Coast Guard Winter, Spring Athletes See their Seasons Come to an End

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Coast Guard Academy wrestling
AJ Aeberli, then-sophomore at the Coast Guard Academy, clashes with an opponent at the NCAA Division III National Championship tournament in Cleveland, Ohio, March 9, 2018. (U.S. Coast Guard photo/Lauren Steenson)

The Coast Guard Academy had six members of its wrestling team already in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for the NCAA Division III national championships scheduled to begin Friday.

There were three Coast Guard track athletes in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, also awaiting the start of the NCAA indoor championship meet, and five swimmers set to head for Greensboro, North Carolina, for the NCAA championship meet March 18-21.

"This is why we do what we do," Coast Guard athletic director Dan Rose said late Thursday afternoon.

Coast Guard's winter and spring athletes, all of them, had their seasons come to an end earlier Thursday. The New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference announced the cancellation of the spring season due to the ongoing spread of COVID-19, followed quickly by the news that the NCAA has canceled all further winter and spring championship events for Divisions I, II and III.

Coast Guard's baseball and softball teams got news of their seasons coming to an end as they finished play Thursday at the Gene Cusic Classic in Fort Myers, Florida.

Those teams were at the airport and scheduled to fly home Thursday night, with an expected arrival time in New London around midnight.

"For whatever reason, our break was when it was," Coast Guard baseball coach C.C. Grant said. "We at least got to play a little bit of baseball. We were just joking it was the warmest season in Coast Guard history.

"It's unfortunate. I understand why (the decision was made), but for us, these guys are done. There's no coming back (because of military obligations). Other kids can choose to redshirt. For our guys, this is it. ... We put so much time into it at this point. The preseason was something like five weeks long. We finally get to start to play, now it gets taken away and there's nothing you can really do about it."

"When you sit down at the end of the day, your heart breaks," Rose said. "Your heart goes out to the athletes, all the athletes, especially the seniors for losing their athletic season. ... We had athletes with pregame jitters tonight for competing in nationals tomorrow. That's a big disappointment. But we have to remember why. This is in the interest of safety."

The Coast Guard softball team finished 9-1 in Florida, including the 500th career win for coach Donna Koczajowski on Monday. The baseball team was 4-3, including a doubleheader sweep Thursday in which starting pitchers Brett Sullivan and PJ Gravalec combined for 23 strikeouts and allowed just five hits.

"It's been a good trip," Grant said. "It's gone by so fast ... Friday through Thursday but the week goes so fast. It was a good trip. They look forward to it so much."

Coast Guard Rear Adm. Bill Kelly, the academy's superintendent, is a member of the NEWMAC Presidents Council. The conference issued a statement Thursday, canceling the spring season, which read, in part:

"We recognize the disappointment that his decision will bring to our student-athletes, families and fans, but we believe this is in the best interest of the safety and well-being of our students and surrounding communities."

Coast Guard's men's basketball team qualified for the NCAA Division III tournament this season but had already finished its participation, falling in the first round at Brockport.

The Bears' club hockey team also earned a spot in the national tournament, Rose said, but didn't have the chance to go due to its cancellation.

On a personal note, Rose's daughter Alex, an East Lyme High School graduate, is the goalie for the Endicott College women's lacrosse team which is 4-0 and ranked 20th in the nation in Division III.

Rose call it an "unprecedented time" as an athletic director and a parent.

"I feel this on a professional level. I feel this on a personal level," Rose said. "You want to be mad at somebody but there's no one to be mad at. You followed it (Wednesday) where every hour was a new announcement. It's happening so fast.

"My concern is just about getting our athletes back; you want to be there to support your cadets. You feel for every single one."

This article is written by Vickie Fulkerson from The Day, New London, Conn. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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