Tom Hoek was blunt with his team.
He was in Sioux City, Iowa, with the Dakota Wesleyan University women’s basketball team when the NAIA canceled its national basketball tournaments due to COVID-19. The director of golf sent his team a message, “Prepare yourselves because ... our season has the possibility of completely being canceled.”
The unseasonably warm 60-degree March weather allowed some of his players to practice outside in Vermillion. Hoek viewed this season as a springboard to the future for his young team, but the extra swings and putts outside will not pay dividends this year. The Great Plains Athletic Conference announced the cancelations of all spring sports.
“The last two years we didn’t really have a good spring season because of all the late snow,” Hoek said. “Now all of a sudden in March, we hit 60 degrees and you start getting excited and look forward to getting outside and playing earlier.”
Along with some of his players playing in Vermillion, the Tigers were doing inside workouts heading into their first tournament on March 29-30 at the South Dakota School of Mines. It was the only spring tournament both the men and women were going to attend together. Coming off a successful fall campaign, it also provided them a chance to compete against Division-II schools.
Led by Megan Hinker tying for seventh place and Jayden Bormann taking 13th at the GPAC fall championships, the DWU women finished in fourth place. It was just three strokes behind third-place Concordia (Neb.).
The men took sixth, though 14 strokes separated the second-through-sixth-place teams. Nolan Wiegel and Tony Hayes each finished in the top 15.
“We were coming in -- what I felt like -- with a little bit of a chip on our shoulder, looking to move up the leaderboard and putting on a good showing this spring with a very young group,” Hoek said. “… We’re going to have a lot of returning players, which is great for us, but I thought this spring could have been a springboard, or gained a lot of momentum going into next year.”
The spring season could’ve acted as a springboard for the junior-heavy men, or another chance to build up the sophomore-heavy women. DWU only had one senior on either team in Jayden Engels, who has the chance to return next season after the NAIA awarded seniors an additional two semesters of eligibility.
Hoek said he would be reaching out to each player individually to talk about the abrupt end to the season and future. He noted, though, that Engels had accepted a teaching position in Hamlin to teach social studies.
“I got to give him a handshake and say congratulations cause he got this job, and was so proud of him,” Hoek said. “It was like, ‘Hey, let’s go finish your senior year on a high note.’ Now he doesn’t get that opportunity.”
He called it a “heartbreaking” end to a promising season, one that exuded early excitement from the early weather. Each team had scheduled four tournaments prior to the GPAC spring championships at the end of April.
“We felt like we were putting some things together and in a good position to finish at the top in the GPAC in golf, or amongst the top,” Hoek said. “Now we get that opportunity taken away.”