When the Big West conference board of directors canceled spring sports on March 13, not much was known as to when Cal State Fullerton sports would return.
With 2020 over, coaches throughout CSUF have learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, and now get ready for a year full of more uncertainty, but also optimism.
For fall sports, 2020 proved to be a gut-wrenching year, as they were postponed through the calendar year before they were canceled for the academic year on Dec. 10.
Women’s soccer head coach Demian Brown said he and his team were supportive of the decision, but not playing any games in 2020 had a big effect on the team.
“It really does take a toll on the program on the players, probably now emotionally more than anything else,” Brown said.
Even without games, Brown said that the year solidified his love for his job, and understood the importance of communication and chance to achieve personal growth.
The only CSUF teams that have played since mid-March, the men’s and women’s basketball team, were in conference tournaments when the cancellations were made. The women’s basketball team had just been eliminated in the quarterfinals the day before, while the men’s team was hours away from playing their first round game.
Men’s basketball head coach Dedrique Taylor and women’s basketball head coach Jeff Harada both said it was a difficult and challenging year, but they both learned a lot from how their players responded to the pandemic and civil unrest.
“These kids are very aware, more so aware than I think, young adults their age were aware, 10 to 20 years ago,” Harada said. “They're just very involved with things outside of basketball, and they take those things seriously.”
Despite still playing a season currently, COVID-19 has continued to impact both teams, as the women’s team had a positive test on Dec. 17 and the men’s team had one the following day. It was the second positive test for the men’s team as they had one on Nov. 20.
Taylor said that it was frustrating to have to deal with positive COVID-19 tests twice, but one thing he learned from the past year was to be more patient and worry about what he can control and do.
“There are certain things that you can't do under this situation, and realizing that, no matter what it's still gonna be okay,” Taylor said.
The Fullerton softball team had only played 24 of their 56 scheduled games when their 2020 season was canceled. Fresh off their fourth straight conference title, the cancellation not only ended the season, but brought questions about whether the seniors on the team were going to be granted an extra year of eligibility for 2021.
Even with the seniors given another chance to play in the upcoming season, head coach Kelly Ford used the rest of the year to not focus just on softball, but prepare her players for life beyond college.
“We talked a lot about that, of course the mental game and mental wellness in our program,” Ford said. “I just hope that I did my job in transitioning the skills that we learn for the mental game of softball and transition them into life, because that's what was thrown at us in a crazy way.”
Even with 2020 over, the coaches from each of the teams are unsure about what comes next. As the COVID-19 vaccines are being distributed, California is still reporting over 20,000 daily positive cases.
The Big West conference season began on Dec. 27-28, but a total of 12 games were canceled as teams dealt with COVID-19 issues. Taylor said that people can expect the rest of the season to be inconsistent, but his team will have to stay ready to play regardless.
“Unfortunately, that's the way that this virus is impacting us and affecting us, and so, I think in the back of your mind, you prepare and do all of the things you normally would do, knowing that there's a chance that somebody could get impacted or infected.” Taylor said. “When that time comes, it comes and what if it doesn't? Hey, we light them up and we play.”
Both Taylor and Harada said that this year can be better than the last, but they will need to put in the work and become mentally stronger.
Brown said he hopes to reunite with the team again in the spring, given that the last time they played was November 2019. A spring season and the 2021 regular season are still possible, but Brown said he wants all of the newcomers to remember that they are still the defending Big West champions.
“I think a big part of that will be getting that group to understand the hard work and the discipline and the attention to detail that it takes to be a champion,” Brown said. “I think between my staff and the women that we have, 2021 is just another opportunity for us to be successful.”
The softball team will begin practicing together in mid-January after they had some fall workouts together, which Ford said was “like Christmas every day.” Ford has been told that a season will happen for her team as they prepare to be one of the next teams to return to CSUF. She added that this year will represent joy, inspiration and opportunity.
“It's kind of an opportunity to reset and put 2020 behind us; use the knowledge that we've gained, use the time of reflection, to just flat out get better,” Ford said. “We're going to proceed with our season. Do I think some tweaks are going to be made to it? I do, I do, and we're prepared for it. So we're kind of like, whatever you're gonna give us, we're going to take it and knock it out of the park.”