by Jessie Tobin
“I was heartbroken. The hardest part was that I played my last college lacrosse game ever without even knowing it,” said Claire Swanson, senior midfielder on The University of Tampa’s women’s lacrosse team. “I had my last practice ever without knowing it. In an instant everything was ripped away from us and we had absolutely no control in the situation.”
It has been three weeks since the NCAA canceled spring sport seasons after the coronavirus outbreak. At UT that left the women’s lacrosse team with seven seniors unsatisfied with their season ending so suddenly.
Swanson is an advertising and public relations major, minoring in Spanish and aerospace. Along with being a student athlete, she has been the president of Fellowship of Christian Athletes for two years, is an Air Force ROTC cadet at The University of South Florida, and volunteers at her church weekly.
Despite the season being cut short, Swanson achieved a tremendous amount through her college career. She was named this year’s UT woman athlete of the year, was UT’s first ever Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Association (IWLCA) First Team All American, received National Player of the Week, and earned Sunshine State Conference (SSC) player of the year for the first time in program history in 2019.
“There really aren’t enough ways to share how proud I am of Claire’s accomplishments,” said Kelly Gallagher, head coach. “One of the first things that I noticed about Claire was her athleticism and work ethic. She would work hard on every part of the field. Claire is a great competitor. She is always pushing herself and, in turn, her teammates in every rep in every drill.”
Swanson was pleased with her time at UT but disappointed with how her career ended, especially since she had her eyes set on making program history by being the first team to win a National Championship.
“I truly believe this year was our year. It kills me to think of the unknown of this whole year,” said Swanson. “We will never know who would have won the SSC or National Championship, who would get All-American, who would get Player of the Year.”
The women’s lacrosse team won the SSC Championship for the first time in the program’s history in 2019 and have been ranked in the top 10 nationally in Division II from the end of 2019 into the end of their 2020 season.
“All of our hard work that we put in all year came to a disappointing ending. We had been working so hard toward our goal of reaching the NCAA playoffs,” said Natalie Spanhake, junior defenseman. “I can’t imagine how the seniors felt with this ending their lacrosse careers. It really emphasized the saying ‘play every day like it’s your last, because you never truly know when it could be.’”
The NCAA has allowed an additional year of eligibility which means seniors could return next season to compete. But due to their post-graduation plans, most of the seniors will not be able to return, including Swanson.
“I am in a unique situation commissioning into the Air Force in May when I graduate and will be going off to Pilot Training, so there is no time or place in my plans for redshirting,” said Swanson.
Besides losing the season, Swanson and so many other seniors will lose their opportunity to walk the stage at graduation and receive their diplomas.
“We have looked forward to that moment ever since we were kids. Walking across the stage, celebrating with friends, having a party and finishing your senior year of a sport,” Swanson said.
Gallagher said she understood and supported the decisions made by the NCAA, SSC, and UT. But it still left her with a heavy heart for her senior players.
“I share in their sadness, that there won’t be any finality to it all. But, most importantly, I celebrate everything they did every day of their four years at UT. They came into a young program and decided to not only make an impact but leave a lasting legacy. The season may have been cut short, their legacy will not,” said Gallagher.
Jessie Tobin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org