Feeling the effects
Local standouts reflect on coronavirus effects on sports at the collegiate level
Kyle Henigan walked off the pitchers mound at Lake Myrtle Park in Auburndale, Florida after escaping a fourth-inning jam to preserve a Saginaw Valley State University lead.
Henigan started for the Cardinals and pitched four scoreless innings against Saint Anslem University.
Henigan allowed a leadoff single in the fourth before recording an out. Henigan walked the next batter and allowed both runners to move up to second and third after a failed pickoff attempt.
“I just knew on that day I didn’t have my best stuff to be honest. I had to trust and really take a deep breath and focus to help my team get out of that jam,” Henigan said. “I knew I had to get the ball down in the zone and get a ground ball. I just needed to give my team a chance to keep a lead and win.”
With runners on second and third with one out and SVSU leading 2-0, Henigan struck out the next batter he faced and got the final out of the inning on a line drive to third to escape the jam as he finished his day with the lead intact and the Cardinals went on to win the game.
Henigan knew he didn’t have his best stuff on that day, but the redshirt senior tossed four scoreless frames and struck out a pair of batters.
What Henigan did not know is that would be the last time he walked off a collegiate mound, the last time he threw a pitch at the collegiate level and quite possibly the last time he would play competitively at any level again.
With the current coronavirus pandemic, the sports world has been shut down for more than a week as many national sporting events have been canceled or postponed. That extends to the college and high school levels where many conferences have cancelled all remaining winter and spring sports for the 2019-20 school year or–in the case of the Michigan High School Athletic Association–suspended all sports activities until further notice.
Despite not being personally affected health-wise by the virus, more than two dozen local athletes currently playing at the collegiate level–not including those at Alpena Community College–have been and still are feeling the effects of having their seasons come to abrupt end.
“I think the worst part for me was how much we had to sacrifice, especially as seniors for four years. It’s not that we were beaten the last game of the season to end it,” Henigan said. “In our case, we didn’t have the opportunity to go out and compete for our last time. It didn’t hit until we got to Seton Hall for what was our last practice. Once we heard the news that the season was canceled, it kicked in that it was collegiately, the last time the seniors would step on the field competitively. For most, this was our lives for years and we’ve sacrificed everything. Some didn’t know what was next, others still are shocked on what’s the next move.”
SVSU began the season 8-5, despite being picked to finish near the bottom of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. The Cardinals were unable to prove doubters wrong, but the loss of the season and the end of his career seems to weigh more heavily on Henigan.
The former Hillman High School graduate spent years trying out for the team only to be told no, he transformed his body, made the team last year and saw a substantial amount of playing time. With one year to go and all that he dealt with, including the loss of his father while in high school, this season was all supposed to culminate in something special after overcoming so much.
“It’s tough for myself as I worked so hard to mix the first year of grad school into something that would work. I was coming off another arm injury to start the season, but things were looking up for myself and the team,” Henigan said. “I just know the worst part for me is even if they give another year of eligibility to seniors, I would not be able to play. As much as I would give anything to do, this was it, I cannot take another year of changing classes due to fieldwork. I thought last year was all, so I was happy for another chance to play and I don’t regret any decisions I’ve made. The safety of the population is more important by far. I’m just saddened to know I did not receive the ability to go out on my own terms.”
Despite coronavirus impacting Henigan’s playing career, Henigan was not the only athlete to have a season end on the diamond.
Former Hillman Tiger Dylan Steinke was in his final year at Concordia University. Steinke spent two years at Delta College, waited to earn playing time last year and was ready to earn an opportunity for more playing time this season.
“The biggest effect the virus has put on college athletes, especially guys that planned on graduating this spring, is that it’s basically putting them behind in the real world a year,” Steinke said. “Some kids are going to pick up random classes to add to their degrees or start a masters program just so they can use the year of eligibility the NAIA is granting us.”
The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics has already granted seniors another year of eligibility and the NCAA followed by granting spring athletes relief for a season of eligibility.
Online classes are in the plans for many, but they will present athletes with some challenges that may take some time adjusting to.
“Online classes can be more challenging for people like myself who count on personal relationships with professors to help achieve the most in a classroom setting,” Steinke said. “The season coming to an end was a very sad ending. We were on our way to Florida for our spring trip and we pretty much watched everything unfold from the MLB on down. We just sat there waiting to get the bad news.”
Former Onaway ace Trevor Wregglesworth was in his second year at Division III Alma College and was in line to take another step forward after a strong freshman campaign. The same is true of his former teammate Lucas Tollini, who plays for Anoka-Ramsey Community College in Minnesota.
Five other former area standouts were ready to begin the next chapter of their baseball career.
Alpena’s Bruz Copping and Aidan Goike had begun their first season at Delta Community College. Kyler Moir (Hillman) was getting early playing time at Bay College and Jared Sharpe (Posen) and Gavin Fenstermaker (Onaway) were both set to begin their collegiate careers at MidMichigan Community College.
