Shock and disbelief swept through Penn's student-athletes, coaches, and training staff this week as the Ivy League announced its cancellation of the spring sports season due to coronavirus.
Operations for all spring teams were forced to stop as soon as possible wherever the teams were at the time of the announcement, which could not have come as a worse time for some of them.
Penn baseball was warming up for its Wednesday afternoon matchup with Florida Atlantic in Boca Raton, Fla. when the news broke.
"I was actually throwing batting practice, so as I walked off the field one of my assistant coaches pulled me aside, and I had a feeling once I saw his face that something was wrong," coach John Yurkow said.
Just moments before the opening pitch, the game — along with rest of the season — was called off.
Greg Mays, a communications assistant for Penn Athletics, was traveling with the team and present when Yurkow told his players.
"When he told them, it was pretty ugly. You saw every range of emotion; all of the seniors were just totally defeated," he said. "Nobody was really sure whether or not we were gonna play a game … and eventually they called it [off]."
The team has since returned to Philadelphia and most players have traveled back to their hometowns, but much uncertainty still remains about summer leagues and other professional opportunities.
Penn women's lacrosse was minutes from leaving campus on a bus when coach Karin Corbett was informed of the cancellation.
"We had to quickly gather our team together because the press release was coming out in eight minutes," Corbett said. "I wanted them to hear it from me, and when they saw my face I think they knew, and my seniors just burst out crying."
For the spring athletes, just getting going into their sports, this means all the months of offseason training will have been for nothing. As for seniors, they may never compete for the Red and Blue ever again.
"This is a very special team, all three of my captains are on the doorstep of breaking records, and that was really hard," Corbett said.
The careers of those three players — attacker Gabby Rosenzweig, midfielder Erin Barry, and defender Chelsea Kibler — as successful as they have been, are likely over for good, and the team will be forced to move on from this talented class.
Penn men's lacrosse coach Mike Murphy heard about the decision during Wednesday's team practice.
"We went through the rest of practice, then I brought the seniors aside and told them what was going on," Murphy said. "So I said, 'We can go lift, we can go home, or we can stay here and play more lacrosse.' And they decided they wanted to stay and play lacrosse."
Adding to the frustration is the fact that all three of these teams and others from Penn had the chance to do very well this season. The Quakers were picked as the preseason favorites to win the Ivy League in baseball, and women's lacrosse got off to a 4-1 start with some marquee wins.
Penn men's lacrosse, despite starting 2-3 against nationally ranked competition, was seeking to defend its Ivy title with a star-studded lineup.
"What we do obviously isn't life and death, but it was pretty emotional and tragic," Murphy said. "Even though it's hard to digest, it affects us more than it does a lot of other college students. To lose our purpose and the ability to pursue our mission is very hard to deal with."
But as the shock of the cancellation wears off and reality sets in, one possible solution is an extra year of eligibility for the seniors if the NCAA and Ivy League grant it. Although the NCAA announced Friday the option to provide eligibility relief for all spring athletes, it is yet to be seen if the Ivy League will adopt this policy for its schools.
Additionally, student-athletes with job offers and firm plans after graduation might not want to return to the world of college sports next year. Regardless of what the future holds, the overwhelming emotions these athletes are feeling should not be forgotten.
"It hasn't really sunk in yet that our season's over," Yurkow said. "Hopefully those kids will still have an opportunity if they want to play, but it's really a terrible thing how it was taken away from them."
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