WINONA LAKE – While a lot of focus locally on the sports shutdown has been on the high school impacts, Grace College experienced a totally different kind of shutdown. Not only were all of its springs sports already into their 2020 calendars, but some were thriving. Then in a blink of an eye, not only were seasons canceled, but school was radically altered, as well.
In this new spring series, IFN will take a deeper look into Grace College athletics and how the coronavirus pandemic not only put a lockdown on its spring sports, but changed the landscape of how its day-to-day operations are taking place.
THE DIAMONDS AREN’T SHINING
Grace baseball was starting to right itself after a slow start. After dropping six of its first seven, the Lancers had won five of its last nine. Senior David Anderson had 12 RBIs to start the year, sophomores Sam Newkirk and Chris Griffin combined for 34 hits, five homers and 18 RBIs, and freshman Alex Rich was emerging with 19 hits, 11 runs and five driven in.
“It has been tough for many guys on the team,” Rich said. “We live together, see each other daily on campus. Being away makes you definitely miss the guys, although I feel like we all keep in contact with each other very well through FaceTime or team group chats. We constantly are on each other if we completed our workout or not. The guys are very encouraging still, when we aren’t together.”
First-year head coach Ryan Roth was also finding his way. Roth, who had served as an assistant with Grace for the past two seasons, was naturally crushed for his program.
“With news being coupled with the decision to close our campus as well, we returned to Winona Lake and began the process of getting our players safely and efficiently into the protocol that our administration put in place,” Roth said. “We provided them with instructions, set up communication and supported them as best we could as they transitioned home.
“Our player’s standard during this time is to be proactive and focused with their work, be supportive and encouragers to their families, and to follow any health and safety protocols that have been put in place.”
Softball was in a similar boat as baseball. The Lady Lancers were just 4-11 through its first 15 games, but had been road doggin’ for all of those games, playing in southern Indiana, Tennessee and Alabama. The team was looking to host its first home game March 13 before the slate was put on hold, then eventually called off.
“The NCAA had started making announcements the night prior,” began Grace softball head coach Sarah Harman. “When my team met with me on Friday, March 13th around 11 a.m., at that point it was to announced that Grace students would be going home to transition to online classes and for NAIA and Crossroads league season would be postponed until at least April 1. We still “had a chance” however; It was one of the hardest meetings as it hit the seniors really hard. It was certainly surreal and something we never considered happening this season. There were a lot of tears and emotions as I read the team a letter I had written, as I was flooded with emotions as well.”
For seniors like Morgan Tapscott, keeping the season going wasn’t just about numbers. Batting just .122 with four RBIs in 41 plate appearances, Tapscott was hoping to snap out of her offensive slump. But losing the team aspect in her final semester on campus was more of a gut punch.
“At first the news of play stopping was difficult to grasp,” Tapscott said. “Me being a team leader, as well as one of the seniors on the team, it was unimaginable that seemingly all of our hard work on the field and in the weight room was not going to be able to be transferred over into a full spring season. This being my last academic year at Grace was also going to see the end of my collegiate playing career, but that was not something I was prepared to deal with until after the final out of our last game, whatever that may have been.”