With today’s issue of The Collegian being the final one of the 2020-21 year, it is only fitting to close it out by reflecting on the roller coaster ride of this past year in sports.
March 11, 2020, is a date not just sports fans but people across the United States will remember for the rest of their lives: the day sports stopped. Having just defeated TCU in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City, Missouri, the Kansas State men’s basketball team had unknowingly played in one of the final major sporting events in the United States.
Head coach Bruce Weber was visibly concerned when asked about the situation with the COVID-19 virus, which the CDC had just declared a pandemic earlier that day.
“We’re trying to protect everybody’s health, and we don’t want our country locked down like Italy is right now where everyone is quarantined. … It’s scary,” Weber said in a March 11, 2020 interview.
Little did he know, that scary thought was going to turn into a dreadful reality soon.
The next day, the NCAA decided to cancel all remaining winter and spring sports championships. Other major sports like the NBA and MLB also decided to suspend their seasons until further notice. Thus began a time without sports never seen before.
In that time, concerns raised and changes occurred at K-State and across the country.
While things seemed bleak at times, sports returned with students in August, albeit in a rather different way.
K-State lowered stadium capacities and required masks, but sports returned to Manhattan on September 12, 2020 in a way not many people expected — a loss.
Arkansas State upset the K-State football team 35-31 in the season opener, beginning a year full of struggles for K-State Athletics. The year included a 4-6 finish for the football team, a 9-20 finish for the men’s basketball team and a nearly month-long hiatus for the women’s basketball team because of COVID-19.
While there were plenty of struggles throughout this year in athletics, there were plenty of positives that can’t be overlooked.
Oh yeah, and a lot of them were against Oklahoma.
Perhaps the game K-State fans are still giddy about is football’s 38-35 victory over the No. 3 ranked Oklahoma Sooners back in late September. Stumbling into Norman, Oklahoma, with hardly enough players to fill the roster, K-State overcame a three-touchdown deficit in the second half, sending Manhattan into a frenzy for the first time since the pandemic started.
What about Mike McGuirl’s unforgettable “senior night” in February, hitting three consecutive three-pointers to help the men’s basketball team upend the No. 7 ranked Sooners? The win helped kick-start a run by the Wildcats, bringing them toe-to-toe with eventual 2021 NCAA National Champions Baylor Bears in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Championship.
In other sports, K-State’s soccer team finished with the most wins and highest finish in the Big 12 Conference standings in team history. Additionally, the volleyball team barely missed the shortened NCAA Tournament field in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Wildcats.
And the year isn’t over yet.
The baseball team has already clinched their most wins since the 2017 season and is riding a lot of momentum heading into the final three series before the Big 12 Championship starting on May 26. Additionally, sophomore men’s golfer Tim Tillmanns will compete in the 2021 NCAA Stillwater Regional on May 17.
There is plenty of excitement brewing for next year as many K-State teams have young talent. Running back Deuce Vaughn and outside hitter Aliyah Carter were Big 12 freshmen of the year in their respective sports.
Big 12 All-Conference snub Nijel Pack will also return to the court next year for his sophomore season with the men’s basketball team.
Not only will the youth return, but so will many important seniors. Because of the pandemic, the NCAA will provide one extra year of eligibility for seniors who participated in fall and winter sports this year.
Quarterback Skylar Thompson will return for the football team, guard Mike McGuirl for the men’s basketball team and midfielder Brookelynn Entz for the soccer team. These senior leaders should be the key the growing Wildcat teams need next year.
Football Head Coach Chris Klieman and K-State Athletic Director Gene Taylor both signed contract extensions this year. Klieman will remain head coach through the 2026 season, while Taylor will remain as Athletic Director through the 2026-27 academic year.
Fingers are crossed stadiums will return to full capacity without the need for masks next year, but that all depends on how the continued pandemic response plays out.