HAYS — The season finale for five Fort
Hays State wrestlers was scheduled to begin March 13, and the call came through
at 3:18 p.m. March 12.
Before the NCAA Division II Wrestling Championship could begin in Sioux Falls, S.D., it was over.
The decision to cancel NCAA winter and spring championships marked the end of their collegiate careers.
Fort Hays Tigers Brandon Ball, Jordan Davis, Marty Verhaeghe, Aryus Jones and Mason Turner had arrived in Sioux Falls at Augustana University.
For Hoisington High graduate Ball, this was not a new experience. He had qualified for the championships the past three years. However, this year, he was aiming for the title of national champion. He was looking to become a three-time All-American.
“I knew that it (COVID-19) would make its impact throughout the U.S., but I didn’t think it would affect me much,” Ball said. “What surprised me the most was how fast everything changed in 24 hours.”
For Ball, his wrestling career had ended.
“I have spent five years training in college to have a shot at being able to achieve my goal of being a national champion for it just to be taken away from me,” Ball said.
Ball also misses the opportunity to
participate in track and field as a pole vaulter.
“It made me grow up sooner than I had planned,” Ball said. “I absolutely love sports but there is more to life than wrestling and track. I need to focus on what I will be doing after I graduate.”
He utilized the situation as a learning
“My biggest take away from this situation was that you never know when your life will change,” Ball said. “You need to give it your best effort at everything you do because you never know when it will be your last. We are never guaranteed tomorrow.”
Davis was making his first appearance at the national tourney along with Verhaeghe, Jones and Turner.
“It was a crushing blow to get the news,”
said Fort Hays State wrestling coach Chas Thompson. “Our five national
qualifiers were crushed. We had to try to process it. These guys had been
training for seven months and were hours away from weighing in.”
Thompson expressed his initial frustration with the NCAA’s decision.
“I’ll be the first to admit that I was angry and felt it was extreme to shut us down,” he said.
The passage of time on the expanding COVID-19 pandemic provided perspective.
“You understand that this pandemic is bigger than you, your team and sport,” Thompson said. “We have to make sure this doesn’t turn into a mass epidemic where it’s spreading like wildfire.”