For senior pole vaulter Isabel Saridakis, this wasn’t how it was supposed to end. She was in the midst of preparing for the NCAA Division III Indoor Championships, a meet the track and field team had been preparing for all season. After spring break, the team was supposed to host the Emory Invitational and Emory Classic.
Instead, 36 senior spring athletes may never put on their Emory uniform ever again.
On March 12, Emory Athletics announced that the University canceled all spring intercollegiate competitions and activities in line with the NCAA, a decision made after Emory shifted to remote learning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As COVID-19 spread largely unchecked and school and athletic cancellations became more numerous, senior athletes have been forced to come to terms with their seasons — and careers — abruptly ending. Despite the necessity of the cancellation, the decision has left many Emory athletes heartbroken.
While their season was cut short, the NCAA has granted all spring athletes another season and semester of eligibility. According to an email from Emory Assistant Athletic Director Audrey Hester to all Emory athletes, the NCAA approved a blanket waiver for all student-athletes that allows them to “waive” this season and return to school next year to compete.
Despite the temptation to return and complete their athletic careers the right way, the decision to return is not an easy one for many senior spring athletes.
The Wheel spoke to 11 of Emory’s senior athletes about the unceremonious end to their seasons and what fans can expect next year, for both the teams and the athletes.
So Close You Can Almost Taste It: Track and Field Ended Right Before Indoor Championships
The morning before the announcement came, the track and field team was in North Carolina practicing in the facility where the NCAA Division III Indoor Championships were planned to take place. On their way to dinner, the night before the meet, Saridakis and her fellow teammates received the cancellation message and sat together in disbelief.
“I found out the night before I was supposed to compete that the championship had been canceled as well as the rest of our outdoor season,” Saridakis said. “I was with coaches and teammates, and we all kind of just stared at each other in disbelief.”
Aside from the championships, the track and field team was scheduled for a slew of important meets ahead, including the Emory meets, which were supposed to be held the following two weekends, and the University Athletic Association (UAA) Outdoor Championships in late April. Now, with these events canceled, senior distance runner Samuel Branson believes the team will have more time to reflect on their goals for next season.
“[The cancellation] gives the team time to reset and evaluate what the sport means to them,” Branson said. “I think oftentimes as athletes we fall into a routine of having meets so often. So when that opportunity is taken away from you, I think it makes you appreciate the privilege that you’re given to compete at the NCAA level.”
Branson and fellow seniors sprinter Alex Rand and distance runner Bobby Wilson are likely not to return due to postgraduate plans and job opportunities. However, Saridakis participates in one of Emory’s 4+1 programs, so she is already returning to Atlanta in the fall for graduate school. This makes competing for a fifth year very tempting but nevertheless a tough decision.
“If I take on my next year of eligibility, I would still be doing it for Emory, which is a big motivating factor for me,” Saridakis said. “But it’s a tough decision to make being very much in the mindset that this was the final go about.”
Another driving force is, of course, her team.
“[The team] has been a constant in my life that I love,” Saridakis said. “Part of me wants to come back because I love the team so much, and I would love to do it another year to stick around with everyone.”
What Could’ve Been: Baseball Shows Promise for Future Seasons
The baseball team finished their short season with an impressive 11-4 record and a No. 24 national ranking. With star seniors like utility players Richard Brereton and Jacob Greene, the Eagles were a force to be reckoned with in the UAA. When the dream to head to the NCAA Championships was crushed by cancellation, it left many seniors wondering what could have been.
Greene, who finished the season with a .653 slugging percentage, was enthusiastic about the team’s potential and was dispirited when the season suddenly came to a halt. Unsure of what his future with the Eagles holds, Greene feels confident in the team’s future success.
“We were on the edge of big things coming,” Greene said. “Now it’s just more prolonged, but we feel that the momentum is going to carry over.”
Earlier in the season, the Eagles went on a six-game win streak. With many wins under their belt, the team’s future looked promising. For Brereton, the propitious yet untapped success will be hard to turn away from.
“My love and my joy is playing the game,” Brereton said. “So I think there’s a very good chance that I’ll play my fifth year.”
However, not all of his fellow senior teammates are in the same position. Senior first baseman Michael Leeder plans to go to law school next year, so his athletics career at Emory has come to a jarring end.
“I will not be able to capitalize on the opportunity to come back and play, as much as I want to,” Leeder said. “It’s just difficult for me to put my life on hold for another year when I have an opportunity to advance my education.”
Regardless of the path they choose to take next year, all the seniors agreed that it’s the team that’s most difficult to say goodbye to.
“I can honestly say that every player and person I’ve come into contact through Emory baseball has made me a better person,” Greene said. “This team has meant literally everything to me, which makes this decision harder than anything.”
Both Greene and Brereton said they foresee their fellow teammates as best men at their weddings.
“A Division III Powerhouse”: Men’s Golf
The men’s golf team, while playing a normally scheduled fall season, was only able to compete in one spring event before their spring season was canceled. Senior Matt Organisak led the team with an average score of 71.8, but the entire team was imposing.
They had, in fact, already driven to Florida in preparation for the UAA Championships when they heard the news. The championships were supposed to take place March 14-15. Senior Sam Galloway remembers being on the golf course when Head Coach John Sjoberg told them it was time to head back to Emory.
“We were on the course, and our coach pulled up and let us know that we had to pack it up and go home the next day,” Galloway said. “It was pretty wild when we finished that round just to kind of realize that everything was over.”
Though his time on the team has come to an end, Galloway is not concerned about the future of Emory golf.
“[Sjoberg] has taken the team from being a mid-range Division III school into a Division III powerhouse,” Galloway said. “We’ve turned into a really solid team, and I have no doubt that’s going to continue with the recruits that he has coming in.”
Next year, Galloway will not return to the team as he looks to begin working full-time. Fellow senior golfer Vraj Patel will also not return, but he is very grateful for the memories he has made, he noted.
“[Sjoberg] creates a perfect environment for all of us guys to grow, both as golfers and people,” Patel said. “He emphasizes the right things in life and puts everything in perspective for us. It’s just really meant the world.”