Like a lot of other athletes, the LSU men’s and women’s track and field teams took a major hit last week when the coronavirus outbreak brought all collegiate competition to a grinding halt.
In this case, however, it was a double-hit from the devastating news that came on the eve of the NCAA indoor championships in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
In addition to having the meet canceled just 24 hours before it was to begin, the outdoor season was scrapped as well when the NCAA announced the suspension of competition and cancellation of championship events in all winter and spring sports.
In addition to not having the opportunity to compete for both indoor titles as the No. 1 teams in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association computer rankings, their outdoor season was suddenly gone as well.
Once longtime LSU coach Dennis Shaver was informed of the NCAA’s decision, he immediately called a team meeting. But he was too late as many of his athletes had already gotten the news via social media.
“Obviously, there were a lot of devastated and disappointed faces in that room,” Shaver said Monday. “That’s because we were healthy, and we were more than ready to compete for the titles on both the men’s and women’s side.”
After being plagued by injuries a year ago, which short-circuited the hopes of the Tigers and Lady Tigers at the NCAA outdoor meet last June, both teams enjoyed a strong indoor season despite not being considered title contenders in early January.
“We had improved and kept moving upward,” he said. “They had done all the right things.”
While the athletes were disappointed, Shaver couldn’t hide his disappointment for them not being able to have the opportunity to accomplish something they had worked toward since August.
“We felt both teams were coming in here with great opportunities and were looking forward to having a shot at winning the championship in both genders,” he said. “I’m disappointed for them, but this is a very serious situation ... so it was the right thing to do, in my mind.”
How it got to that point was another thing, Shaver said.
The Tigers and Lady Tigers left campus Wednesday morning with the belief they were going to compete for the titles.
Upon their arrival in New Mexico, they were told by the NCAA the meet was still on. But spectators — including family members — wouldn’t be allowed into the Albuquerque Convention Center.
“We thought, ‘OK, we’re still going to have the track meet,’” Shaver said. “Then, the next day the news broke that the meet was canceled.”
He said his athletes weren’t the only ones who were disappointed.
“I was devastated because of the amount of planning, time and effort, not only myself but our entire (coaching) staff and support staff, puts into this,” he said. “We don’t do it alone. … There are a lot of people involved in making sure this wheel keeps rolling.
“This is my 16th season as the head coach here and our whole staff was committed to making this happen this year more than ever before collectively.”
Four days later, as many athletes went home to prepare for online classwork, Shaver said many of them were still feeling the effects of the cancellation.
“I think everybody is still in a state of shock,” he said. “They were going to compete for a national championship and it was canceled. They believed they were going to win both titles, and I believed they were going to do it.
“That was hard enough to take that hit to the stomach, and then they find out at the same time they won’t be able to compete (at outdoor nationals) in June. But for the safety of the student-athletes, certainly it was the right thing to do.”