Anne Arundel Community College has much to consider after the National Junior College Athletic Association announced Monday it would be shifting most of its fall sports, including football, men’s and women’s soccer and volleyball, to the spring semester. The NJCAA will permit cross country of all three divisions to continue competition this fall, as well as women’s tennis, though the latter, like football, is a sport AACC does not sponsor.
In addition, the start of the winter season has been pushed back to January. For AACC, that means men and women’s basketball will have to scrap whatever games it would normally play in October, November, and December.
There’s still no guarantee AACC will host cross country this fall. Riverhawks athletic director Duane Herr said Tuesday the school is exploring all factors into how it could provide an adequate athletic experience for its cross country runners this upcoming semester.
“Right now, the big question — outside of their safety — for cross country is our regular season relies on competing four-year universities, taking part in a lot of combined meets,” Herr said.
The recent postponements and cancellations of various collegiate leagues play into this decision. AACC competed against four-year schools such as Washington and Lee, which announced last week it will not compete in 2020.
“We’ve really been watching closely what the rest of our region membership is doing, especially as it relates to that sport, to ensure that it would be permissible at all for college leadership to allow us to compete in the fall, is there a viable schedule,” Herr said. “We haven’t made any hard and fast decisions as the [NJCAA] plan was just announced, but we want to make sure our student-athletes are not just safe, but also have a reasonable and strong schedule to compete in.”
The NJCAA has a July 27 deadline for colleges to notify the national office with its intentions in terms of athletic competition for the 2020-21 academic year. Should individual cross-country programs, for example, decide not to continue with the fall season, they would have to make that decision in the next two weeks.
Herr said AACC plans to make that deadline. In the meantime, it’s doing all it can to inform its coaches and athletes of ongoing processes while working on measures that support the athletes both physically and mentally. The school will rely on the student-athlete advisory council to serve as a bridge between athletes’ concerns and athletic staff.
Taliyah Johnson, a rising sophomore at AACC who posted 81 kills for the volleyball team last season, had hoped the same fate that befell other athletic bodies such as the Ivy League and Patriot League, who both announced postponements in recent days, wouldn’t strike the NJCAA. But now that it has, she knows how she’ll get through these months.
“I think it would be the support of your teammates, knowing that you’re all going through the same thing,” Johnson said, “and that you’ll have somebody to lean on and to talk to during this time.”
When the NJCAA news came down, Herr said he sent out an email to his coaches emphasizing support for the Riverhawks athletes going forward.
Glen Burnie graduate Morgan Duly, entering her second year playing soccer for AACC, feels the warmth from the AACC staff. Regardless of the postponement, Duly’s still aiming to strengthen bonds between her teammates. Moving the season a few months into the future doesn’t change those goals.
She feels fortunate. Unlike the athletes who lost their spring seasons, hers is, for now, still going to happen.
“It’s more personal growth, just to show you can get through it,” Duly said. “Yes, it wasn’t ideal for us to not be able to have our season, but it does show that our athletics and all the athletes, we’re all very understanding. It’s better to have our season held later than not have it at all.”
Brenden LeMaster, a graduate of Bowie High headed into his second season as goalkeeper for the Riverhawks men’s soccer team, felt pride in his development over the last six months. Another six months or so of training ahead of him isn’t a bad thing.
“Kind of a blessing. Hopefully I’m in the running for some other positions now,” LeMaster said.
There is a downside. LeMaster had intended to complete almost all of his classes for his associate’s degree with potentially just one more credit to attain next spring. Now, he must reorganize his future.
“It adds to the stress,” LeMaster said. “I know it’s just a year, but I feel like these years, when you’re in your early 20s, are super important.”
Herr said the college has worked up a plan to provide athletes with necessary personal protective equipment.
Budgeting and planning travel will likely be a challenge going forward. One of the most pressing questions involves whether AACC can safely bring its cross country teams to the NJCAA Division III Championship, which is set in Massachusetts.
Herr does not foresee overnight stays for his athletes in the future.
“Some things will change in favor of the budget, if you will. As we navigate what we need to do to adequately and safely protect our student-athletes, that will come up in resources conversations,” Herr said.
Part of planning will be trying to determine how AACC can schedule more sports than usual on limited facilities. Volleyball and basketball, for instance, would need to share a court for some time.
With its season beginning in January, Riverhawks men’s and women’s basketball is set to lose half of its playable time. Typically, both programs’ seasons begin in late October.
As members of the Maryland Junior College Athletic Conference, Division III AACC plays a fairly unusual slate by NCAA standards, competing against Division I JUCO programs, such as Harford Community College, and D-II programs, such as the College of Southern Maryland, as well as D-III.
Though at what stage of pandemic recovery the United States will be in come late winter is yet unknown, the location of postseason play is still a concern to consider for AACC. Last year, the Riverhawks men played Sandhills Community College in the District Tournament in North Carolina.
“Our schedule is not necessarily made as a traditional four-year Division I schedule is, where you play your warm-up games in the early portion and then you play your conference games,” Herr said. “I’m pretty confident we can be creative in scheduling to allow for the competitions that matter most to happen in a reasonable time frame so that we can get into that postseason conversation. As a region, we have master schedules that we work off of and members that serve on those committees to establish those master schedules. They’re going back and taking a look at everything to go over all logistics.”
Baltimore Sun Media Group staffer Brent Kennedy contributed to this article.
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