The NCAA women’s lacrosse tournament was scheduled to begin this weekend. And Colorado coach Ann Elliott Whidden wasn’t planning to be there.
Of course, the Buffaloes were planning to be there. But like everything else this spring, nothing has unfolded according to plan.
Certainly, the most painful gut-punch to CU Buffs athletics when the expanding COVID-19 pandemic canceled all NCAA sports two months ago was the erasing of the men’s basketball team’s pending appearance in the NCAA Tournament. After that, arguably the biggest setback for CU athletics was the loss of the lacrosse season, as the Buffs were five games into a schedule they assumed would end with a fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament berth.
Elliott Whidden wouldn’t have been there. CU’s head coach is due to give birth to twins — one boy, one girl — on May 19, and she already was planning to let her staff do the bulk of the heavy lifting during the postseason.
“For our team, we were just getting started,” Elliott Whidden said. “We had only played five games, and similar to the previous season we were a little up and down in the beginning, but I felt like we were starting to really grow as a younger team starting to find their roles. This was a really motivated group and a group that was connected with each other.
“We had heard the news of other conferences canceling their seasons, and it had been on our players’ minds. Our message to them was that we have to focus on what we can control.”
The Buffs sported a 3-2 record, with losses on the road against nationally-ranked foes at Florida and Michigan, when they began boarding a bus for the airport for a two-game trip set to begin with the Pac-12 Conference opener at Cal on March 13. By then, the coronavirus had already spread prevalently enough that Elliott Whidden was a late scratch for that travelling party, but that soon became a moot point when the remainder of the season was canceled.
“There’s no playbook for that. There’s no right way to tell a group all of the sudden that their season was coming to an end,” Elliott Whidden said. “There’s not really anything anyone can do about it. I think at that time we were in the beginning phases and it was tough to comprehend the full scope of the situation. It’s difficult to lose something that you love and you’ve worked hard for. But as time has gone and we’ve all seen everything that is happening not just here but across the world, we understand that our season is just a small part of that and it was the right thing to do.”
With finals having been completed this week, the next task for Elliott Whidden, besides a healthy delivery for her first children, is settling the Buffs’ 2021 roster. Weeks after the spring sports slate was canceled, the NCAA announced it would allow all spring student-athletes to retain the year of eligibility they didn’t use in 2020.
That will require a little bit of juggling for spring coaches like Elliott Whidden, who had eight seniors on the 2020 roster. Some of those seniors are likely to return for a delayed senior season in 2021. Others might opt to say farewell to collegiate lacrosse to embark on their post-graduate plans.
“I don’t think anyone envisions their senior year coming to an end in that fashion,” Elliott Whidden said. “We’re still finalizing as little bit in that area. We’ve spoken to each of them in terms of their plans and what makes sense for them and what makes sense for us as we move forward. I think in the next week or two hopefully we’ll have that kind of finalized. I expect there to be a few that will come back, and there’s definitely a bunch that already have jobs lined up that are weighing that decision.”