Sam Houston State University bowling saw its impressive 2019-2020 season come to a screeching halt after the Southland Conference announced the cancelation of all spring sports because of COVID-19.
“We had a meeting within the Southland Bowling League,” head coach Brad Hagen said. “We had several phone calls. Obviously there is some sadness, some disappointment. Those things are natural. They’re going to come with a decision like this. We’re going to be understanding. The bigger picture is the health and safety and well-being of our student-athletes.”
The Bearkats were ranked No. 2 in the country heading into the final competition of the regular season, but their season ended just before the Southland Bowling League Championship that was slated for March 19-22 at Time to Spare Entertainment in Conroe less than 40 miles away from SHSU.
“Unfortunately it is what it is,” Hagen said. “It’s a little easier to swallow when everybody is going through the same trials and tribulations. So we’re doing it all together. At the end of the day we just have to be positive and optimistic it’s going to work itself out and life will carry on.”
Hagen has had the same difficult and heart-breaking task as hundreds of other college coaches around the country of informing their student-athletes that their season was over.
“I’ve been filling in the team,” Hagen said. “We’ve been 100% transparent, and I’ve been 100% transparent with my seniors especially. They’re extremely disappointed at this point, but they’re also trying to be optimistic about possibly what the NCAA may do. It’s really tough for the seniors especially because we did go through a whole winter season of competition.”
Hagen and the Bearkats had a top-three finish in six events this season, including first place finishes at the Tulane Invitational and UMES Hawk Classic.
“We had a pretty full and healthy competition regular season,” Hagen said. “The only thing we’re missing is the postseason with everybody else. It’s a little tougher on us I think because we are the number two team in the nation. We have been competitive.
“We were going to give a hell of a run toward a national championship, and we all felt confident that we were going to do what we needed to do to get it done.”
Hagen not only remains optimistic, but he also has a certain level of hope that his squad will get the chance to finish off its impressive campaign.
“To be honest, we’re still having conversations,” Hagen said. “We’re still trying to be optimistic and kind of hoping for the best. We don’t want to jump to conclusions. We don’t want to admit it’s over yet… Hopefully we have a chance somewhere in the months to come or maybe next fall for the winter sports that we get to do a conference championship or a pseudo-national championship on the front end of our season so it’s still under this calendar year… I think it’s probably an option the NCAA is looking at to at least get that postseason in and at least let everybody hash it out accordingly.”
Despite the best regular season of his collegiate coaching career coming to an abrupt end, Hagen continued to stress the need for optimism and positivity moving forward.
“You’ve got to sit back and kind of laugh at the… bad timing,” Hagen said. “It’s kind of ironic to me. We’ve single-handedly had our best regular season and something like this happens. The one thing we are not going to do is be selfish about it. We’re not going to throw ourselves a pity party. That’s one thing I coach highly on the girls—character.”
Hagen did not want to speculate on any decisions that will inevitably be discussed in the near future by the NCAA about crowning conference champions and addressing player eligibility for winter and spring sports, but he did acknowledge there are a lot of factors involved and multiple possibilities moving forward.
“The NCAA has a lot of decisions to make, and they have to look out for the well-being of all sports and all grade levels, not just seniors. I believe if the decisions go one way or another there’s going to be a trickle-down effect, and we’ll see what happens. We’re going to stay positive and hope for the best.”
On a more personal note, the SHSU bowling team has a unique situation as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread. Five of the eight student-athletes are international from countries including Singapore, Israel, the Philippines, Brunei and Finland.
“The girls on the team for us are still all here,” Hagen said. “By choice they’ve decided to stick around and understand that this is probably the safest place for them especially as internationally driven as this team is. So it’s important for them and myself to just try to keep living day to day as normal.”
Even with the recruiting dead period until April 15 and all team activities on hold, Hagen has found ways to stay dedicated and keep working to represent the university as competitively as possible.
“I’m going through emails,” Hagen said. “I’m prepping stuff mentally. I’m taking notes. Everything that I would traditionally do April, May, beginning of June I’m just kind of getting a head start on which isn’t terrible but like everyone else is kind of awkward at the same time. There is so much that athletes and coaches can do to reflect and assess and prep for what’s to come, and that’s probably the best thing we can do to stay optimistic and positive.”
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