The West Coast Conference pushed back the starting date for fall sports competition to Sept. 24 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, joining several conferences that made similar or even stricter decisions.
The WCC’s announcement impacts volleyball, men’s and women’s soccer, and men’s and women’s cross country, as well as traditional spring sports such as tennis, rowing and golf that also compete in the fall.
The conference said the decision doesn’t pertain to men’s and women’s basketball, which can play games as early as Nov. 10.
The news didn’t come as a surprise to Gonzaga coaches Diane Nelson (volleyball) and Paul Meehan (men’s soccer) or their athletes. Several conferences have chosen similar paths, including the Pac-12 and Big East opting for conference-only fall competition and the Horizon League delaying competition until Oct. 1. The MEAC suspended fall sports and hasn’t decided if they’ll be moved to spring.
“I think it was inevitable,” said Nelson, whose team was scheduled to open in late August. “We were already starting to lose competition based on previous conferences making announcements. More than anything, I appreciate we have a next step and we are putting the athletes’ health and well-being first. That’s truly the motivation behind it.
“We’re all still unsure what is the right way to operate. This is a step in the right direction and gives all of us a little bit of clarity for what is next.”
Gonzaga fall sports coaches and athletes were informed of the WCC Presidents’ Council decision by athletic director Mike Roth and several staff members during a Zoom call Thursday morning.
“I met with my team afterward and I didn’t see a lot of emotion,” Meehan said. “They’ve been sort of living day to day for four or five months now. They’re a little bit conditioned and we’ve been preaching (to) control the controllables.”
Men’s soccer had 20 games scheduled, counting a pair of exhibitions. That has been reduced to nine: seven conference games and two nonconference matchups still on the schedule for now. Dixie State visits GU on Sept. 25.
Scheduling changes due to the virus have erased three home games, including one versus Washington. Gonzaga is scheduled to open WCC play in early October.
“Mike (Roth) keeps saying we just don’t know and what is going to change from one day to the next,” Meehan said. “We’re really at the mercy of the counties, the government and federal decisions as well. Nobody knows. I can tell you this, back in April, I didn’t expect to be having this conversation. I thought for sure we’d start (practice) Aug. 11 and our first game would be Aug. 28.”
GU volleyball typically plays four tournaments, including one at home, before beginning WCC play roughly around Sept. 24. Nelson anticipates those tournaments will be postponed until 2021.
“We had a schedule, and then one team dropped from one tournament, and then the Pac-12 canceled,” Nelson said. “It’s changed so rapidly. We were going to put it out a week or two ago and it didn’t make sense.”
Gonzaga cross country teams competed on Aug. 31 last season, while men’s and women’s golf played in tournaments on Sept. 16. Men’s tennis opened Sept. 20, and women’s tennis opened Sept. 27. Women’s rowing competed Sept. 28 with the men opening Oct. 19.
Meehan estimated seven members of the 28-player roster are in Spokane. He isn’t sure when one player from Sweden will make it to campus. Another player is living with his family in Spain, where his parents are employed. The player should be able to return, but will probably have to quarantine for two weeks.
Gonzaga athletes are permitted to lift weights/condition in groups of five. All but three volleyball players are back at GU. They’ve done on-court serving and hitting and some have been playing beach volleyball – all without the coaching staff.
“I told my girls after the Zoom, ‘There isn’t a handbook for parents or this’ (dealing with a virus pandemic),” Nelson said. “We’re just hoping we make the next right move.”
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