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‘Still surreal’

WAHS grads Morrison, Hoffman two of thousands of collegiate athletes whose seasons ended abruptly

Photo courtesy Edinboro University Edinboro University freshman Kiersten Hoffman lines up a pitch during the Fighting Scots’ spring trip in Winter Haven, Florida. Hoffman, a 2019 Warren Area High School graduate, was one of thousands of college athletes who saw their season end abruptly as the world responded to the coronavirus pandemic.

There’s a little over 1,200 miles between Buffalo, New York and Winter Haven, Florida.

That’s where 2019 Warren Area High School graduates Aidan Morrison (Canisius College) and Kiersten Hoffman (with her Edinboro University softball teammates) were on March 12. And on that day, 1,200 miles might as well have been 12 feet as the entire world of collegiate athletics came to a screeching halt in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We were actually stretching for practice when coach (Matt Mazurek) came out and told us to head up to the meeting room,” Morrison said. “We were scheduled to travel to the University of Michigan that night and when he addressed us, he started with, ‘Well guys, we aren’t going to Michigan.’

“That didn’t necessarily shock any of us,” he continued. “But after about 10 seconds he said, “We won’t be going anywhere this year. The MAAC just canceled the season.’ Hours later, the NCAA did it, but we were one of the first conferences in the country to call it off. So it was gut wrenching for sure.”

The sporting world, at large, was already beginning to change early that fateful week. The Golden State Warriors announced early in the day March 11 that they would play the next day’s game without fans in attendance. Colleges and universities began extending spring breaks, or cancelling classes in an effort to practice social distancing.

Warren’s Aidan Morrison connects during Saturday’s game against Meadville. Morrison, who along with fellow seniors Lance Baldensperger and Austyn Cummings played their final home game at Legion Field, went 1-for-4.

That all changed around 9 p.m. that evening. Just seconds before the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder were to tip-off, the Thunder’s team doctor came running on the court. He had a conversation with the officials and players and staff were sent to their respective locker rooms shortly after. The game was eventually postponed, and rumors began swirling that Utah’s Rudy Gobert had tested positive for coronavirus.

Less than an hour later, the NBA suspended its season. By Thursday, the NHL had suspended its season, Major League Baseball suspended the remainder of spring training and announced the start of the season would be delayed. Even the PIAA announced it was postponing the remaining winter championships. On Thursday evening, the NCAA announced its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, as well as all winter and spring championships, were canceled. Individual conferences at all levels began announcing the end of spring competition shortly after.

“Rumors started (Wednesday night/Thursday morning),” Morrison said. “We all assumed it would just be canceled until mid-April and move the College World Series into the summer.”

When other teams began pulling out of games, Hoffman and her teammates quickly realized what was about to happen.

“In the last two days of our trip, our opponents had to (cancel) due to this outbreak,” she said. “This gave us reason to believe that our season wouldn’t be continued.”

The Fighting Scots found themselves in a unique position. Because they were in Florida and most of the early U.S. cases were in northern states, the PSAC allowed them to finish their spring training trip.

“Through all the craziness of emotions, both sad and mad, as a team we still tried to enjoy ourselves finishing out the last two games against Kutztown,” Hoffman said. “They were the only two games being played in the spring tournament.”

Those two games allowed the Scots an opportunity most teams didn’t have. The chance to say goodbye to their seniors on the field.

“The final game didn’t end how we wished it would’ve,” Hoffman said. “But being able to play our hearts out knowing we gave the seniors all we had to try and make what little bit of a season they had the best possible meant so much. It brought us even closer than what we were before we stepped on a field together.”

Back at Canisius, the Golden Griffins didn’t have that chance for a senior send-off.

“The seniors were visibly emotional,” Morrison said. “There were no words for the majority of guys. Everyone tried to comfort the seniors, but they were extremely upset. The whole team was heartbroken as we’d been working together since August for a 55-plus game season and only got 14 of them in.”

The situation became even more complex as campuses across the country, including Canisius and Edinboro, began sending students home in earnest.

“We all hung out as a team at the seniors’ house that night,” Morrison said. “But the campus mandated all of us to be gone by the end of the weekend so everything was so rushed. It all still seems somewhat surreal.”

By the time the Scots returned from their trip, players had to make arrangements to get their belongings from their campus residence.

“As soon as we got back we weren’t allowed to stay in the dorms unless we had certain circumstances (like international students),” Hoffman said. “Then we were to arrange times to move all of our belongings out of our rooms and to return home.”

Back home now, both are having to adapt to not only being away from their teams, but transitioning to online coursework as well.

“It’s a little difficult right now just trying to figure out a new schedule of when my assignments will be due and having to self teach all the information for each class,” Hoffman said. “It’s also a little different being in my home environment than being in school, but it requires just as much discipline to stay caught up on assignments and make sure they are done on time.”

Morrison has the added circumstance of completing rehab from offseason shoulder surgery.

“I have the essentials for my rehab at home now,” he said. “Our coaches have sent us our dietary info along with our summer workouts.”

As the world continues to grapple with the unknown, both felt there are positives they can take away from this situation.

“Being able to understand how we work together as a team and knowing that I have teammates who I can depend on in any kind of situation, on and off the field,” Hoffman said.

“I haven’t been healthy since my junior year of high school,” Morrison added. “And I can’t wait to be able to play without the constant pain in my shoulder. Along with that, I just can’t wait to get back with the team and be around 40 other guys and our four coaches that all share the same passion for the game.”

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