cajuns baseball team, tweeted a message addressed “To my fellow baseball players.”

“Friends or foes, we are all on the same team today,” Windham wrote Thursday. “I hurt for you as much as I hurt for my brothers. 6 months of preparation, for this.

“I still can’t wrap my head around it. College baseball will be back, stronger than ever.”

The question, however, is when.

The Sun Belt has suspended play for spring sports, not canceled it as was the case with its men’s and women’s conference basketball tournament semifinals and finals — the Cajun women had made the semis — scheduled for this weekend in New Orleans, where coronavirus cases have been on the rise.


“We are all disappointed with the sudden end to our season, but we understand the importance of prioritizing the health and wellness of our student-athletes, coaches and fans," UL women’s coach Garry Brodhead said in a statement released by the school Friday. "While it was not the ending we had hoped for, our staff is extremely proud of what this team was able to accomplish this season, both on and off the court."

A news conference with Brodhead scheduled for Thursday was canceled after the tourney was canceled, and Brodhead was not made available for addition comment.

Related: Cajuns hold on to advance to SBC semifinals

More: CDC will help New Orleans trace spread as cases increase

Cajuns athletic director Bryan Maggard has suggested that the door remains open to the possibility that baseball and softball play will resume sometime later this year, even if it’s only to compete for a conference title.

But the NCAA — much to the chagrin of many student-athletes — has canceled both its baseball College World Series usually played in Omaha, Nebraska, and softball Women’s College World Series typically played in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

The move stunned many.

“How in the hell do we cancel a June event in March???” tweeted Ben McDonald, a former LSU and major-league pitcher who now is working as a television analyst calling baseball games including some in the past involving the Cajuns. “No College World Series…..Cmon Man!”

Opinion: SEC could still crown baseball champ, which could be national champ, too

“I have to admit, canceling the CWS when it occurs in June seems a little early to me … to say the least,” tweeted Kendall Rogers, who covers college baseball nationally for D1Baseball.com and has written frequently about UL.

More: UL football team still practicing amid coronavirus crisis

Some were hopeful that baseball and softball would return sooner rather than later, in some form or fashion.

“It was a rough day for college baseball. But as I’ve learned over the past couple of decades, this sport is filled with tough and passionate people,” Rogers tweeted Thursday. “Whether it’s March 30th or later this summer, or even fall, the sport will be back. And don’t be surprised if it’s better than ever”

Others became proactive, trying to persuade the NCAA to change its mind regarding the cancellations of the two World Series tournaments.

Sarah Hudek, starting first baseman on UL’s softball team, tweeted a link to an online change.org petition calling for the NCAA to “reverse” its decision and “change the status back to ‘suspended until further notice.’”

Hudek called for her 2,534 followers, and anyone else seeing the tweet, to “Sign the Petition!”

As of early Friday afternoon, more than 22,000 had.

More: UL not sure how costly coronavirus will be for program

Another change.org petition called for student-athletes to get back a year of eligibility.

Whether either initiative succeeds remains to be seen.

In the meantime, media members who regularly cover UL sports wondered how they’re going to fill their idle time, and public relations specialists who toil to promote the Cajuns pondered the impact of Thursday’s developments.

Cajuns spokesman Patrick Crawford called it “one of the most unprecedented days in college athletics … ever.”

“We’ll talk about it for years,” Crawford, who also has worked at Missouri and Rutgers, wrote on his personal Twitter account.

“But the important thing here: the health and safety of student-athletes, coaches, staff and fans. And literally everyone else. We’ll figure out the rest eventually. Be healthy.”

Former college baseball player and local radio sports talk show host Greg Larnerd has worked for the first time this season as a play-by-play announcer and analyst on Cajun radio and TV baseball broadcasts.

“It’s gonna suck not having sports to dive into � talk about for who knows how long,” Larnerd tweeted, “but where it really hits me is w/the collegiate athletes who might lose their final season of eligibility.”

More: Cajuns quarterback Lewis ready to take the next step

Larnerd’s tweet included a link to the change.org eligibility petition, which as of late Friday morning had more than 121,000 signatures.

Whether either initiative proves successful remains to be seen.

Until they know for sure whether there really will be any more college baseball or softball this season, all Cajun student-athletes could do is console each other.       

“Give a hug to your nearest softball player,” tweeted All-American pitcher Megan Kleist, who gave up her final season at Oregon to transfer to UL and chase a national softball championship with the Cajuns.

That might not be the best advice in this these days of social distancing and self-isolation, but Kleist’s point was made.

The need is there.

More: Cajuns’ Ellyson, Kleist face mound of expectations

“To every athlete stick together,” tweeted UL senior relief pitcher Austin Bradford. “We all hurt in this moment.”

Bradford was limited by injury to just 1.2 innings last season and was granted a medical redshirt, allowing him to return this season.

He had worked, coincidentally, just 1.2 innings this year before things came to a halt Thursday.

More: Stacked UL pitching staff looks the part going into 2020

“We have been taught to remain strong and we will prevail whether in our sport or in life,” Bradford also tweeted. “Love each of you.”