Conquering COVID-19 and the Competition

Westminster's lacrosse team with a NCAA II Championship banner, celebrating their win.

July 8, 2021

by Peter Frank ('22)

The coronavirus pandemic changed the daily routines of many Westminster community members. Faculty and students had to quickly adjust to virtual learning in lieu of the classroom experience. Events were canceled and plans upended. Student-athletes, in particular, had to navigate training and competition in ways they had never done before.

After being sent home during the 2020 Spring Semester, many student-athletes were forced to let go of their highly anticipated spring season as the pandemic worsened. Spring soon became summer, and these athletes were still suffering from that loss, unsure of what to do. For many, their sports transcended the game and grew into part of their personal identity. Unable to practice or play with their teammates affected both their mental and physical wellbeing.

As summer came to a close, the fall season quickly approached and there were still many unanswered questions about the year in the minds of these athletes. “Will we have a season?” “Can we practice?” These unanswered questions weighed heavily on them. As the pandemic continued and Fall Semester 2020 began, student-athletes remained full of uncertainty. Many grasped the opportunity to practice and hone their craft without knowing if they would ever have a chance to face their opponent.

At the start of the Fall Semester, student-athletes were given the choice to participate in practice if they were willing to perform extra safety procedures. Head athletic trainer, Rick Hackford, was responsible for coordinating practice schedules for each team and enacting safety measures that would mitigate possible spread of the virus.

“I sat on several committees to make recommendations to the athletic department, college, and Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference (RMAC),” Rick explains. “We needed to find a way to do daily symptom checks on athletes, and COVID testing needed to be coordinated and recorded for every sport, athlete, coach, and staff member at the college.”

While most of Westminster’s athletics teams engaged in some form of practice, four programs had active season of play during the fall: men and women’s cross-country, men’s and women’s golf. Throughout the winter, both basketball teams as well as Alpine skiing competed. The spring of 2021 was the most active season for Westminster athletics, seeing four programs compete: lacrosse, soccer, track and field, and women's Volleyball. Here are some highlights from the 2020–21 season.

Westminster's men's lacrosse team members participate in a track event.

Men’s Cross-Country

Senior Aiden Urban (’21), a member of both cross-country and track, put together one of the most impressive track-season résumés in the program’s history. Not only did he set the school record in the 400 and the 800-meter dash, but he also became the first individual from the program to qualify for NCAA II National Championships. “My greatest accomplishment this year had to be competing in nationals. That has been my goal ever since coming here,” Aiden says. “It was amplified by the obstacles and struggles we had to endure throughout the year, making it that much sweeter.”

Women’s Cross-Country

These athletes did what they do best and ran through the obstacles that dared to face them. Perseverance and hard work culminated into the best overall women's team in school history, placing 6th at the RMAC championships. This allowed the team to receive an invite to the NCAA DII championship, where they placed second and three members of the team earned All-American status.

Westminster's Women's Basketball team member shooting for a 2-pointer.

Women’s Basketball

The women’s basketball team, led by head coach Shelly Jarrard, had a phenomenal season. Not only were they nationally ranked in Division II, but they also came into the national tournament ranked third in their region and made it to the Elite 8 for the first time in Westminster history.

Alpine Skiing

In the mountains, the Griffin Alpine Ski team raced their way to a 5th place finish at national championships. Both the men’s and women’s teams captured podium finishes in multiple disciplines, racking up 225 points at the championship. This performance paved the way for Chris Hendrickson to be named Alpine Coach of the Year by the Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association.

Lacrosse

Men's Lacrosse had many impressive accomplishments despite the strenuous circumstances. On the field, the Griffins were able to win the RMAC conference championship, avenging their rival Mesa after losing previously during the season. Yet, one of their most impressive wins came off the field.

“Our team’s greatest accomplishment off the field was that everyone on our team was able to test negative throughout the entire season so that we did not have to miss or cancel any games on our end,” says lacrosse player Quinn Lewis (’22).

Quinn says that it was difficult to navigate the season with new policies in place such as restrictions on practicing and lifting as an entire team and being required to secure facemasks in their helmets during practices and games. Although there were many challenges that stood in the way for the team, they were thankful and willing to do everything they could in order to play the game they loved, with or without fans watching. “In the end, I will never forget how cool it was to see everyone around me work so hard to make things happen for us athletes,” Quinn says. “Which made me want to work even harder.”