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Eagle athletes stuck in the States
GS Tennis
Georgia Southern's Arianne de Winter competes during a February match at the Wallis Tennis Center. - photo by Georgia Southern AMR

There was nothing that could have prepared spring sports players around the country for what has come to pass over the last month.

No matter the sport, thousands of athletes spent the fall and winter months practicing and relentlessly training for their time to shine - be it on a baseball or softball diamond, the tennis courts or on the track.

But as difficult as it has been for so many to see their seasons cancelled, an even greater challenge has presented itself for a handful of Georgia Southern athletes who are a world away from home during this crisis.

Eagle Athletics looks far and wide for talent to represent the school and over a dozen current student-athletes were recruited from overseas. Many of them were able to get back to family and friends in their home countries once seasons and in-person classes were called off, but a few now find themselves riding out the pandemic with no school or sports to keep them company.

“It’s been a rollercoaster the last three weeks,” GS senior women’s tennis player and Netherlands native Arianne de Winter said. “From playing a match on Wednesday, to hearing that the conference called everything off on Friday - that was tough to take.”

On track to graduate in May, de Winter had planned to stick around in order to search for a job. de Winter is still on track with her plan - sans the rest of the tennis season - but now has much more to worry about back at home.

“It’s tough knowing my parents and grandparents are going through such a tough time without me, especially since they fall into the higher-risk category for the virus. It’s also disappointing knowing that my grandparents won’t be able to make their first trip to America to see me graduate.”

Fellow teammate and countrywoman Charlotte van Diemen is also still in Statesboro and shares the same concerns.

“I keep an eye on the news and talk to my family as much as possible,” van Diemen said. “It’s hard to not be there with them and see them. We just have to trust each other when we say we’re doing well and getting through this.”

The spring and summer were supposed to be full of excitement for van Diemen. Following the season, the junior sport management major was set to head to upstate New York to work as a tennis pro at a country club while marketing the club and organizing tournaments and functions.

She's hopeful that she will be able to make it to New York at some point this summer, but — as is the case for all matters involving the pandemic — the news and future plans seem to change from day to day.

As scary and uncertain as the public health situation is, the cancelation of seasons and separation of teams is nearly as upsetting for athletes who lean on the structure of training and the support of teammates and coaches as a part of their everyday life.

Coaches throughout Eagle Athletics have been on the job, keeping their respective teams together with regular teleconference calls that are able to resume an aspect of usual team activities while also keeping up morale. 

The coaches are also looking beyond sports, realizing that they have a responsibility to their players that goes far beyond a win-loss record or a spot in the standings.

"We care about all of our players as much more than just athletes," GS men's soccer coach John Murphy said. "When you're out recruiting, you tell all of these kids and their parents that you're going to take care of them. Of course you think about growing their abilities on the field, but that goes for everything else. This is a time where the most important thing is to make sure that everyone is just staying safe and doing ok."

A big storyline already stemming from the crisis is that spring sports seniors will be offered an additional year of eligibility next season.

There are plenty of logistical and financial ends that will have to be considered by schools as to how they can accomodate the ruling. That also leads to a big choice for players deciding between another year of play or the possible start of a new career.

"I've been runnning and working out at home to stay in shape," de Winter said. "There are a lot of thoughts and emotion in this, so that makes it tough to get out on the court right now. I know this team has a lot it can accomplish and I'm going to consider all of my options.