What could have been: The banging sports weekend that never was
It’s been two months since Washington University announced it would be canceling all sports competitions this fall. In many ways, it still doesn’t feel real. I still envision myself walking past Francis Field, hearing the grunts and whistles that characterize the Bears’ practices. Or I imagine walking onto the track, scanning the faces in the crowd for friends before heading up to the press booth and jotting down notes that would eventually become a recap. The last few months have revealed that Wash. U. sports were so ingrained in my daily ritual that their absence is profound and disheartening. Looking at the schedule of the season that never was, this would have been an excellent weekend in sports. Here’s a look at what almost was this week:
ITA Central Regional
Wash. U.’s women tennis would have played in the central regional in Kalamazoo, Mich., this weekend. It would have been a test of their mettle in the wake of the departure of coach Kelly Stahlhuth. I honestly don’t know how they would have done, and that would have been exciting. The women’s tennis team is riddled with potential. I wouldn’t have been surprised if they lost early. I wouldn’t have been surprised if they were contending for victory in the latter rounds of the tournament. And that uncertainty would have made for a fun weekend.
Regardless of whether they won or lost, the chance to interact with the team is what I mourn the most. What I love about being a sports editor is the chance to build connections. Talking to the new tennis coach, seeing how the players celebrate each other in success and embrace each other in adversity is what makes following sports so fulfilling. I can still interview members of the tennis team. But there’s no replacement for the heat of competition.
Men’s soccer at Wheaton
The men’s soccer team was going to be good this year. Last season, they were a team of largely underclassmen who competed at a high level. With a year of development, I think they would have been one of the better teams in the University Athletic Association. Wheaton would have been a solid barometer for how good they would be. Wheaton bested the Bears 3-2 last season. They were a solid soccer team, finishing 10-4-4 on their season. If the Bears were going to be a great team, they’d need to beat teams like Wheaton. This weekend would have given us a glimpse of where the Bears could end up.
Women’s soccer at Wheaton
This game is the reason why I wrote this article. Wheaton and Wash. U. were going to be two of the best teams in Division III. Every clash they’ve had since I arrived in St. Louis in 2017 has been spectacular. Last season, Wheaton goalkeeper Lauren Ketchum played an excellent game. She stopped shot after shot and helped keep the game tied against a vicious onslaught from the Bears. This season, every major on-field contributor for the Bears besides graduated senior Taylor Cohen was returning for the 2020-2021 year. They looked like a UAA favorite, if not a championship favorite. Could Wheaton have posed a threat to the Bears this weekend? And if they didn’t, how bullish would we have been about Bears chances in the postseason? As a sports writer, the excitement was palpable. Wash. U. vs. Wheaton always had a lot of significance to me. Seeing this game might have been worth the trip to Illinois.
I cut my teeth as a writer covering the women’s soccer team my freshman year. They’re a team that I care about a great deal. There was always this glee about them. They won so often, you’d think they’d be desensitized to it. But they responded to every win with such joy. They took nothing for granted, and perhaps that’s what makes them such a phenomenal team.
Football vs. Elmhurst
The Bears beat the tar out of Elmhurst last year, 47-7. With a new offensive-minded coach in Aaron Keen and a talented roster, I think they would have done it again. Look, I love a close game as much as the next guy. But a good ol’ fashioned blow-out can be really fun too.
Golf at the NCAA preview
Annie Mascot is so good at golf. She was the best golfer in Division III last season. She likely would have been the best golfer in Division III this season. I’m confident she would have finished at or near the top of the NCAA preview. However, the more interesting storyline at the NCAA preview would have been how the other underclassmen for the Bears progressed over the summer. Sophomores Emma Lee, Alena Lindh, Emmy Sammons and Helen Ye all made strides last season. With former top contributors Samantha Haubenstock and Emily Carnes gone, the top slots on the golf team outside of Mascot seemed wide open. Who would have emerged as the Bears’ second-best golfer? Would the team’s progression be enough to put them in contention for a team championship? In the spring, hopefully we’ll get to see how the golf team looks after a year of development. But the NCAA preview would have been a good gauge for where this team was and where they might go.
Wash. U. is a top-tier Division III athletic department. In every fall sport, they had a chance to make some noise. Thinking about what was lost can be devastating. But it also provides a chance to reflect and celebrate the work that was put in to realize their immense potential.