Photo by Karina Graziani
PITTSBURGH --- The COVID-19 pandemic has affected nearly everyone's
lives over the past few weeks. The sports world, in particular, has
been radically altered as a result of the virus, as nearly all
athletic events have been suspended or cancelled. That includes the
Carlow University athletic programs, as the NAIA cancelled the
remainder of spring sports midway through March. As a result, the
Celtics softball, track & field, golf, and women's tennis
programs had their campaigns end prematurely, which has impacted
dozens of student-athletes and coaches at the University.
The four teams were all at different
stages of their seasons when the NAIA rendered its verdict. The
Celtics softball team was about to wrap up a week-long venture in
Florida, in which the team participated in a series of
nonconference games. The track & field team was transitioning
from the indoor session, which wrapped up recently, and preparing
for the start of the outdoor season. Golf, meanwhile, had just
resumed practice for the spring season after a five-month layoff
following fall competition. Lastly, tennis was gearing up for its
first matches of the school year.
The tennis team had been practicing
for months in preparation of the season-opener at home March 21.
Although the players and coaches accepted the reasoning behind the
decision, the disappointment in the short-term was significant
among the Celtics.
"You put in so much work over those
two to three months of practicing, and getting the girls
conditioned athletically, and you get to a point where you're ready
for competition. The girls were starting to feel good and mastering
a new serving skill or getting their backhand," explained Associate
Head Coach Samantha Lovaglio. "When we got told we
couldn't practice anymore, it was a big letdown, but we feel like
it's what's best for them and us."
The Celtics are expected to return
all eight players for next season, however, and for a team
comprised almost entirely of underclassmen and walk-ons, the extra
time could be a blessing in disguise.
"If anything, it will probably help
us in the fact that they are getting more time to hone in on their
skills before we get to play with them again," Samantha Lovaglio
She and Head Coach Gina
Lovaglio have utilized a group chat to maintain
contact with the players, and the coaches have also sent a workout
schedule that includes exercises three days a week. Additionally,
for the first few weeks after the cancellation of the season,
several of the players were able to partake in scrimmages at their
local courts, while still abiding by the social distancing
guidelines. Still, the coaches have given plenty of leeway for the
players during this unprecedented time, as athletics have become
secondary to their health and well-being.
"We're not being too crazy on them
right now, because it's a crazy time we're all going through," Gina
Lovaglio said. "It's the best thing for them, health wise. It's the
best thing for all of us, health wise. But of course, with that
came sadness and disappointment. They never even got to play a
match. I think that was another thing that hit home for them."
Some may argue that it's better to
have never started the season, as opposed to just getting into a
groove and then having that momentum snatched away. For many
players on the Carlow softball team, that's exactly what happened
while the team was in the Sunshine State. The Celtics played 11
games over the span of six days in Clermont, Fla., compiling a 2-9
mark. The last two games of the trip, scheduled for Saturday, March
14, were cancelled, so the Celtics played their final games of the
season in a doubleheader that Friday.
While the team's record wasn't
sterling, Carlow softball Head Coach Glenn
Zinsmeister noted that his players experienced a
"I think as a group, we had a lot of
distractions," the second-year head coach said. "There were a lot
of emails flying around; the girls had a lot of stuff flying around
from a school perspective."
Those distractions away from the
diamond didn't just apply to the players, though, as Zinsmeister
was also significantly impacted. As a clinical director,
Zinsmeister addressed the affect this pandemic could have on the
future careers of his players, 15 or 16 of whom are majoring in the
"I always make sure I lend a little
bit of my experience with that," said Zinsmeister, who witnessed
the HIV scare in the late 1980s. "This is what nurses sign up to
do. It is a challenging time for them, because it's something
they've never seen before. And it's something that the health care
system - we haven't seen anything of this magnitude in a lot of
When shifting focus back the
diamond, Zinsmeister realizes that there's no substitute for the
experience his players would have gained from the dozens of games
left on the slate. That doesn't mean that his players can't
continue to hone their skills, however.
"I told them to go home and make
sure they adjusted to their academics, but beyond that, I told them
to do what they usually do to keep themselves where they need to
be," he detailed. "Some of the greatest hitters spend about 90
percent of the time on the tee and only 10 percent from live
hitting. The pitchers obviously are going to have to get their
throws in, and they'll do that. They usually have someone in their
family who catches them anyhow.
