By Madie Leidt, Student-Athlete At Middlebury College
Kenyon Arena, home of the Middlebury College Panthers, seats 2500 and the place was nearly packed. The men’s hockey team sat to the right of our offensive zone, their hands pressed against the glass, wanting for us what they couldn’t grab, a NESCAC championship. Amherst led 1-0 with 13:53 left to play when a shot from the blue line deflected off my stick blade just enough to squeeze between her purple and black pads, 1-1. Celebrate what is in front of you – moments like these don’t come about too often.
The building hadn’t yet settled when, six seconds later, the Mammoths floated a puck toward our net, taking a lucky bounce and securing their lead yet again, 2-1. Since that moment, it feels as though the hockey gods haven’t looked down on the Middlebury Women’s Ice Hockey team so favorably. A nearly perfect season of 14-1-1 in the conference suddenly became 14-2-1 when we lost the one game we had worked toward since last March.
Storming through the glass doors of the old Williams College barn just a year ago, I knew we didn’t deserve to win, but that didn’t mean we didn’t want to. “We did this to ourselves. Everything was in our control and we let go of what we could have had,” said my teammate, Sidney Porter, in a recent interview. The 2020 season wasn’t like last year’s though, this time we deserved to hang a banner. Our body of work throughout the season placed us first in the conference and second in the nation, but we had nothing to show for it yet.
The NCAA DIII Women’s Ice Hockey Selection Show was held the next day at 10AM. I sauntered into my 12:15PM class, startled by a women’s lacrosse player who yelled jubilantly from the back of the classroom, “Congrats!” The confused look on my face quieted the room as my mind still lingered on our championship loss rather than our bid to the NCAA tournament. I awkwardly smiled and sat down. I wore that loss like a weighted vest for two days when we finally jumped back on the ice for practice. The high tempo and energy of the practice felt promising as we shifted focus to our quarterfinal game on Saturday against the Endicott gulls.
After practice, a handful of my teammates and I made our way to the library to begin prepping for midterms. My phone buzzed – the text from my teammate read, “Amherst cancelled!” The Purple Mammoths were already on my blacklist and here they were to add to the stress, cancelling school for the remainder of the year due to the coronavirus outbreak – in the back of my mind I knew Middlebury would follow suit.
The next hours and days were dominos. Spring semester: cancelled. Spring sports: cancelled. Everything was cancelled, except us. It felt like a matter of time, but there was a glimmer of hope as the NCAA had approved us to play just the day before.
Standing in the hallway outside our locker room, waving to a men’s hockey player as he headed out of Kenyon Arena for the last time, I was startled when another walked up behind me shouting, “NCAA just cancelled all championships.” Before I could let emotions takeover, I turned and walked through the navy-blue double doors, up the stairs, and into my coach’s office. A wave of silence hit me as I walked through the door, interrupted by occasional sniffles, my co-captain already in full tears.
You can imagine the rest. Walking into a locker room with twenty-eight devastated faces looking back at you, expecting you to have an answer, or so it felt. Nothing about the next few days was easy – an entire spring semester packed into seventy-two hours. As the chaos has settled, right winger Jenna Letterie recalls thinking,
“Everything that we did was for nothing – we worked so hard this season and we don’t have a NESCAC banner to show for it or even a shot at NCAA’s – this was all for nothing.”
Players expect four years of memories, team workouts, team events – never did I think I would be sitting at home in March with my mom asking me what I wanted for dinner. We weren’t given the chance to celebrate, celebrate our season, each other, a championship – it all really did feel like it was all for nothing. In all the sadness and resentment, Sidney reminded me,
“We get to celebrate our families now, the people we wouldn’t otherwise see for quite some time.”
As much as it hurt to be stripped of an opportunity we worked for, of time with my teammates, of the college experience, we must remember that we are not alone. Thousands of athletes lost their shot at a title, at closure, at knowing that the work you put in was enough, or not. We can take this time to grieve, but we can also spend time celebrating the opportunities we have been given. The time we can spend with our families, the times we were given the opportunity to hang a banner, win a game, score a goal. Celebrate what is in front of you – moments like these don’t come about too often.