November 18, 2020

After Ivy League Cancels Its Winter Sports Season, PU Coaches Focused on Maintaining Team Cultures 

LOST WINTER: Princeton University men’s basketball player Richmond Aririguzoh goes up for a lay-up in a 2019 game against Penn before a throng at Jadwin Gym. There won’t be any crowds at Jadwin this season as the Ivy League Council of Presidents said last Thursday that they have canceled winter sports for league schools during the 2020-21 season. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Normally by mid-November, fans would have already been flocking to Jadwin Gym and Hobey Baker Rink to take in Princeton University basketball and hockey games.

As of last November 17th, there had been three hoops games played at Jadwin and five hockey games at Baker in the early stages of the 2019-20 campaign.

But these aren’t normal times, and last Thursday the Ivy League Council of Presidents canceled winter sports for league schools during the 2020-21 campaign, thereby leaving Jadwin and Baker empty this season along with Dillon Gym, DeNunzio Pool, the Stan Sieja Fencing Room, and the Jadwin Squash Courts, among other venues.

In addition, the presidents announced that the league will not conduct competition for fall sports during the upcoming spring semester. Lastly, competition for spring sports is postponed through at least the end of February 2021.

In reaching the decision, which was unanimous, the presidents said that “regrettably, the current trends regarding transmission of the COVID-19 virus and subsequent protocols that must be put in place are impeding our strong desire to return to intercollegiate athletics
competition in a safe manner.”

While Princeton University men’s basketball head coach Mitch Henderson was disappointed when he learned of the decision, it didn’t come as a surprise.

“It is a real tough news all the way around,” said Henderson. “I am completely supportive and understanding of President Eisgruber’s and Mollie’s [Princeton Director of Athletics Mollie Marcoux Samaan] hard work to go through all of the different steps to try to make this happen. I know the University and the leadership took a look at all of these options. This was not out of the blue. Even over the course of the summer, I was preparing the guys for something like this but even so when the news came, it was a little bit of a jolt.”

The news was a jolt for two seniors, Ryan Schwieger and Jerome Desrosiers, who are enrolled in school this year and won’t get to have a final season at Princeton.

“One of my favorite parts of the job is the way you get to connect with the guys on the team over the course of four years,” said Henderson, noting that two other rising seniors, Elijah Barnes and Charlie Bagin, took the year off from school.

“Senior year is a really special year and those two guys are our leaders and role models for others on the year. I am really disappointed for them. They are entering into the transfer portal and will both have a fifth year of eligibility. They will be able to play somewhere next year.”

Princeton men’s hockey head coach Ron Fogarty was hopeful of having a season but knew it was a long shot.

“I was somewhat optimistic, seeing other schools finding ways to return to practice or to play,” said Fogarty.

“But with us not having students in the classrooms, it led me to realistically believe that we weren’t going to be back. It was going to take a lot more time to return to play. You have to bring people back from out of country and out of state. Any school that went back in had an initial spike and they had to quarantine again.”

Like Henderson, Fogarty has been working with his players to help navigate them through the situation.

“I have been in contact with the captains and our leadership group since March,” said Fogarty, noting that four seniors, Colin Tonge, Ryan Ferland, Reid Yochim, and Jake Paganelli,  remained enrolled for this school year and that he is working closely with them to find a place to play next year through the transfer portal.

“We have been speaking. We had a couple of breakout Zooms with the team monthly so we have been staying in contact. The part of it that was more palatable was that the entire Ivy League was shut down. If it was just our school and other schools were playing, that would be a very hard pill to swallow.”

Princeton Director of Athletics Samaan acknowledged that the cancellation was a tough pill for everyone to swallow.

“I am deeply saddened for our student-athletes who steadfastly desire a return to representing Princeton University in competition,” said Samaan in a statement.

“Within Princeton Athletics, our passion and dedication to each other remains the same. While we are not preparing to compete this winter, we continue to prepare our young men and women to achieve, serve and lead. Our mission of education through athletics persists, strengthened by the knowledge that when the moment arrives and it is appropriate for us to return to competition, our Princeton Athletics family will do so with renewed spirit and a continued commitment to excellence in all we do.”

Henderson, for his part, is working hard virtually to maintain team spirit.

“We try to do a weekly team Zoom and then some smaller groups,” said Henderson.

“They are all on Zoom pretty regularly with school so we are making the conversations normal. We have tried to make our team culture about being honest with each other, checking in and really caring about one another. It is harder over Zoom but we have tried to keep that going.”

While things may not be back to normal this spring, Henderson is hopeful that he may get to do some in-person work with his players.

“The president mentioned in his address to all of us that they were hopeful of getting some students on campus in the spring semester,” said Henderson.

“If we have some of them here, that is the first step to get them back into a structured environment even though the campus is going to be very different than what we have been used to since last March.”

Fogarty concurs, seeing value in getting even some limited on-ice work in the spring.

“We are just hoping that we can get students back on campus for the spring,” said Fogarty.

“We can get the ice in and at least do some training in the spring so we are developing and getting ready for the next season.”

In the meantime, Henderson is focused on keeping his players in an upbeat frame of mind.

“These guys are being asked, like all of the student athletes in the Ivy League, to do something that no one else has really ever had to do,” said Henderson. “There is a disruption so it is just trying to be positive. If I would say anything it is having a positive attitude the best we can.”

In Fogarty’s view, looking ahead is the best way to stay positive.

“You can control what you can control,” said Fogarty. “We have small breakouts of classes and groups from freshmen all the way to seniors and post-grads. We are going to meet over the next three days on Zoom and discuss what is next. You can’t do anything with the decision. You can prepare for next season and the preparation starts now.”

When Fogarty does get into the next season, he will be bringing a different perspective.

“I miss being around the guys,” said Fogarty. “It makes you realize that even if you lose a game or have a tough week, it is a lot better than what is going on right now.”