"The elite players are the ones that
just do this naturally," he continued. "It's probably the players
that aren't necessary at the top of the rung that you have to
remind a little bit more."
Additionally, if the social
distancing guidelines are lessened or lifted by the summer,
Zinsmeister is hopeful that more travel softball options could
become available for college players.
"You may see some 23U teams where
you didn't see that in the past, just based on the fact that the
girls are missing the game so much," he said.
With just one player expected to
move on from the program, and with at least four players already
committed to join the team next year, Zinsmeister is optimistic
that the Celtics can continue to make strides, even with the
cancellation of the majority of the season.
For the track & field team, the
results are still fresh from the winter indoor session. Some Carlow
athletes achieved great accomplishments in the indoor season, while
others tasted disappointment. The chance to repeat that success, or
redeem previous shortcomings, disappeared when the spring season
"I was very disappointed. I was
looking forward to a very productive outdoor season," said Head
Coach Tony Anderson.
While the River States Conference
Indoor Championships were held in early February, some Celtics were
still competing in the indoor season into early March. Juniors
Olivia Miller (Bolivar, Pa.) and
Larissa Kijowski (Dayton, Pa.) trekked to
South Dakota for the NAIA National Championship.
Carlow was just about to begin
spring session practices with the first meet, the Geneva College
Golden Tornado Classic, scheduled for March 21 in Beaver Falls.
Overseeing more than two dozen
athletes between the men's and women's squads, Anderson made sure
to reach out to the teams following the cancellation of the
"I did advise them to make sure they
take this opportunity to still get some lifting in, get in some
necessary workouts," he said. "I did forward everybody some
workouts. I'm hoping that they're doing them. It's entirely up to
the athletes as to what they're getting in at this point.
"It's very easy right now to sit
inside and eat and get out of shape," he added. "I'm hoping that's
not what they're doing."
The Celtics roster contains six
seniors, although Anderson believes three of those athletes could
return for the next school year with their additional eligibility.
He also plans to supplement the roster with seven or eight new
recruits for next season, although the suspension of the high
school season in Pennsylvania means that he likely won't find a few
more late bloomers to add to the program.
"It is a blow, in that I don't get a
chance to see a lot of these high school athletes compete during
their senior year," Anderson revealed.
As for Anderson himself, he's in
uncharted territory this spring.
"I've pretty much been coaching
since I stopped competing myself in 1988. This is the first hiatus
I've really had," he said. "I'm not the type of person who likes to
be in. I like to be out and about and socializing, and that's kind
of hard right now."
One activity Anderson plans to
pursue with his abundance of free time this spring and summer is
Unfortunately for the Celtics golf
team, playing competitively is no longer a possibility this season.
After three outdoor practices, the Celtics were gearing up for the
first tri-match of the spring season on March 21 against rival
Point Park University and Grove City College.
"Any competitor is going to be
disappointed when something that they worked hard for isn't going
to happen," noted Head Coach Ryan Shank. "In the
scheme of things, we understand why it was."
Unlike most sports, however, golf
remained available after the initial social distancing measures
were enacted in the area. Several courses in Western Pennsylvania
stayed open until late March, including Carlow's home course
Youghiogheny County Club.
"Once they postponed the season and
I could no longer have formal practices, I told them to call Yough
and get out and play," Shank said of his instructions to his men's
and women's players. "They did get some rounds in, but once the
stay at home mandate came down, I told them you have to stop doing
The Carlow players also received a
video detailing how to properly read greens, but there's no
substitute for actually hitting balls, according to Shank.
"They understand that in order to be
good, you have to have a club in your hand. You can chip in your
yard all day long by yourself," he stated.
While at least two seniors will move
on from the program, three others could potentially return for the
While the unprecedented
circumstances of these past several weeks provided unforeseen
challenges for all of the Celtics spring athletes, the hope is that
the players individually, and the teams collectively, will learn
and grow from this. Regardless of what happens in future campaigns,
there's no doubt that the 2020 spring sports teams will forever
have a place in history at Carlow University.
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