Sam Houston State University had high expectations this year on the diamond for both baseball and softball, but like all other collegiate sports around the nation, their 2020 campaigns came to an unexpected end in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Softball, expected to finish second in the Southland Conference, had just began conference play with a series against Northwestern State University and was about to play their first home series of the season. Baseball, picked to win the SLC, ended its year with a 6-2 win over Houston Baptist University and was a day away from heading to San Antonio to play Incarnate Word.
Head softball coach Garrett Valis and head baseball coach Jay Sirianni both talked to The Houstonian about their reactions, the players’ reactions and how the programs plan to move forward.
What was your reaction to finding out the season was cancelled?
Valis: “The whole process happened faster than any of us could have ever imagined it. Any of the discussions being had about it kind of seemed like it was just ‘Hey this might happen but it’s just a precaution.’ It didn’t really feel like it was going to happen that soon. We were all hopeful, I think, that this would decelerate versus accelerate. I think it’s just in the best interest of everyone involved at this point.”
Sirianni: “Thursday morning [March 12] we were out working on the field because it was spring break, getting a little workout in before we got on the bus. It was the first time I had taken my phone to practice other than when my kids were born. The phone is ringing every five minutes: “Do this, don’t do that, go ahead and do this, whatever.” Finally [we were] told not to go, so I’m telling the boys that and sent them home for the afternoon. The rest of it felt a lot like 9/11 to me just because you didn’t know what was going to be next.”
How did the players take it, especially the seniors?
Valis: “It’s really hard because everyone in the decision making process made the right choices, but they’re still difficult. It’s a lesson in our program that we preach that we can’t always get what we want. The initial reaction was just a lot of pain for the girls… especially the seniors [Hunter Ervin, Megan McDonald, Karina Sanchez and Tiffany Thompson].”
Sirianni: “It was really weird. You have your three seniors in Gavin [Johnson], and KB [Kyle Bachus] and Dommer [Dominic Robinson] that were having good years and they’re looking at it like ‘So you’re telling me I’m done playing?’ The kids, and it’s not their fault, start going ‘Well, what about me?’ and it’s a very fair question.”
How do you move forward from this as a coach and stay focused and prepared for the future?
Valis: “We just all tried to take a breath, sit back and enjoy our families a little bit. We’re past that time frame, and I think the focus for me is to start really evaluating what we’re doing. As a coach you don’t usually have a lot of down time like this… to slow down and discuss with your staff the direction you want to move going forward, so I feel like we have that time right now. That’s kind of what we’re trying to do even if it’s through video conferencing or FaceTime. When they say we can get back to work as far as getting the team together, even if that doesn’t happen until August, we’re going to do everything we can to prepare during that time and be ready. Hopefully we do a better job of that than our opponents.”
Sirianni: “There is a lot of reflection. What did we do well? What did we not do well? What can I do better to help our players get better? There is a lot of time for that and usually you do not have that much time. That’s where we’re at, just trying to get organized. I don’t know if I’ve really stopped. In the spring it’s baseball season and that’s just what you do. I’m just kind of plugging along trying to find different ways to keep going.”