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By ANDY WOLF
Austin Combs and Meredith Wipper hoped to compete on the national stage in their respective sports one last time as seniors at the University of Findlay.
Concerns of the coronavirus put that on hold when the NCAA canceled its winter and spring championships last Thursday.
However, one day later, the NCAA ruled to grant all spring sport athletes an extra year of eligibility.
Combs, a thrower, and Wipper, a golfer, each couldn’t turn down the opportunity.
Both are coming back.
Combs, a Liberty-Benton grad, had his sights on winning a national title in the hammer throw at the outdoor track and field meet.
Wipper was hoping for the women’s golf team to make a return to the national tournament for the second straight year and fifth time in the last seven seasons.
Neither season got off the ground.
Combs also aligned his spring season with U.S. Olympic Team Trials to qualify for the Summer Games in Tokyo.
“I really thought it was going to be a breakout year for the hammer, both NCAA and Olympic trial-wise,” he said. “… Just with that, being in the back of my head, I just definitely want to finish up my extra semester that they’re granting me and ending it on a high note.”
Combs has been a big-time performer at many national collegiate meets.
He has won two indoor titles that way, capping off his indoor eligibility last season by successfully defending his crown in the weight throw.
Combs took the momentum into outdoor season and was the national runner-up in the hammer throw. His decision to come back for one last go had plenty to do with getting to the top.
“I definitely want to come back and win the thing,” Combs said. “I thought even this year was going to go a lot better than last year — even with another year of training, it can only get better I guess.”
So far, Combs felt his extra training was paying off. He noted consistently throwing the hammer “about four meters farther” in practice than last season.
“It was really nice to see that because I know it’s going to be farther on meet day,” Combs said.
He still has the 70-meter plateau in his mind, something he was considering even a year ago.
Combs’ mark of an even 65 meters was good enough to be the national runner-up — a few behind the winning mark of 67.67 meters by Angelo State’s Decio Andrade.
He’s now shifting his focus and workouts toward the trials.
“I’m still a little in the dark,” Combs said of the process.
Combs had at least been throwing unattached in some indoor meets, building up competitive feel for the outdoor season.
Meanwhile, Wipper and her teammates were practicing when they found out the season was canceled.
They were supposed to leave the next day for their first tournament of the season at the Saginaw Valley Spring Invite in Georgetown, Kentucky.
“Just for that to be taken away so quickly, it hurt,” said Wipper, who has golfed since the fourth or fifth grade.
Wipper, a business major, talked with her parents about returning for one more season.
“I thought about it and (head) coach (Dominic) Guarnieri was really supportive in the whole thing and was welcoming me back,” Wipper said. “I decided to do that and finish out what we started.”
UF’s women’s golf team reached the final eight of the revised national tournament format last season. The Oilers lost 3-2 in the first round of match play to eventual champ Florida Tech.
Findlay was ranked No. 7 in the most recent Division II coaches poll released a few weeks ahead of the spring portion.
In their five fall tournaments, the Oilers finished no worse than second with wins at the Great Midwest Athletic Conference Fall Classic in Owensboro, Kentucky and the Laker Fall Classic in Allendale, Michigan.
Wipper, one of two seniors on the team, was sporting an average of 74.55, just shy of junior Kristina Kniesly’s 74.36. Wipper had also tied her own 18-hole school record of 67 in the second round at the William Beall Fall Classic at Findlay Country Club, her home course.
Sophomores Jill Schmitmeyer (75.36) and Danbi Kim (76.18) were each having strong seasons, too.
“We practiced all winter, three months every day for five days a week for hours, cardio, weightlifting and we went on spring break (at the) beginning of March and played out in Arizona for a week,” Wipper said. “Not that the hard work went to waste but it kind of hurt that much more.”
Guarnieri confirmed in a phone interview that senior Mackenzie Keenoy, the team’s fifth golfer, decided to not return for next season.
UF’s men’s golf team was also nationally ranked at No. 18 in the latest coaches poll.
A few senior members of UF’s baseball and softball teams have each taken to their Twitter accounts to announce they wouldn’t be returning for their senior seasons.
Both teams spent the first week of March in Winter Haven, Florida, playing nonleague contests.
The baseball team was off to a 5-7 overall start and set to begin GMAC play in two days with four games, two doubleheaders, at Lake Erie College.
The softball team went 10-2 in Florida to stand at 12-6 overall entering its home-opening doubleheader against Madonna University — also canceled two days before.
UF’s women’s lacrosse team, looking to capture another GMAC tournament title, only got five games in, starting 2-3 overall, before seeing their remaining 12 regular season contests wiped out.
UF’s tennis teams were each well beyond halfway through their schedules.
The men’s squad was 7-8 with six matches to go while the women were 7-6.
They were, however, the last Oiler teams to compete in the spring.
Both completed wins at McKendree University on the Thursday of the mass NCAA cancellations.