Saudade.

That Portuguese word is the one that comes to mind for Kevin Tidgewell, coach of defending WCLA Division I champion Pitt, as he reflects on the lost 2020 spring lacrosse season. 

Loosely translated, saudade implies a sense of emotional and melancholy longing for something that has been lost and the realization that the object of longing may never be restored or experienced again.

“We will have other lacrosse seasons, but it will never be this season,” Tidgewell said.

In a normal spring, this would have been one of the best weeks of the WCLA season for Tidgewell’s Panthers and many of the other women’s collegiate club teams that comprise the WCLA ranks.

This is the week that the selection of teams and seedings would have been announced for the 2020 WCLA Division I and II Championship Tournaments, with teams beginning their preparations for the four-day tournament in Round Rock, Texas, May 6-9.

But the WCLA season, along with all other spring lacrosse competition, came to an abrupt and premature end in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic. Collegiate club players from coast-to-coast were sidelined. No games, no practices, no playoffs, and no championship. Not this year.

“It’s really been a weird experience because I’m so used to my spring being dominated by lacrosse,” Tidgewell said. 

Led by a senior class that was aiming for a second straight WCLA title and third championship game appearance in four years, the Panthers were 7-0 and ranked number one in the WCLA Top 20 at the time of the shutdown. 

“I’m especially sad and disappointed for our seniors,” Tidgewell said. “They played their last game (Feb. 23 vs. Buffalo) without knowing it was their last game.”

The unanticipated timing of the season’s cancellation caught many by surprise. At Colorado, the shutdown came just days before the start of the annual Mile High Invitational in Boulder, one of the premiere events of the season.

“MHI is near and dear to our hearts, and it didn’t even cross our mind that it might be cancelled,” said Eleanor Fisher, Colorado’s club president. “It’s my favorite weekend of the year.” 

Compounding the disappointment for the Buffaloes was the fact that they had started 5-0 and climbed into the top five of the national ranking following a big win over BYU. That victory, following a strong performance at the Santa Barbara Shootout, began to fuel hopes of a special season ahead and a potentially deep postseason run.

And then it was all gone.

“It all happened so quickly, like the blink of an eye,” Fisher said.  “It wasn’t a big deal until it was.”

Coping with the loss of the season, as well as the end of her collegiate career, is an ongoing battle for Fisher. She graduates in May and hopes to pursue a full-time career in commercial real estate.

“It comes in waves. Not having closure was the hardest thing,” she said. “Even now, when I randomly hear a song from our warm-up tape, it gets me emotional. I’m realizing that my time as a competitive athlete is over.”

At Florida State, the unexpected shutdown disrupted one of the best seasons in the club’s history. The Seminoles had built a 9-0 record and were in position to possibly earn their first-ever berth in the national playoffs. Dominating performances throughout February had vaulted FSU from among the unranked in the preseason to number 12 in the last weekly poll, and poised for bigger achievements.

“We realized that this might be the year we finally get through the regionals,” said Julia Dennis, club president and team captain. “It was lining up to be a special year.”

While coping with the canceled season, the Seminoles have already shifted their focus to next spring.

“We are definitely looking forward to next year and we can’t wait to come back,” said Dennis, who is expected to be part of a large 2021 senior class. “Everyone is ready to go.”

The most successful program in the 10-year history of the WCLA’s D-II Championship has been Loyola University Maryland. The Greyhounds are 20-6 all-time in WCLA tournament play, with back-to-back national titles in 2018 & 2019 and three straight trips to the championship game.

Playing all the way through to the final game of the season has been the only experience that Loyola’s senior team captain Claire Berry has known.

“I was really looking forward to playing in Texas one more time,” Berry said. “Being at nationals is such a special experience.”

The potential history that awaited Loyola was also not lost on Berry and her teammates. 

“We knew that no other D-2 team had won three straight championships, and that’s something we really wanted to do,” she said. “Having the season and the tournament called off was definitely heartbreaking, but it was the right decision to make.”

As solace, Berry takes comfort that Loyola’s last game before the shutdown was a victory over local rival Maryland Club, and helped catapult the Hounds past Navy Club in the last Top 20 poll.

“I guess I’m happy to leave on that note,” she said. “I have so many great memories, so I’ll try to reflect on those positives.”

Players aren’t the only ones coping with the emotional pain of the lost 2020 season. The cancellation of the WCLA championship event, announced in mid-March, was a heartbreaking decision for Liz Holmes, chair of the WCLA leadership committee.

“We accepted our fate, but it was not without great sadness and loss,” she said. “I’ve been thinking about all these girls, who are great players, and how excited they would have been this week to know that their teams had been selected for nationals.”