'We were on a roll': Disappointment after Navy athletics pauses activities, but some hope games begin again soon
By BILL WAGNER | The Capitol | Published: March 3, 2021
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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Tribune News Service) — This past weekend was a glorious one for Navy athletics.
Navy varsity teams were involved with 26 events, 20 of which were held here in Annapolis. All that activity is due to an unprecedented situation in which fall, winter and spring sports compete simultaneously.
Sunday alone was a whirlwind with Navy beating Jacksonville in lacrosse, Colgate in men's soccer and Loyola Maryland in men's basketball. The Midshipmen were also victorious in women's tennis along with men and women's swimming and diving.
"What a great time to be involved with Navy sports with so much going on at the same time," Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk said. "All the athletes and coaches had a spring in their step. They were back where they love to be — on the field of competition. Across the board, we had great morale, incredible enthusiasm and tremendous energy."
"We were on a roll," he said.
Gladchuk spent the weekend bopping from one home event to another — driving from Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium to the Glenn Warner Soccer Facility to Alumni Hall. He started the day by watching men's lacrosse notch a thrilling come-from-behind victory and ended the day cheering men's basketball as it captured the Patriot League regular-season championship for the first time since 2000.
All the fun and games came to a crashing halt on Sunday night when the academy announced increased mitigation efforts in response to an uptick in positive coronavirus cases. Vice Admiral Sean Buck, the superintendent, announced a return to full restriction of movement.
"It's a reflection of the uncertainty and how unpredictable it has been to operate in this COVID environment," Gladchuk said. "We literally take one day at a time. There's just no telling how things will turn out tomorrow."
As part of that order, Navy athletics announced a 10-day pause in all activities. That means no practices or competitions for a minimum of 10 days. Varsity teams were scheduled to participate in 22 events over the next 10 days and some, such as the Patriot League Championship meet for cross country, cannot be rescheduled.
"We are going to make every effort to make up as many games and competitions as possible," Gladchuk said. "Hopefully, this is just a 10-day pause, and we won't lose too much. Hopefully, we'll see the numbers head in the right direction again, and we can get back on track."
Gladchuk met with Naval Academy administrators early Monday morning, addressed the affected varsity coaches at noon then spoke to selected varsity team captains in the afternoon.
"Certainly, the midshipmen are very disappointed. They look forward to practicing and playing every day," Gladchuk said. "We have an incredible staff of coaching professionals that is willing to adjust and make accommodations. Of course, they're also extremely frustrated. Everyone understands this is a situation that is completely out of anyone's control."
Navy men's basketball, which earned the top seed for the Patriot League Tournament, is exempt from the athletics pause. That's because members of the men's basketball team have been isolated from the rest of the Brigade of Midshipmen since last week.
Gladchuk said the men's basketball players were moved to Navy Lodge Annapolis, a military housing facility that is part of the Naval Academy, North Severn complex. He said the decision to relocate the men's basketball team happened last week after two players got caught up in contact tracing involving an individual unrelated to the program.
Navy men's basketball players will continue to be housed at Navy Lodge through the end of the Patriot League Tournament. Navy opens play in the tournament this Saturday at Alumni Hall.
Gladchuk said the superintendent had approved a plan to also move the Navy women's basketball team to Navy Lodge. However, a positive test involving a Tier 1 individual within the program scrapped that plan.
"Unfortunately, the women caught a positive in their program before we could move them," he said.
Basketball is the only collegiate sport being played during the 2020-21 academic year that must shut down due to one positive test. Other sports — football, soccer, water polo, lacrosse, baseball — can continue to practice and compete despite positive tests.
In basketball, every member of the program — players, coaches, trainers — interacts directly with each other, and therefore, contact tracing applies to all.
Navy women's basketball had its weekend games against Loyola canceled and learned Sunday it would not be allowed to participate in the Patriot League Tournament.
"I'm just so disappointed for the players. I'm sad they don't get to finish the season on the court," Navy women's basketball coach Tim Taylor said. "It's like having an invisible ghost keeping you from playing. You don't get to go out on your terms."
Taylor, in his first season at the helm, said the most difficult aspect of the decision was having to tell seniors Sophie Gatzounas and Sierra Swanda their careers had come to an abrupt end.
"This is one of the biggest tests I've ever had to face. Every other pause, you had hope. Now the hope has been taken away," he said. "We'll find a way to grow from this. We don't see the silver linings right now. You need to have faith the program will come out stronger in the long run."
Making the minimum 10-day pause in athletic activities hard to stomach was everything operating successfully. Last weekend's bonanza of 26 events involving varsity teams was a testament to that.
"I was pleased with where we were in terms of being able to manage the environment up until this point. We were testing regularly, we were identifying and controlling positive cases, we were fully engaged in the protocol, we were isolating when necessary," Gladchuk said.
"For the most part, all the teams were moving forward despite a few hurdles. We were blossoming as an athletic program and feeling really good about the situation."
Navy began the 10-day pause in athletic activities on Sunday afternoon. If there is a decline in positive cases and the Naval Academy medical team is comfortable, athletic practices could resume next Tuesday or Wednesday.
"I'm already counting down the days," Gladchuk said.