After the Dalton State College basketball team had their national championship hopes erased, the other athletics programs knew their time was numbered.
Due to the outbreak and spread of the new coronavirus (COVID-19), sports leagues and organizations across the country began to suspend and cancel seasons earlier this month. The basketball team, which had just earned a top seed in the NAIA National Championship Tournament, saw that tournament cancelled, and Dalton State men’s golf coach Ben Rickett began fielding questions about that program’s season.
“Things just escalated extremely quickly,” Rickett said. “You hear about basketball, and you obviously start to get some questions.”
The team, ranked fifth in the last-published NAIA poll, had a few remaining tournaments scheduled before the Southern States Athletic Conference and NAIA National championships. After a decision by the NAIA, all spring sports seasons would be cancelled. Promising seasons for both the men’s team and women’s program, who also ended the year ranked fifth, were cut short.
“As a coach, you’re kind of at a loss for words on what to tell them,” Rickett said.
“It’s hard to put into words how disappointing it is, to put four years into it and have it all end just like that,” said Ben Rebne, one of three seniors on the team that was set to go for its fourth SSAC title in four years.
Rebne was in the midst of a season that saw him get four individual tournament wins and was ranked second in the NAIA individually, according to Golfstat.com.
Those seniors have been the backbone of a program that quickly built itself into a national contender after athletics returned to the school in 2013, Rickett said.
“When you start including the recruiting process, they’ve been around the program for seven years,” Rickett said. “That’s the entire time the program has been around.”
Those seniors — Sport Allmond, Eli Hendricks and Rebne — have the chance to return to school for another chance at a full senior season.
The NAIA recently announced that senior athletes in spring sports would be offered an extra year of eligibility in exchange for their shortened seasons.
Despite the draw of returning to school for another year, Rebne said, the decision is a complicated one.
“When that came out, it’s such a hard question to process,” Rebne said. “You’ve got to put so much thought into it whether going back is going to pay off for you. It’s such a big decision to go into the real world or to stay another year.”
Rebne hasn’t made a decision yet, he said, and neither have Allmond or Hendricks.
“We’re still having those conversations on what will be best for them,” Rickett said.
Golfers and coaches look forward to the spring month, Rickett said, but now the Roadrunners won’t get to take the course in the warming weather.
“This time of year is the time that we’re supposed to be out there,” Rickett said. “You get through the winter and the weather is nice, and now you can’t be out there.”
Warm weather or cold, being out on the course with teammates, not wins or success, is what Rebne said he’ll miss most if his career comes to a close.
“To know that I’m probably not going to see a lot of the guys anymore, that was probably the harder part than not being able to play in the conference or national tournament,” Rebne said. “We aren’t going to get that time to have as a team and a family on the golf course anymore.”