With two sweeps under their belts, the Pepperdine Waves men’s volleyball team was riding high heading into the back half of their season.
Then, the downer.
Due to the dynamic nature of the COVID-19 virus sweeping the globe and efforts to contain the respiratory illness, on March 12 the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, the conference the Waves were reigning champs of, decided to immediately cancel the rest of its winter sports season and indefinitely suspend its spring sports calendar.
Pepperdine’s season ended with an 8-6 record, a day after downing a visiting Jamestown squad, 3-0. The squad swept Saint Francis on March 6. Waves head coach David Hunt said his team was crestfallen, but the end of the season wasn’t unexpected due to the way sports leagues around the nation were beginning to play games without fans or just outright halt play.
“We knew when we played Wednesday night that things were rapidly moving with everything,” he said on March 15. “We had been in the loop a little bit because of what USA Volleyball and people overseas and what the sports leagues were having to do. We got an alert 30 minutes before we played that the NBA shut down their season. We knew the chance of things continuing after Wednesday were not high, particularly after the match. I thought our guys handled it as well as they could.”
The spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on the day of the Waves’ season-ending win. The United States declared the coronavirus outbreak a national emergency on March 12. As of the evening of March 15, at least 6,308 people in 133 countries have died of the sickness including 3,095 outside of China, the coronavirus’ epicenter, according to multiple health organizations. In the U.S., there were more than 3,000 cases—and the number was climbing.
Hunt’s club held one final practice on day the season was ended. However, out of caution, the university did allow the Waves men’s volleyball team to gather one last time on Friday for an intersquad scrimmage in front of family and friends.
“We had all these families in town already because we were supposed to have five matches in seven days,” Hunt said. “The timing was as good as it gets for us to give our guys good closure to the season—just one more chance to put on their jerseys and compete with their friends meant a lot to them.”
The coach said the contest was important for the group’s seniors.
“I think everyone has the same response, ‘It’s unfortunate, but it’s necessary,’” Hunt said. “We understand why. It’s a little bit better because it’s not just us. Other people are having to go through this. It doesn’t make it any easier. We just have to take it in stride.”
The indoor volleyball team’s 2020 campaign wasn’t the only Waves sports’ calendar to be brought to a halt. Pepperdine’s baseball, beach volleyball, golf, and track & field seasons were called to close by the West Coast Conference, the league in which those groups compete.
The WCC’s, like the MPSF’s decision, cancels all competitions including championship events, and formal and organized practices.
WCC Commissioner Gloria Nevarez said the decision to end the seasons to mitigate the further spread of COVID-19 was devastating for student-athletes and that the conference would do everything to support them “through this heartbreaking time.”
“As is always the case, the health and safety of our student-athletes, coaches, staff, and fans is always our number one priority. Our goal is to prevent further spread of COVID-19,” she said.
Pepperdine athletic director Steve Potts said he was disappointed for all the Waves athletes, especially the seniors.
“To lose the opportunity to compete for conference championships, and in some cases, national championships, is devastating indeed,” he said. “In light of the continuing challenges presented by the spread of COVID-19, we realize that the health and safety of our students, student-athletes, coaches, staff and fans is always our primary concern. I’m thankful for the efforts of all of our dedicated and talented student-athletes, coaches and staff.”
The season’s ending came a day after Pepperdine announced that its athletic teams would play games without fans. The next morning, college sports’ governing body, the NCAA, decided to cancel the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, known as March Madness. The NCAA later announced that players will gain a year of eligibility back. For example, a junior this season will be considered a junior next season.
With the closure of high schools across the state that put local high school sports such as baseball, softball, track & field, lacrosse, and swimming on pause also.
Hunt said, as coaches, he and his staff try to teach their players life lessons via sports. He said bad things happen in life sometimes.
“Don’t take things for granted,” the coach mused. “When you are young, you take things for granted because you haven’t had this array of situations. When you get a little older, you realize things don’t often go as you plan. Don’t live fear but just acknowledge that every day you get to come in and play a sport you enjoy with people you like. Let’s embrace that.”