Jubilation to Disbelief

Hawkeye Fan Shop — A Black & Gold Store | Hawk Talk — March

Jason Kerst is a senior on the University of Iowa men’s tennis team and also serves as the Iowa Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (ISAAC) President. Kerst has shared what the last few weeks have been like for him, his teammates, and other UI student-athletes.
When I arrived on campus in June 2016, I learned immediately what our goal as a program was to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time in history. After missing the cut my freshman and sophomore seasons, we were confident that 2019 would be our year. We ended up missing the tournament by just one spot, which left a lasting sting. Coming into this season, we had motivation like never before, believing wholeheartedly that 2020 would be our breakthrough. I couldn’t help but visualize how special it would be for this milestone to come during my senior year.
As you all know by now, that is not how things worked out. Here’s how it really went:
Tuesday, March 10
My 22nd birthday started off great. My teammates and I were notified that just two days after upsetting No. 16 Cornell, we were ranked No. 20 in the nation, the highest ranking in program history. What a birthday present! Spirits were high the rest of the day. As my teammates and I celebrated with sushi for dinner that night. I concluded that it was easily one of the best days of my college career.
Wednesday, March 11
Our morning started normally, as we sat down in the locker room for a team meeting with our coaches before practice. We pulled our stools into a circle, and Coach Wilson told us that our Spring Break training trip to San Diego had been canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak. We were scheduled to leave two days later. Faces around the room sank to the floor. We had been looking forward to the trip all year as this was an incredible opportunity for team bonding and preparation for the Big Ten schedule.
As the day progressed, I began to feel more and more apprehensive. We received news that our classes had been moved online following Spring Break. Next came notification that the Ivy League had canceled all of its spring sport seasons, and later, that the NBA season was suspended indefinitely.
That night was our ISAAC meeting. I serve as the organization’s President, and I tried to keep a confident smile on as nervous faces as each team filed into Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Shortly before the meeting, a decision was made to bag the entire agenda and have an administrative update regarding COVID-19, followed by a Q&A. Midway through the discussion an announcement was made regarding President Trump’s declaration of a 30-day travel ban from Europe. I hurt for my fellow Hawkeyes as I saw international student-athletes bury their heads, while others even had to leave the room to collect themselves. Anxious whispers broke out all around, and my mind couldn’t help but contemplate the worst. Surely they can’t cancel NCAA sports, I thought, there’s just no way.
Thursday, March 12
Everyone was on edge as we warmed up for practice. The tension in the air was smothering, and our highly vocal team was uncharacteristically quiet. After weights, I went back to the locker room to shower and do some homework alone, hoping to get away from the stress. Then the texts started pouring in. It really happened. Every remaining winter and spring NCAA contest had been canceled.
In absolute disbelief, I prayed that it was all a bad dream. Speechless, I walked out of the locker room and sat down on court, staring blankly at the scoreboard before me. This can’t be happening. The dream is gone, and my career ends, just like that? And in the middle of the best season in program history? It felt like a broken promise.
That evening I saw teammates and friends from other teams. Stories were shared, prayers were prayed, and tears were shed.
Friday, March 13
We met as a team to discuss next steps. Most of our highly international team made plans to go home indefinitely. The day consisted of frantic trips to the international student services office, packing suitcases, and premature goodbyes for who-knows-how-long. As a senior, I was assuring my teammates and friends that it was merely a see-you-later, but honestly I don’t know if I believed it myself.
Saturday, March 14
I loaded up my car to head back home to Ann Arbor, Michigan. I dropped my teammates off at a nearly empty Chicago airport, and spent the last four hours of the drive trying to wrap my head around the last few days.
As I laid my bags down in my childhood bedroom and ate dinner with my parents, I kept thinking, How am I here? I should be in California right now preparing for Big Ten season. Then my phone buzzed. I had an email from Compliance. The NCAA had announced that spring student-athletes would be granted another year of eligibility.
And that rollercoaster leads me to right now. Pretty much all my plans of what I thought next year would look like have been completely obliterated. And for the vast majority of spring student-athletes who were slated to graduate in May, the same can be said. Graduation ceremonies, Golden Herkys, and our Senior Class Ring ceremony have all been canceled.
As for right now, my days consist of quarantine home workouts, Disney+, and FaceTiming friends and teammates around the world. In the brief period since my senior year came to a screeching halt, I’ve learned to never take a single moment of following a dream for granted, because it really can be gone in an instant. Here’s to what could have been, and what still could be!
On behalf of all University of Iowa student-athletes, we are thinking of all those that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is our hope for everyone to remain healthy during this unprecedented period of uncertainty. We would also like to extend a special thank you to all first responders and health care professionals that are working to ensure our protection through this challenging time.
Stay safe, and as always, GO HAWKS!
Jason Kerst

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