The suspension of all National Collegiate Athletic Association athletic competitions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic was especially devastating to the California Lutheran University Kingsmen Baseball team, ranked as the No. 1 NCAA Division III team in the nation by D3Baseball.com.
“This team was special. We had great team chemistry and we won games in so many different ways,” senior outfielder Matt Sciumbato said. “It was the first time in my career here that I was confident that we were the best team in the nation. I think we could have made it all the way.”
The team found out about the situation surrounding COVID-19 during an emergency meeting called by their coaches.
“It was so sudden and unexpected. At first it was frustrating, because we were number one in the nation and it seems almost unfair our season was over,” junior right-handed pitcher Mason Snodgrass said. “Although as the pandemic played out it was obvious that we had to cancel our season. Lots of guys took it pretty hard, especially our seniors.”
The Kingsmen had a historic season, with a 16-1 overall record and an 8-1 Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference record.
The Kingsmen started the season strong, ranked No. 15 among DIII teams. After defeating Chapman two out of three games, they jumped to No. 2 in the rankings just in the first few weeks.
The weekend before the season was canceled, the Kingsmen went 3-0 to reach the No. 1 spot.
“The season went amazing. We were just playing the game of baseball the right way. We had a shot to do something special this year and win the National Championship,” sophomore starting pitcher Alexander Rivas said.
The winning sentiment was shared across the Kingsmen roster.
“The season went about as well as anyone could ask for. Starting 16-1, I think it is one of the best, if not the best start we have had in CLU history, and I still feel like we had room to improve,” sophomore catcher Jalen Parks said.
Few student-athletes saw this situation coming, and the baseball team was no exception. After getting off to an undefeated start, the news was devastating, especially to seniors who were prepared to continue into postseason competition.
“I, along with a few other seniors, teared up because we worked so hard for our entire life to get the senior season to be a good one and it just ended so abruptly,” senior infielder Ryne Yamashiro said. “When I had to clean out my locker, I felt like I was leaving the family. It was just like when you leave your parents behind for your first days in college.”
However, the Kingsmen agreed it was the right call to make for the health and safety of everyone involved.
“As for the season being canceled, it was the right thing to do because health is priority. Stopping the season won’t hurt us, it will make us come back stronger,” Rivas said.
Some of the players got together over the weekend after the news broke to say their goodbyes to everyone leaving campus, especially the seniors who would not be returning.
“This year’s team was different. We had amazing team chemistry and we all played for each other. All credit to the seniors for building the team chemistry this year,” Snodgrass said. “This was the best team I’ve ever played for and I would give anything to continue playing with them.”