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JMU baseball huddles before its matchup against Bowling Green on March 6, 2021.

“James Madison University, in coordination with the Colonial Athletic Association, has suspended spring sport competitions until further notice due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

One year ago, JMU Athletics announced the suspension of spring sports following the cancellation of the CAA women’s basketball championship in Elon, North Carolina. Competition never resumed, locker rooms cleared out and maskless games were no more.

“I think that everyone kind of understand that to be flexible and do whatever we have to do keep playing,” JMU baseball redshirt junior pitcher Justin Showalter said. “Especially after missing last year, they’d do just about anything to get back out on the field and stay on the field for a full season this year.”

Women’s basketball was possibly hit the hardest out of all JMU sports in the shutdown a year ago women’s basketball was the No. 2 seed in the CAA tournament with a good chance to make it to the title game. The Dukes had one of their best senior classes in recent years, yet never won a CAA title — 2020 was their chance. Before JMU had the chance to take the court, the CAA canceled the competition. The seniors played their last game in the purple and gold and didn’t know it.

Thursday, JMU competed in the CAA championship against Northeastern for the first time in two years. The Dukes took down the Huskies 81-65 on Thursday to win their first CAA tournament game since 2018, and they play Drexel on Friday. After a season of uncertainty, new protocols and a season unlike any other, JMU women’s basketball is making its case in the CAA tournament.

“I thought we came out ready to go,” head coach Sean O’Regan said. “I was really proud of our balance and our effort.”

When JMU suspended athletics, seniors were left with uncertainty and without closure. Would they return to Harrisonburg? Did COVID-19 take away their chance to finish their career at JMU?

Thanks to a redshirt eligibility rule granted by the NCAA, seniors were offered the chance to return for one more season in the spring. Teams took advantage, and with the redshirt tag, everyone got a second chance.

JMU baseball was on pace for its first conference-winning season since 2011 before COVID-19 struck Harrisonburg. Even though the Diamond Dukes’ lineup was young, they weren’t without experience and started the season hot at 10-6. 

JMU opened its 2021 campaign at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill on Feb. 12-14. In a weekend series, the Dukes went 0-3 before returning home to Veterans Memorial Park where they only took one game against Bowling Green. Showalter said that even though JMU is off to a rocky start, it just takes time to blend a team after a long time off.

“The team definitely has all the pieces we need,” Showalter said. “The goal hasn’t changed, even after these first two weekends: We still hope to go deep into the postseason and put together a really special season.”

With the cancellation of the spring, athletes needed to keep up a good mentality. The time into a season includes all the hours in the workout room and the study lounge and running games notes in one’s head, all which doesn’t account for the on-field preparation. Redshirt junior pitcher Grayson Jones said keeping up mentally was a big part of what kept him locked in when he started training in the summer.

“All of us kept in pretty good contact throughout the summer,” Jones said. “I think the constant communication and contact from our coaches and from our team was something that kept us motivated.”

It wasn’t only women’s basketball and baseball who were affected by the shutdown. All of JMU’s spring activities took a hit, including softball, track & field, men’s and women’s golf, men’s and women’s tennis, and lacrosse.

Heading into all the coming seasons, a weight was lifted off the shoulders of the spring athletes. Hearing about losing the season is difficult, and adjusting to new COVID-19 protocols at top of it can be a lot. Athletes are ready to get back on the field and baseball redshirt junior catcher Michael Morgan added that the training during the summer was all about the team — not falling behind, and being ready for every opportunity.

“Going almost half a year without playing baseball would’ve been super hard,” Morgan said. “Trying to get back into it would’ve been tough, and it was nice to get an opportunity to play this summer.”

Spring sports are back in action a year later, and most are just as good as they were in 2020. Friday, JMU lacrosse plays Wofford a year after a cancellation at Sentara Park. According to  O’Regan, everyone’s ready want to move on, but at the same time they have something to prove. COVID-19 was just a bump in the road, and no matter the adjustments made, they keep on driving.

“We just have to keep getting better,” Morgan said. “We have to keep our heads up and keep sticking to our values.”

Contact Savannah Reger breezesports@gmail.com. For more sports coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.