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Brown’s winter athletes reflect on a lost season amid NCAA winter championships

Tamenang Choh ’21, Jaylan Gainey ’22, Ricky Cabanillas ’23, Kendra Ezeama ’24 share thoughts on not being able to compete

Across the NCAA, winter seasons are coming to a close — and though the season has been anything but typical, an element of normalcy has returned for most conferences. The NCAA championship for men's and women's indoor track and field concluded March 13, and the championship for men’s wrestling ended March 20. The NCAA basketball championships, also known as March Madness, are well underway; 68 men's and 64 women's teams are competing for their respective national titles. 

But this sense of normalcy in college sports comes with an asterisk: The Ivy League is not participating. 

Many Brown athletes were critical of the Ivy League’s decision to cancel their winter and spring seasons well before the seasons would have started. Part of this criticism stemmed from the fact that all other Division I conferences are participating in winter and spring sports.

The Ivy League officially announced the cancellation of the winter season Nov. 12, and the spring season Feb. 18.

“Personally, I think the Ivy League cancelled too early,” said wrestler Ricky Cabanillas ’23. “All the other (conferences) did it, so why couldn’t we have at least tried?”

“Seeing the other leagues still playing, and how they still made it work, and how they handled COVID, I feel like the Ivy League could have done something like that to keep everybody in high spirits,” said basketball player Jaylan Gainey ’22. “Cancelling a whole season is kind of unheard of.”  

Gainey added that he felt the Ivy League had been “giving (athletes) a sense of false hope, telling (them) that things should be better” by the time their seasons rolled around. But “out of the blue, they scheduled this meeting (to announce the cancellation of the winter season). When a meeting’s scheduled out of the blue, you know it’s not gonna be good news.”

The tone of the meeting was a somber one, Gainey said. “We logged on and everybody was frowning, there was no happiness. We already knew the news was not gonna be good.”

“It was a sad day, a sad night,” said basketball player Tamenang Choh ’21. “Initially, I know a lot of students weren’t happy about the way they found out,” he added, noting that many athletes found out through posts on social media before the official announcement. 

For Choh, the ongoing NCAA tournament has reopened old wounds regarding the cancelled season. “At the beginning of (the season) it sucked seeing all those guys playing when you’re not playing or even practicing,” Choh said. “By the middle of the season, we kinda got used to it. (With) March Madness, now, it hurts even more.”

Nevertheless, Choh’s love of the game has not diminished and he has still fervently followed March Madness. “I’ve been able to watch (games) and enjoy them,” Choh said. “A lot of my friends are on a couple teams, too, so I’ve been able to support them.”

Gainey expressed similar feelings about the March Madness games. “I enjoy them because I have a lot of friends playing,” he said. “But it’s tough, knowing that we could have been playing too.”

As Cabanillas watched the wrestling national championships, he was struck by the feeling that a tournament without its full field of athletes was wrong. “This doesn’t seem right,” he said. “This doesn’t seem like the NCAA Championship. You have good wrestlers in the Ivy League that could have changed the outcome of the tournament.” 

For Kendra Ezeama ’24, a thrower on the indoor and outdoor track and field teams, losing the end of her high school career made the Ivy League’s cancellation of both the winter and spring seasons all the more difficult. “I was really looking forward to this new season,” she said. “Although I lost my finish, I could potentially have a good start at Brown.”

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Ezeama was surprised that the seasons were cancelled. “I was really expecting to have a season, I’m not gonna lie,” Ezeama said. “That disappointment still lingers on.”

The fact that the men’s basketball team had Ivy League championship aspirations made the loss of this season even tougher, according to Choh.  “We’ve got great guys on the team. I was extremely excited and was really hoping to win the Ivy League regular season championship,” he said. “That’s the goal we would have achieved this year." 

Still, Gainey remains motivated to push through his disappointment and work even harder in preparation for next year. “I’m in the gym every day and (the team is) practicing about three times a day,” he said. “The plan is to have a great season.”

Winter athletes are doing what they can to move forward and position themselves for success in the future. For Gainey, Cabanillas and Ezeama, this means preparing for future seasons at Brown — which Cabanillas is doing remotely, from home. “I’m making the best of it, training hard, still working,” he said.

For Choh, a senior, this marks the end of his career at Brown. He is still training with the Brown coaches and is still able to make use of the Brown weightroom, which he is thankful for. He plans to play a year as a graduate transfer at another institution before trying to play professionally.

Choh declared for the NBA draft last year but ultimately elected to return to Brown. He hopes to follow in the footsteps of other Ivy League alumni in the NBA. “A lot of Ivy League guys are in the G-League and the NBA,” he said. “I’ve been able to watch those guys, support those guys and even talk to some of those guys.”

When the difficulty of the lost season weighs on her, Ezeama finds solace in training. “I try to get myself out of that thinking, pick up my shot put (and) throw it as far as I can with all my might, even just for myself,” she said.

While this season was undoubtedly difficult for Brown’s winter athletes, Ezeama was still able to glean important lessons from it. Going forward, she knows she will appreciate the chances she does have to throw even more. 

“I will give it my all because you never know when that opportunity is going to be taken away from you,” she said. “This whole entire situation really showcases how much we take for granted.”


Peter Swope

Peter Swope is the senior editor of digital engagement for The Brown Daily Herald's 133rd Editorial Board. He previously served as a Sports section editor and has also written stories for University News. Peter is a junior from New Jersey studying history. 

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