College sports in 2020-21 didn’t look anything like what we’ve come to expect from a normal season. From limited fan attendance to game postponements and cancellations to strict protocols, 2020-21 was not at all what student-athletes signed up for.
Thorir Thorbjarnarson put four years of hard work into the Nebrasketball program under two different coaching staffs and alongside many different teammates, and it just sucks that he was robbed of the opportunity to have a real senior night, to have his family in the stands to watch him play at Pinnacle Bank Arena one last time and to see him honored by Fred Hoiberg.
Thorbjarnarson stands out as an international student who experienced a lot of ups and downs during his four years in Lincoln, but every senior at Nebraska (and at every school in the country) faced the same circumstances. That’s why I’m glad the NCAA decided to freeze eligibility across the board, even if it is making things very complicated over the next few years.
Some of those seniors chose to move on regardless, but others decided they wanted another crack at having that memorable senior season. Lexi Sun falls into the latter category. Among the many reasons that she chose to take advantage of her extra season of eligibility was the desire to have a normal season.
“To have a senior night, and to be able to play in front of Husker nation and not have these crazy restrictions,” Sun told Hail Varsity. “For me I’m personally not in a place where I’m trying to rush into my next chapter of life. So just to get the opportunity to be here and experience everything, I wanted to take advantage of that.”
The football programs has eight seniors taking advantage of their extra season. Lauren Stivrins is back along with Sun in volleyball. Kobe Webster is back for the men’s basketball program. Many of them feel they have unfinished business with their teams, but I’m sure Sun’s desire for a normal senior year is common as well.
As we inch closer and closer to the start of 2021-22, however, the idea of having a “normal season” seems more and more like it’s slipping between our fingers. On Tuesday, the COVID-19 risk dial for Lincoln moved back into elevated yellow for the first time since early February. Lincoln hasn’t announced any designated heath measures yet, but leaders are recommending mask usage for those in indoor and crowded outdoor settings.
This comes ahead of the upcoming Garth Brooks concert at Memorial Stadium. Next week, Nebraska is set to welcome fans back into the Devaney Center for the first time since the 2019 season home finale for the Red-White Scrimmage. The week after that, the football team will head to Champaign for the season-opener before returning to Lincoln to face Fordham on Sept. 4 with a presumably full Memorial Stadium.
It goes beyond just the Huskers too. Damon Benning and I voiced our concerns on this week’s episode of the Nebraska Preps Postgame as we looked ahead to the start of the high school football season. OPS schools missed out on football entirely last year, and attendance was limited significantly most of the season in all sports. The football playoffs shifted to campus sights instead of Memorial Stadium because COVID-19 numbers got so bad shortly before the playoffs, which means many seniors did not get the chance to play on the field they grew up dreaming about.
While being able to do most of my job from my couch was certainly more convenient than making the trip from Omaha to Lincoln four or five times per week, I’ve enjoyed the chance to interview athletes and coaches in person again over the last month. It allows us to be more thorough in our reporting and complete in our writing.
While I really hope that we’re able to make it through the 2021-22 seasons without any major hiccups, the pandemic is very much not over, and if we want these student-athletes to have the somewhat normal season they deserve, it’s going to take everyone — athletes, coaches and fans — to do their part to be smart and responsible.
Even if everybody does the right thing there are no guarantees we won’t have cancellations or restrictions down the road. Leaders need to be ready to adjust on the fly.
I really hope that Lexi Sun has the opportunity to play the 30-plus matches on Nebraska’s schedule, and I hope she gets to do it in front of fans. I hope she gets the chance to have the senior day experience she wants in front of friends and family and a full house. I want that for all of Nebraska’s seniors.
That’s not going to happen simply by crossing our fingers, though.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.