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By ANDY WOLF
Sporting events at all levels all over the globe came to a grinding halt last week due to coronavirus concerns.
Several of the University of Findlay’s winter sport athletes were affected in some way — all at the pinnacle of their seasons.
Both basketball teams were done and didn’t qualify for the Division II regional tournaments.
But the wrestling team, the indoor track and field teams and the swimming and diving teams all had individuals ready to compete at their national meet — all to be completed concurrently in a matter of a few days.
All three meets got wiped out in one big swipe.
Not to be completed.
The NCAA ruled on March 12 to cancel all winter and spring NCAA championships. All three meets were to conclude two days later.
Many athletes, especially seniors, were left stunned and without necessary closure to their seasons and careers.
UF swimming and diving coach Andrew Makepeace, at first, anticipated the completion of the four-day national meet at the SPIRE Institute in Geneva.
Instead, the NCAA’s ruling came in between sessions on day two.
“Just like most people, it’s been pretty chaotic,” Makepeace said of how his last week has gone.
Makepeace found out by getting to the facility early for the second session. He later went back to the hotel and delivered the news to the entire team.
“Things became pretty somber pretty quick,” Makepeace said. “When I walked in to get our banner, there were a lot of people crying, a lot of people asking questions — ‘why don’t they let us complete the meet?’ It was certainly something you never expected in your life.”
Makepeace especially felt for his four seniors competing at nationals: Isaac Stretch, Trent Williams, Hanna Cederholm and Katy Kouvaris. Three of the four still had events left to swim.
“Grand scale, swimming is swimming and sports are sports,” Makepeace said. “You want to stay healthy and what not, but for the time being, that’s a pretty sudden loss of their athletic identity.”
Makepeace made the distinction for swimming as “a niche thing that you taper for one meet” — that being the NCAA championships. Though, most at UF aim for the Great Midwest Athletic Conference meet to springboard into the NCAAs.
Makepeace noted Cederholm, a four-time All-American and one of the most decorated swimmers in UF history, planned her season around the NCAA meet.
“She was expecting some great things and for her to not have closure was particularly hard,” Makepeace said.
Not just Cederholm, who has three individual event records to her name, but all four seniors have their names all over UF’s record books — each one attached to multiple school records.
To Makepeace, their final season is where the light shines through and the “senior magic” starts to happen.
“Swimming and diving is grueling,” he said. “It’s really not a sport most of the time. It’s just an aerobic activity where you’re bound to fail over and over again. When you get to that senior point the stress becomes a little bit lessened.”
UF’s indoor track and field team had five athletes competing at their national meet in Birmingham, Alabama. Hannah Hahler, a thrower, was the lone senior athlete competing.
The wrestling team sent three, respectively, to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Devin Rogers, a 149-pounder, was also the only senior, looking to go out as an All-American for the first time.
The NCAA has not yet ruled on the eligibility for winter sport athletes but has granted all spring sport athletes an extra year.
Hahler had the option of being able to compete next spring for the outdoor season but feels unlikely to return based on completing her nursing degree this spring and already accepting a job in the field.
The team was in Alabama less than 24 hours before learning the meet was canceled.
“Honestly, I feel absolutely gypped,” Hahler, making her first national indoor appearance, said. “I feel for our spring athletes. I feel like I have absolutely no closure just because it all happens so fast and I don’t really have the time to comprehend that was my last practice.”
Hahler does have the accolades of being a second-team All-American in the shot in the 2018 outdoor season.
But the ending came bittersweet to a career that nearly never got off the ground — twice.
She didn’t plan on being a student-athlete upon finishing her prep throwing career that spanned only two seasons at Seneca East.
“Back then I had closure; I’m the one that made that decision,” she said.
Getting recruited by UF — a hot bed for collegiate throwing talent, many being from northwest Ohio — changed her mind.
She even had self doubts after a few seasons and not seeing the results match her dedicated work.
“One day, it was like a light switch turned on and it started doing well,” she said.
Aaron Overhiser did get the satisfaction of closure.
He was one of two seniors on UF’s men’s basketball team — a perennial participant in the Midwest Regional tournament.
Overhiser, a 6-foot-7 forward and 1,000-point career scorer, had helped the Oilers qualify the past three seasons and reach the Sweet 16 twice.
However, Findlay’s season ended sooner than desired in the GMAC tournament semifinals — roughly a week before the NCAA canceled all winter sports. Overhiser did feel it was nice to have known when he played his last game.
He wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“It’s kind of a weird sense of completeness,” he said. “With everything coming to an end, us losing at home that last game, it was not how I wanted it to go. I would’ve loved to have celebrated a championship in Croy (Gymnasium), cut down the nets and stuff like that. At the same time, it is what it is. Sometimes that’s the way the world works — especially recently.”