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An Unexpected Finish

Like all spring MBU athletic teams, the men’s volleyball season was ended abruptly due to coronavirus. The Spartans were on a red-hot winning streak and trending upward entering some of the most pivotal games of their season, and the players were disappointed they would be unable to compete for a National Championship. However, the team has already started preparing and setting their sights on next season.

This story is part of a series of ongoing stories and analyses produced by MBU Timeline staff members, focusing on several aspects of COVID-19 and how it has changed the lives of students, faculty members, athletes … everyone.     Photo courtesy of MBU Athletics — Graphic by Dylan White

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By JASON HARMAN

For members of the Missouri Baptist University men’s volleyball team, 22-3 and ranked No. 4 in the nation when a pandemic called COVID-19 brought down the nets and ended the season, memories of friendships, bus rides and winning games will carry them through until next season. But, mainly, it’s just unfinished business.

Whether you’re a freshman or a senior, a bench player or a starter, what happened to the men’s volleyball team’s season is utterly devastating. 

With the American Midwest Conference Tournament a week away and the National Tournament the following week, the Spartans were hitting a hot streak, carrying a 19-game winning streak and enormous chemistry into the two biggest tournaments of the season. 

During Spring Break, however, that all abruptly came to an end as the Spartans’ season was sadly canceled due to the outbreak of COVID-19. 

Tears were shed and multiple emotional texts were shared throughout the team. Some players will have the opportunity to get another year to play, while others are graduating and stepping into the real world.

“I’m at a loss of words from our season and I never saw my volleyball career ending like this,” said Jack Huizinga, a graduating senior from New Lenox, Illinois, majoring in business, who played right side for the Spartans. “I will miss all the memories with my teammates and I’d do anything to play one last game with my brothers.” 

Miljan Kastratovic, an outside hitter from Montenegro in Southeastern Europe, seemed to be taking this differently than others given he is more than 5,000 miles away from his family.

“Since quarantine I’ve been busy with school and trying to stay home as much as possible while doing some home workouts to try and stay in shape. As for volleyball, it was something that I never saw coming and hit me very hard,” Kastratovic said from his house in St. Louis. “Nationals were coming up and I loved the position we were in as a team. I couldn’t miss my family more but they suggested it would be best to stay in Missouri to be as safe and healthy as possible.” 

Luka Cajic, the other outside hitter and Conference Player of The Year, is from Subotica, Serbia, and was scheduled to graduate in the spring of 2020. Like Kastratovic it has been a struggle being ages away from his family and losing his volleyball career sooner than he expected.

“Knowing that in my final season of collegiate volleyball I couldn’t compete for a national title will haunt me for the rest of my life. Never the way I wanted to end my career, but I’m proud of the season we had and all the memories I received along the way,” Cajic said from his apartment in St. Louis, just before he was scheduled to graduate in late-April. “As for quarantine it’s been quite a struggle not being able to be with my family. I talk with them over FaceTime every day and keep in touch as much as I can. In general, I’m staying home a lot and taking precaution. I’m counting down the days of school as I will be graduating in the next few weeks.”

While people are losing their lives, loved ones, jobs and maybe even their minds, the MBU volleyball team lost its 2020 season, a year that could have seen the Spartans win it all: a National Championship.

”The season getting canceled was definitely tough for our team and myself. The guys were having a great year. We were looking to have a good second half of the season and defend our conference championship and get back to the national tournament to achieve our goal of becoming champions,” said second-year head coach of the Spartans, Tom Young, from his house in St. Louis. “As for me, I have used this time to hang out with my family as much as I can. Normally in March and April I wouldn’t be able to see them much, so a positive through all this mess is being able to spend more time with them.”

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DID YOU KNOW?
   
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