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BYU women’s golf team was ‘reaching its peak’ before season was cut short by COVID-19 outbreak

Cougars’ coach Carrie Roberts says the NCAA should not only give spring sports student-athletes their year of eligibility back, it should also waive scholarship limits

Members of the BYU women’s golf team celebrate an outstanding round while qualifying for the 2019 NCAA Women’s Golf Tournament. The Cougars were having another solid season in 2020 before it was canceled due to the COVID-19 scare Courtesy BYU

PROVO — For a few glorious moments on a memorable, unseasonably warm Thursday afternoon in mid-March, members of the BYU women’s golf team gathered on the practice green at nearby Riverside Country Club to discuss what they were going to wear in a Las Vegas tournament that had just been added to their schedule.

Then coach Carrie Roberts delivered the heart-wrenching news. The NCAA had just canceled every spring sport.

“And our season was over, just like that,” Roberts said.

A former BYU women’s golf standout from 1998-2002 when she was known as Carrie Summerhays, Roberts said at first her golfers didn’t believe her. She almost didn’t believe it herself, although a bit of concern had surfaced the night before when the NBA put its season on hold to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

“We were just practicing as a team, and then it just escalated so quickly,” Roberts said. “It honestly took me a little while to process what it meant, and where to go from there. Part of me is (still) almost like, ‘April is going to come and we are going to be able to play our conference championship.’”

Nope. That’s it. Tears were shed as reality set in, Roberts said.

“First, it was just shock, and then disappointment,” she said. “They kinda didn’t believe it at first. It was like, ‘Holy crap. What? Like, no way.’ And then the disappointment came. They all wanted the chance to compete, but they all seemed to handle it pretty well.”

Making matters worse for the Cougars, it was a season that was just starting to get good again, after a few rocky tournaments in February. BYU finished third at the Entrada Classic in St. George March 9-10, with sophomore Allysha Mae Mateo finishing tied for third and junior Naomi Soifua finishing tied for 15th.

As the only senior on the squad, Anna Kennedy has the right to be the most disappointed because she may never get the chance to compete collegiately again. However, the NCAA has said that it will give a year of eligibility back to all spring sports participants. Kennedy, from Parker, Colorado, recorded seven top-20 finishes in her four-year career.

Roberts said Kennedy, like most seniors, had already started making plans for life after college and will have to decide whether returning for another season is worth altering those plans.

“Anna is still looking at it, and seeing what she can make work, and whether or not coming back makes sense or if it makes more sense to move forward,” Roberts said.

One major NCAA decision that coaches of all spring sports are waiting for is whether the governing body will waive scholarship limits. Women’s golf has six scholarships to divide among however many golfers a coach wants, for instance, so something has to give next fall when a couple recruits join the program.

Also, coaches are wondering if graduating players who return will be required to enroll in classes for a postgraduate degree.

“There are a lot of unknowns still,” Roberts said, noting that she encouraged her out-of-state golfers such as Kennedy, sophomore Annick Haczkiewicz (Las Vegas), Mateo (Hawaii) and freshman Cynthia Tu (Virginia) to return home when BYU put all classes online so they could be with their families. Soifua (Provo), freshman Kerstin Fotu (Alpine) and freshman Alina Vannarath (Saratoga Springs) are from Utah.

But like BYU’s No. 1-ranked men’s volleyball team, its highly successful track and field teams and its NCAA Tournament-bound men’s basketball team, the women can now only wonder what might have been.

Last fall — college golf seasons are split — the Cougars started as if they were going to be fine replacing two-time WCC player of the year Rose Huang. They won the Edean Ihlanfeldt Invite in Sammamish, Washington, and were second in two other tournaments before the break.

They were a birdie-making machine in the fall, and “had probably the best third-round scoring average in the country,” Roberts said.

But they weren’t able to carry that success into the second half of the season.

“It wasn’t our best (spring) season,” Roberts acknowledged. “That’s the thing: we were kind of a bubble team for regionals. And if we could have played well the last couple of events, we (were) in. We definitely could have won conference. We are still young, still learning some things.”

Tu, the freshman from Virginia, returned from a hand injury to shoot a 75 and a 73 at Entrada, and Mateo was also rolling.

“We were starting to play some really good golf, which makes it kind of a disappointment because I felt like we were kind of reaching our peak when we needed to,” Roberts said. “Just let us finish strong and we could say we had a really happy ending to the season.”

Instead of an incomplete one.