UNT seasons canceled softball

North Texas’ Hanna Rebar (8) claps as she runs the bases after hitting a two-run home run in a game against UT-Martin during a game earlier this season at Lovelace Stadium. Conference USA canceled the remainder of its spring sports season on Monday due to the effects of COVID-19.

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Conference USA canceled the remainder of its spring sports season Monday night, ending the campaigns of a host of North Texas programs.

The league made the decision in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that has spread around the globe and interrupted sports seasons across the country.

UNT’s softball, tennis and track teams all saw their seasons end prematurely.

C-USA called off its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments on Thursday after the opening day of the event. The league announced shortly after that it had suspended its spring sports seasons.

C-USA’s athletic directors spoke about the status of the league’s spring sports throughout the week. The conference’s board of directors then made the decision to call off the remainder of the sports year.

The league’s football programs have also postponed spring practice.

Rodney DeLong mug

Rodney DeLong

“We kind of figured that is where we were headed,” UNT softball coach Rodney DeLong said. “Our team understands it. We are trying to save lives. I’m glad they are being proactive.”

Seeing the season called off was particularly tough for DeLong and his program. The Mean Green were picked to win the C-USA title in the league’s preseason coaches’ poll and were off to a 19-5 start.

UNT was 2-1 in league play heading into what would have been a key series against Western Kentucky. The three-game set was scheduled to begin last Friday but wasn’t played after C-USA’s announcement that it had suspended its spring sports season. WKU was 3-0 in league play.

The NCAA is planning to grant seniors who participate in spring sports an additional season of eligibility.

“It’s tough,” DeLong said. “We are off to a great start and have a great group. Even if the NCAA gives seniors another year, the dynamic changes. We had a great team and are still in a great place with the program.”

Senior infielder Lacy Gregory took to Twitter shortly after C-USA suspended its spring sports to thank her coaches and teammates.

“It has been one of the greatest privileges of my life to wear North Texas across my chest for the last 4 years,” Gregory wrote. “Thank you to everyone who has been a part of my journey. I love this team. I love this program. A dream come true! #6out.”

UNT’s tennis team was 7-7 after playing the first of two matches in Hawaii last week.

UNT athletic director Wren Baker has spent the last few days in constant contact with not only C-USA officials but also other athletic directors across the country as he helped the program navigate the crisis.

“I feel for our student-athletes,” Baker said. “They work very hard, and sports is an important part of their lives.”

Baker was holding out hope at the time that C-USA and the rest of the college sports world could salvage the spring season.

Those hopes came to an end Monday, when both DeLong and UNT tennis coach Sujay Lama met with their players.

Lama has two seniors in Alexandra Heczey and Haruka Sasaki, who are both likely to move on instead of returning to UNT for another season.

“Your heart goes out for the seniors,” Lama said. “That’s not what you want to see for them. They have done so much for the program.”

Telling those seniors their seasons were over was the tough for the longtime UNT coach.

“It was very emotional,” Lama said. “We are a tight-knit family. We were trying to do something special. There were some tears. It was difficult for everybody.”

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at

@brettvito.

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