SOUTH BEND — Whether it is going to be a good memory or one of a more frustrating nature, Natalie Newell will never forget her first season as a head coach.
The 2011 Goshen High School graduate was six games into her initial season as the Indiana University South Bend women’s softball coach when the campaign came to a grinding halt due to the coronavirus.
“It has been a baptism by fire. It hasn’t been easy,” Newell said. “We went to Tennessee and played four games before traveling to southern Indiana for two more.
“We were two days away from our big spring trip to Florida. The players were just getting adjusted to being on the field together and on staying in hotel rooms together on the road.”
Newell shared getting a start on the season makes the cancellation of the rest of the season a little harder to deal with.
“We had a chance to see what kind of potential we had,” she said. “We were already starting to see some growth.”
The NAIA issued the following statement Monday:
“The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) announced today that it is canceling the spring 2020 sports season, effective immediately.
“All possible scenarios that would have supported a spring sports season were seriously considered by multiple NAIA governance groups,” said NAIA President and CEO Jim Carr. “However, the growing state of emergency due to COVID-19, as well as the Center for Disease Control’s recommendation yesterday to limit gatherings to fewer than 50 people for eight weeks, meant we could not in good conscience move forward with the spring sports season and championships.”
Newell was expecting the announcement.
“We kind of knew if was coming,” she said. “The NCAA and the Crossroads League had already made their announcements.”
The IUSB students are on spring break, so Newell turned to technology to discuss the situation with her players.
“I was able to get on FaceTime and talk with the players,” the coach said. “We told them what had happened and we were going try and make the best of it.”
Newell knows it has to be frustrating for the players.
“It has to be really tough for them to have put in all the hard work and have the season taken away from them,” she said. “They went through practices starting at 6 a.m. and practices that lasted two hours. Now the fun part of the season (playing games) was coming and it has been taken away.”
Part of the NAIA’s statement from Monday said, “Any spring sport student-athlete who was enrolled full-time in 2020 will be awarded two additional semester terms of attendance or the equivalent.”
A total of five senors are listed on the 2020 IUSB softball roster.
“A couple of them could be back,” Newell said.
As a former high school athlete, Newell feels bad for this kids.
“My heart breaks for them,” she said. “It really stinks for them. They don’t have the option of getting another year of eligibility like the NAIA has offered seniors at the college level.
“How you handle events like this show your character. As I told my players, if missing a season of softball is the worst thing that happens to you from this event, you are going to have a pretty good life. It really is tough to go through, but we will get through it. The sun will still come up in the morning.
“It’s a tough time for all. I feel bad for the seniors who were finishing their careers and for the freshmen experiencing their first varsity season. Everyone is losing, but it is for the greater good.”