A Different Kind of Game Time
The Nicholls Beach Volleyball team was preparing for a tournament in Houston when they found out their season was over. Many of the girls were looking forward to it for several reasons. One of those reasons was Lockhart’s mom would cook for the team before the tournament.
“I was excited to come play in front of my family, and my mom was excited because she loves gatherings like this,” says Kylie Lockhart, a sophomore from Houston. “A lot of us wanted to play in the tournament because we know a bunch of the girls playing. A lot of girls from the Houston area sign with Southland schools so we know each other.”
But Lockhart knew something was wrong when head volleyball coach Kallie Noble attended the team’s workout. Sometimes she would poke her head in to check on the team, but it was rare for her to spend the whole workout there.
“As soon as we got done, she called us over to talk to us. They stopped everything,” Lockhart says.
As the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the country, sports were no longer a priority. Men’s and women’s basketball lost their chance at a Southland Conference Tournament title. Baseball, softball, beach volleyball and the outdoor track-and-field seasons were canceled as players and coaches from all sports were sent home.
Coaches keep in touch through virtual meetings and teammates stay in touch through group messages. Staffs are using this time to emphasize academics and taking a mental break. The strength and conditioning staff have sent each player an individualized plan that includes bodyweight workouts and conditioning.
This was supposed to be a crucial spring for the Nicholls Football team looking to replace a historic group of seniors who led the Colonels to two Southland Championships and three playoff appearances. Head Football Coach Tim Rebowe says that isn’t important, now.
“First of all, we have to realize how serious this is. Things like football really get put on the back burner,” Rebowe says. “We’re making sure all of our players are doing the right thing, staying home and keeping away from contact. We’ll get back to football. Things will get better. Right now it’s about working out, staying in shape and keeping themselves in the best condition.”
Instead, the coaching staff is meeting online a couple times a week, and each position coach is checking in on their players. Rebowe says he is emphasizing to his staff that football isn’t as important.
“We’re not really talking much football. They are going to make sure each of their guys is staying on their academics and staying in shape, but mostly just checking in on how they are doing,” he says.
They say, ‘Play every game like it could be your last.’
Head Track-and-Field and Cross Country Coach Stephanie Slekis says her heart is with her players right now. Sophomore Omo Oboh just capped a successful indoor season and was looking forward to improving her time in the outdoor 400 meter hurdles. Last year, she cracked the Top-10 in the Nicholls record books. Another sophomore, Jeremy Rogers, finished ninth in the Southland in javelin as a freshman, and was improving. Neither will get a chance this spring.
“Obviously they understand why they have to do this,” Slekis says. “It’s the correct decision but it’s hard when you have so many plans, and now they have to wait a whole year before they get to do those events.”
NCAA rules limit the contact between coaches and players. That adds a layer of stress for coaches with international student-athletes who are back in their home country. Distance runner Augusta Marie Christensen is quarantined in Denmark and Julia Garcia Verges is under lockdown in Spain.
“Through all of this, it’s crazy now that we can’t meet face-to-face,” she says. “We are still going to meet as a team. We still have plans for next year.”
The NCAA has added a year of eligibility for spring student-athletes. Baseball player Adam Tarver was in the middle of his senior season when everything came to a halt. Though he continues to follow the prescribed workout recommendations for the strength and conditioning staff, he hasn’t decided if he will return for another season or begin his career as a financial advisor.
“It’s odd. I don’t really have a sense of closure. But I have put in my time and done everything I could do. It’s weird,” he says. “They say, ‘Play every game like it could be your last.’ ”
Head Baseball Coach Seth Thibodeaux held team meetings as the threat of the virus grew closer. Tarver says that helped as the world around him became more and more uncertain.
“He did a great job communicating with us and letting us know what was going on,” he says. “And since we’ve been home, he’s been great. He lets us know that this is just an obstacle in life. It’s how you get through it. He says, ‘Bad things don’t happen to you, they happen for you.’ It’s about how you handle adversity.”
Rebowe has taken to social media to spread the message of how important it is to stay home and stay safe if they want to watch Nicholls football in the fall.
“I want to tell everyone reading this on behalf of Nicholls Football and our athletes, we have to realize how serious this is,” Rebowe says. “For us to get to where we want to be in the fall, it’s important to heed the advice that’s coming from President Clune. Let’s isolate. Let’s be smart.” – Jacob Batte