In 2020, the world of sports saw canceled tournaments, postponed events, and a tsunami of social justice gaining momentum on courts and fields all over the world.
With chaos, triumph, and togetherness as the themes at the forefront of sports in 2020, some of Cal Poly’s athletes spoke to Mustang News reflecting on the wild year in sports.
Co-captain of Cal Poly Volleyball and senior outside hitter Maia Dvoracek described 2020 as “a rollercoaster” for the team.
“From thinking there’s no way they are cancelling our season, then believing that they’ll give us a spring, it was really taxing emotionally,” Dvoracek said.
Dvoracek said she sympathized with other athletes who’s seasons ended early.
“It was heartbreaking watching Women’s Basketball’s run in the Big West Championship cut short,” Dvoracek said. “We love to root on our fellow women’s sports, we share the gym with them so we know how hard they’ve worked at this. I wouldn’t know how to cope.”
Volleyball Co-Captain and junior middle blocker Meredith Phillips felt the same.
“I loved watching Beach Volleyball open their new home facilities, with hundreds of fans watching, and then reaching fifth in the nation,” Phillips said. “I feel bad for those seniors on their last go.”
When looking at sports outside of Cal Poly, Phillips said she recalls the joy she felt when sports were finally coming back at the end of the summer.
“Watching sports once again was a relief,” Phillips said. “It was a well-needed escape from reality. It was nice to sit down and root for a team.”
Both Phillips and Dvoracek were extremely upset about the postponement of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Seeing the Olympics of all events get postponed really puts into perspective how serious COVID-19 was for the world of sports,” Dvoracek said.
Looking forward to sports in the year 2021, both Volleyball captains said they are excited for what’s ahead.
“I am so excited for everything this year,” Dvoracek said. “I would pay an unbelievable amount of money to go see an actual sports game again, I would like to see our sport to be playing again.”
Men’s and Women’s Basketball
Cal Poly Men’s Basketball experienced turbulence during 2020. While coach John Smith was hired on Mar. 28, 2019, the 2019-20 season was his first time coaching the Mustangs.
“[The 2019-20 season] was a bit of a learning curve because we had to get used to his system and his style of play,” senior guard Keith Smith said.
Although Coach Smith was a new face to most, he already had family ties to Keith, as the point guard was Smith’s nephew. The family reunion grew even bigger when Smith’s son, Jamal Smith, transferred from Cal State Fullerton to Cal Poly.
“When I first found the news, I was like man I get to play for my uncle,” Keith said. “That is a crazy thing not many people get to say they get to do. With the whole family affair, that is something people write stories about.”
While the Smiths found a new home in San Luis Obispo, the 2019-20 season was filled with highs and lows. The season was highlighted by a buzzer-beater win against Coach Smith’s former team, Cal State Fullerton.
“That was probably one of the best college moments I have been a part of just from how happy and together the team played,” Keith said. “It was one of the happiest moments that I remember from the whole season last year.”
However, the Mustangs’ season ended on a low note when they lost the final game against UCSB. The Mustangs, who held a 4-11 conference record, needed to win their last game in order to make the Big West Tournament and fell short in a 69-67 loss to the Gauchos. The Mustangs finished with a 7-23 (4-12 Big West) record in Coach Smith’s first season.
Cal Poly Women’s Basketball found themselves narrowly making the Big West Tournament during the 2019-20 season as the last seed after producing an 11-18 (6-10 Big West) record. The Mustangs shocked the conference after reaching the semifinals as the No. 8 seed after defeating No. 5 seed Long Beach State 59-48 in the first round and No. 3 UC Irvine 70-49 in the quarterfinals.
However, their postseason success came to an abrupt end after the tournament was cancelled because of COVID-19.
“I know we are still a little fired up from how last season ended,” senior forward Sierra Campisano said. “It was a bummer we were not able to finish what we started.”
“I know we were disappointed about how it turned out, and we are going to try to use that as fuel for our fire as we go into conference play [this season],” sophomore guard Abbey Ellis said.
At the end of 2020, both basketball programs began their 2020-21 seasons as the first sports to resume play during the COVID-19 pandemic. Men’s Basketball finished 2020 with a 2-4 record, while the Women’s team began their season with a 4-2 record before the turn of the calendar year.
Men’s Soccer was also heavily affected in 2020 despite not playing a single minute, being a fall sport. Originally, the team was told that the 2020 fall season was suspended and that games would be conducted later in the school year, potentially in spring 2021. However, on Dec. 10 the Big West Conference announced that fall sports would be cancelled for the 2020 season.
“The resources and protocols needed to safely and equitably conduct fall, winter and spring sports seasons concurrently was not in line with those priorities nor in the best interests of our student-athletes and coaches,” the Big West Conference press release read.
The teams, including Men’s Soccer, were nothing short of disappointed by being left hanging, wondering how their season was going to resume, only to have it cancelled.
“We’re obviously really disappointed, but we knew it was a possibility. So it wasn’t a crazy shock either just because of the virus and everything going on,” team captain and senior midfielder Emmanuel Perez said.
“It was definitely disappointing,” Perez said. “I was already in my preseason training, I was working on my fitness and I had every day planned out of what I needed to do every single day.”
That said, for Men’s Soccer along with the other fall sports, there’s an outside chance they could have some semblance of a season. Senior defender Josh Graham recently posted a message on Instagram from the soccer players of the Big West Conference directed to the Big West Board of Directors, asking for the reinstatement of their season.
“We were all deeply saddened by the postponement of our fall soccer season, and now the Big West Board of Directors has taken away what we care about most — playing for a Big West Championship,” the message read. “We respectfully ask the Big West Board of Directors to reinstate the championship this spring.”