Jana Morning, Campus Carrier staff writer
NCAA DIII has suspended all fall championships and the decision is still pending on potential championships in the spring. COVID-19 has unexpectedly cut short conference championships for college and university sports teams across the nation (according to the NCAA), and players and coaches are now being forced to take this uncertain and unconventional season in stride. Several senior student athletes at Berry have had to spend the last few months reflecting on how their final season championships, as well as much of their regular season play, have been cancelled. Senior student athletes Kirbi Matthews, Mark Sommerville and Josh Pruett are three such students who have had to deal with the changes brought forth by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kirbi Mathews – Women’s Soccer
Kirbi Mathews said she has been playing soccer since she was four-years-old. She took a chance playing basketball and running track early, but ultimately decided she belonged on the soccer field. Years later, she earned herself a starting spot on Berry’s team.
If you’ve ever watched the midfield play firsthand, you would have immediately recognize her leadership and scrappy, competitive edge on the field. Mathews says that’s what she loves most about being an athlete.
“I love the team environment,” Mathews said. “I don’t like doing things by myself. Just having a team and having those people as your friends too is fun. I’m also very competitive.”
Although her competition was cut short due to COVID-19 precautions, Mathews is still hopeful to play some games in the spring. She reflected on her years on the field at Berry, and through hours of practice and seasons of success, she couldn’t think of anything she would change except every athlete’s response: “doing more.” She thought back to the last competition she took part in and wished it had gone differently.
“I would try harder,” Mathews said. “Do more. Our last game was terrible, and if that was my last game, I don’t want that to be my last game.”
But Matthews does not define herself soley by time spent on the field. As well as in being an athlete, she finds a lot of her identity in Christ.
“I’d like to have a more expounded answer than just Christ for what I find my identity in, but it’s probably Christ and servanthood,” Matthews explained.
Mathews said she’s enjoyed her last three years at Berry and looks forward to her plans after graduation. Although she initially planned to graduate last December, the exercise science major now plans to graduate in the spring and attend PT school the following year.
Mark Sommerville – Football
Mark Sommerville II said he put on his first pair of football cleats at the age of seven.
According to Sommerville, he has enjoyed the sense of comradery and level of competition that he’s been able to experience during his time as an athlete, specifically at Berry.
“I like playing with my friends and being able to compete with my boys,” Sommerville said. “It makes it a lot more fun. I like making plays. It’s a lot of things, and it’s fun to do well at what you’re doing.”
The cornerback played his part in the last three conference championships, and hearing the news of the SAA championship cancellations was completely devastating.
“When we found out that was kind of a wake-up call,” Sommerville said. “When football got cancelled I was like ‘wow’. It just put it in perspective and was surreal to me.”
Because of recent campus outbreaks, football players have been given the choice to opt out of preseason group work. Sommerville tried to remain positive, but ultimately, it was out of his, and everyone else’s, control. Only a handful have decided to take a step back, and Sommerville is among them.
“I’m not all in right now,” Sommerville said. “And I don’t want to give half effort. You hear people saying we’re sellouts because we’re making the decision not to play. We’ve put our hearts into this for three years, and there’s more to the decision than us just not wanting to workout. When you hear things like that, it makes the decision even harder.”
Sommerville referred back to the sense of comradery with the other seniors he’s bonded with to describe how one of their decisions can affect the whole group.
“Our coach always says not to let others affect our decisions, but they’re part of the reason why I play,” Sommerville said. “Saying we shouldn’t let them affect our decision is kind of impossible.”
Though sports have been a huge part of his life for the last fourteen years, Sommerville doesn’t define himself through sports, but takes what he’s learned through sports, and attributes that to who he’s become growing up.
“Sports has helped me create an identity,” Sommerville said. “It’s not who I am. It’s played a part in who I am and has allowed me to create some of the values that I have as far as how to treat people, how to talk to people, and eventually how to lead people. That’s something that I’ve learned through sports.”
He went on to say that he wasn’t always a leader, or the guy who led by example, but that he learned and grew into those roles through sports.
“I think I am a man of character and a man of honor through what sports have taught me,” Sommerville said.
Sommerville says he doesn’t have much regret when it comes to his attitude and dedication to sports these last three years, but COVID-19 has given him a new appreciation for the time he does have, both in football and other aspects of life.
“In this time now, I would take advantage of being able to play football knowing that it’s not eternal and that it does eventually run out, just like everything else,” Sommerville said.
Josh Pruett – Men’s Soccer
Josh Pruett says he’s been playing soccer for as long as he can remember. To him, being a part of athletics, especially at Berry, means friendship, brotherhood and community.
“The group of guys that I’m always around and just the community of athletes at Berry are great,” Pruett said. “I feel like every athlete knows every athlete. You have a better connection with everyone, and get to support everyone else’s games as well.”
He was unsure how to feel when the news first broke about possible championship cancellations due to COVID-19 precautions.
“Definitely a lot of mixed emotions,” Pruett said. “Mainly frustrated. We were trying to stay optimistic the entire time, trying to stay on top of our workouts, then the news came out and so it kind of demoralized everyone.”
Pruett has leaned on his teammates to find the motivation to continue to work hard and prepare for the possibility of a spring season. The team practices three days per week and works out twice per week.
“Now being back on campus and around the guys, practice and work with the team have been good,” Pruett said. “Mainly, we’re trying to stay optimistic, especially for the younger guys.”
Pruett is more than just a soccer player and still finds his identity within the Berry community. When he is not on the field, the pre-med senior finds himself in the athletic and exercise science departments.
“I love science,” Pruett said. “So, the people I’m closest to outside of sports are the athletic or science departments. I love being around them.”