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College seniors trade emotion for acceptance after coronavirus ends seasons: ‘I’m still devastated about it'

On Thursday morning, Kevin Broadus gathered his Morgan State men’s basketball team during a shootaround before its Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament quarterfinal against Bethune-Cookman and did his best to prepare the players for the possibility that either the league or the NCAA might suspend or cancel the tournament because of concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.

That’s when senior forward David Syfax Jr. spoke up, Broadus said.

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“He said, ‘Forget that, Coach. I would die to play in this game,’” Broadus recalled. “I said, ‘Really? Think about what you’re saying.’”

The day after the NCAA canceled all winter and spring sports for the remainder of the academic calendar year, Syfax had not budged from his previous stance.

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“This is pretty much my life,” he said while traveling on the team bus returning to Baltimore from the Norfolk Scope Arena in Virginia. “It’s been something I’ve been doing since I was a baby. I would die for something that I love, and basketball is something that I love.”

Syfax’s perspective is one of a variety of points of views among area college seniors who suddenly and shockingly watched their final seasons end without fanfare or a resolution. The swiftness by which the NCAA and its conferences put athletics on hiatus has left some student-athletes unfulfilled and frustrated.

“I get that it’s a lot bigger than just the lacrosse world, but to us student-athletes, this was tough,” said Meghan Doherty, an Ellicott City resident and Mount Hebron graduate who is a redshirt senior defender for the Maryland women’s lacrosse team. “We work our whole lives to get where we are today and to be successful on the biggest platform that we can, and to have it just taken away so abruptly, it’s heartbreaking to me.

"I’m still devastated about it. I don’t know how angry I can be because it’s bigger than us and there are a lot of people being affected by it more directly, but this is definitely heartbreaking. It’ll hit me in the middle of the day, and I’ll start crying again. It has definitely taken its toll on me.”

There are at least 5,100 cases of the coronavirus in the United States and at least 91 deaths, according to federal, state and local agencies and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to CNN. Worldwide, the number of cases has passed the 194,000 mark with more than 7,500 deaths, according to NPR.

Lauren Coleman was stunned by the news, which the Towson redshirt senior thrower received via phone call from coach Mike Jackson while she was resting in her hotel room in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She was scheduled to compete in the shot put in the NCAA indoor track and field championships the very next day after becoming the program’s first athlete to qualify for the national meet.

“I honestly was speechless,” said Coleman, a two-time Colonial Athletic Association and ECAC champion in the shot put who called her parents George and Deborah back home in Bowie. “There were a lot of mixed emotions going on. … And then when I saw it was happening to every senior across the country, I couldn’t dwell too much on it. There was a bigger situation on hand. It wasn’t right to feel sorry for myself. It was about what’s best for people across the country and across the world.”

Marie Dickson, a senior defender for the Mount St. Mary’s women’s lacrosse team, echoed Coleman’s big-picture sentiment. But she admitted that her initial reaction to the NCAA’s decision was more emotional.

“I’m not a big crier, but the tears kind of didn’t stop,” she said. “Especially being a senior, I was with my classmates, but once I saw underclassmen coming up to me and saying things, it just kind of didn’t stop. Then it also started to sink in that it’s actually real. At first, you’re like, ‘This can’t be happening. This is a joke.’ Then it started to sink in when everybody was like, ‘I’m sorry.’”

Every athlete has since returned home, but that is hardly an escape from the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced governors to shut down restaurants, movie theaters and gyms. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan ordered similar closures Monday, which left Zach Roberts, a Fallston resident and graduate who is a redshirt senior defenseman for the Mount St. Mary’s men’s lacrosse team, without a gym to work out and release some pent-up energy.

“I even went into Coach [Tom Gravante]’s office afterward and said, ‘I don’t really know what to do with myself for the next couple weeks,’” he said. “To be honest, none of us know what to do.”

Kali Hartshorn, a senior attacker for the Maryland women’s lacrosse team, said the concept of a spring break is a foreign concept to her.

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“I feel like I’m getting a little stir crazy now,” she said with a laugh. “I need to find something to do.”

As disappointing as the ending has been, Coleman, the Towson track and field thrower, said the coronavirus pandemic will not color her memories of her college career.

“It’s definitely a big thing to point out,” she said. “It’s a huge event that shocked the whole sports world. So it’s not about me and my senior year. It’s more than just me. It’s affected the world and all of sports. So it’s not casting a shadow on my senior year.”

Many athletes said they have grown to accept the fate of their lost seasons and no longer harbor anger. Syfax, the Morgan State basketball player, said he has taken solace in the program’s best finish – which included the No. 5 seed in the MEAC tournament – since the 2016-17 season.

“No bitterness,” he said. “Everything is happiness in my heart. I feel like whatever happened, it happened for a reason.”

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