Now all of them have to wait and take a back seat, missing out on a year to prove themselves if they have any plans on moving on to a four-year school.
“It definitely has had a big impact on me as I’m sure it has every student-athlete. I would never have expected our season would be done due to the virus. It was a long trip home knowing that the greatest time of the year wasn’t going to happen this year.” Moir said. “It makes things a little harder to try and continue playing beyond my two years at Bay. It’s a tough spot for a lot of athletes, but you just have to find ways to continue playing and getting better despite these challenges we are facing.”
Several former North Star League athletes were prepped and ready to build on stellar campaigns last season. Lyndsey Ryba (Hillman) was in her second year at Concordia University and Kayla Rabeau (Rogers City) was ready to continue making an impact at Mott Community College before possibly moving on to another school to continue her playing career.
“This past week hasn’t been the best. It’s sad to think that a whole season has been taken away from our team. My initial reaction when I heard the news was just pure shock. I knew they were taking measures to limit the amount of spectators at games, but I didn’t want to believe they’d cancel a whole season just like that,” Ryba said. “It’s a very sad and confusing time and I just wish things could have gone differently so we didn’t have to end things so abruptly.”
Both Ryba and Rabeau earned individual honors a season ago at their respective schools. Ryba is only a sophomore and the NAIA has granted seniors eligibility, so there is a chance, unless something changes that Ryba could miss out on an entire season, limiting her chances to enter the record books and finish what could have been a record-setting career at Concordia.
The freshman and sophomore classes at the junior college level will have the option of receiving a redshirt, but the scholarships for each student-athlete could become a confusing dilemma.
Rabeau has already made the decision to redshirt and will return to Mott next spring.
“When we found out the news while we were in Florida, a lot of us cried, because unfortunately for some of us it is our last year,” Rabeau said. “I am upset that the season has come to an end because of all the hard work and extra practice I put in to be the best I can be. I’m hoping we will have an even stronger team next year.”
Alma College had a pair of local athletes who’s seasons were halted: sophomore Hannah Fleming (Rogers City) and freshman Emma Fraser (Alpena).
Fleming appeared in 13 games with the Scots and had 15 hits in 39 at-bats. Fraser threw 12 innings in three appearances and struck out 12.
Alpena alum and Spring Arbor University senior Lauren (Heath) Wirgau started 10 games for the Cougars this spring and compiled a 6-2 record with 41 strikeouts in 49.2 innings. Wirgau earned a win in the Cougars’ final doubleheader of the year, pitching 5 2/3 innings in a 7-3 win over Huntington last Thursday.
Alpena’s Courtney Nunneley was redshirted during the 2018-2019 women’s golf season at SVSU.
Nunneley was ready for her first taste in competition this season, but was one of many spring athletes to either have their season cut short, or finished before it even got started.
TRACK AND FIELD
Some athletes got a taste of cross country season, but many were preparing for the outdoor track and field season.
Some had competed during the indoor track season, but the remaining outdoor and spring season was canceled, affecting several former Alpena Wildcats.
Former Alpena standouts Josh Smith (Michigan State), Aden Smith (Michigan State), Trevor Roznowski (Ferris State), Mitchell Day (Iowa State), Kolin Ghidoni (Ferris State), Zach Zaborney (Detroit Mercy), Tellis Donajkowski (Saginaw Valley State), Maddy Boyd (Central Michigan), Taylor Foster (Northern Michigan) and Faith Weide (Western Michigan) were competing at the collegiate level.
While Day, a senior with the Cyclones, was looking to put the cap on an outstanding college career that’s included many honors in cross country, many other Alpena alums were looking forward to their first year of collegiate spring sports.
“It was a little heartbreaking for me. In a way I felt like it was the end of the world. We were training for our outdoor season and we were just coming back from spring break when we heard they were postponing and then eventually canceling the season,” Zaborney said. “I am going to school for five years, so fortunately for me I will have another year to compete. I was more sad for the seniors who will be done with school this year and never be able to redo this seasons and may be cut short a year.”
Along with Alpena’s track and field athletes, Billy Kolcan (Hillman) was preparing for his sophomore season at SVSU. A standout while wearing the orange and black, Kolcan was ready to put his athletic ability to the test as a Cardinal.
Weide faced more adversity than just having her first season canceled. Weide fractured her leg while training and spent months recovering before getting cleared, only to have her first season canceled.
“All of my hard work was paying off and my confidence was at an all time high heading into the spring season.. My first collegiate meet was this upcoming weekend and when I heard from my coach that we would not be traveling due to the coronavirus, I was devastated,” Weide said. “That meet would have given me a chance to get a mark for my freshman season and pave my way into other outdoor meets following. Although this virus has affected athletes at all levels, I am attempting to look at the positives of this situation and taking this as an opportunity to train more.”