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Saturday, February 27, 2021

GNAC suspends fall athletic competitions

The Conference’s CEO Board puts athletic competition on hold amid COVID-19

By Connor Benintendi

Clockwise from top left, cross-country, volleyball, and women’s soccer are among the GNAC athletics suspended by the recent decision. // Collage by Thomas Hughes
Clockwise from top left, cross-country, volleyball, and women’s soccer are among the GNAC athletics suspended by the recent decision. // Collage by Thomas Hughes

The CEO Board of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference – the Division II conference Western competes in – has suspended all athletic competition through Nov. 30.

The decision comes as the CEO Board continues monitoring the risks to the health and safety of athletes amid the pandemic, according to a press release by GNAC that was published Friday. 

The suspension affects the schedules of all Western sports set to play during fall quarter, which include men and women’s golf, women’s soccer, cross-country and volleyball. A full list of the newly suspended events are available on the Western Athletics’ composite schedule

“This was not a decision taken lightly, but one the Board believes is in the best interests of student-athletes and staff,” Dave Haglund, the GNAC commissioner, said in the press release. “There is no greater priority than the health and well-being of our student-athletes, and this action is reflective of the GNAC’s commitment to this prevailing principle.”

Jeff Evans, Western’s athletics communications director, said that because the COVID-19 situation is ever-changing, this decision will be revisited several times to decide whether winter athletics can resume as scheduled. According to the GNAC’s press release — the decision is expected by Oct. 15.

“All those questions will be kind of ongoing,” Evans said. “The CEO Board of the GNAC is the presidents of the universities, and all those things will be talked about as these things progress. As of right now, there are no real concrete answers.”

Evans said that scholarships for student-athletes will still be honored, and if there is not a sports season for those athletes, their eligibility will be extended. A list of frequently asked questions compiled by the GNAC about similar issues are available here.

There are a lot of moving parts and nuances to the issue, and many Division II conferences have already made this decision, Evans said. The GNAC will be discussing if certain fall sports, such as women’s soccer or volleyball, could still be played in the spring.

The GNAC may decide teams can practice, but Whatcom County must reach Phase 3 of reopening first and no team scrimmages would be permitted, among other guidelines that would have to be fulfilled, Evans said.

For now, many conversations among the CEO Board must occur before anything concrete can be planned.

“It’s very tough right now,” Evans said. “I feel for our student-athletes, I feel for all students that are going through this. It’s just really, really difficult because there are not a lot of answers.”

Redshirt freshman pin hitter Gabby Kepley, a member of Western’s volleyball team, was to compete in a Western uniform for the first time in September after not playing last season. Kepley said she had a hunch that this decision was coming, but it still wasn’t easy to deal with. 

“I think it’s really starting to sink in that we’re not going to play in the fall,” Kepley said. “My mindset has just changed: instead of getting ready to compete, it’s like getting ready to eventually be ready to compete.”

The close-knit nature of the team has helped in processing the cancellation and adjusting her mindset, Kepley said. The coaching staff has held bi-weekly meetings to provide reassurance to the team.

Kepley noted that there have been talks about potentially playing their season in the spring, which is when the team is usually training. It would effectively swap their fall and spring schedules, as they continue to train through this suspension.

“If it does happen and we get our season switched to spring, we’ll have summer and then hopefully have our fall season again,” Kepley said. “We’ll have two seasons pretty much back-to-back with a summer in between, so it’ll be interesting to see how training looks in between all of that.”

Each member of the team is dealing with the news in their own way, and she especially feels for the seniors who were supposed to be graduating after the fall season, Kepley said, furthering the existing uncertainty. 

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