Local Division III male athletes miss out on spring competition
First of two parts
North Central College junior Michael Stanley and Knox College sophomore Ajay Gustafson, two former standouts on the prep scene, saw their seasons cut short this spring due the COVID-19 pandemic.
The toughest part was that both athletes were looking forward to their respective track and tennis seasons more than ever.
Gustafson, an all-stater in tennis his senior year at St. Charles North, said he had really improved his game from a year ago and was excited to compete with a new doubles partner at No. 1 singles.
Stanley, a 2017 IHSA state champ for Batavia in the 800-meter relay, never felt faster after rehabbing from a strained hamstring suffered his freshman year at North Central.
Stanley was preparing to compete at the national indoor meet in Winston Salem, N.C., when his season came to the premature end in March.
"We got out there and everyone had practiced on the track for the previous two days and then the night before the competition it was canceled,' said Stanley, who was ranked fourth in the nation for the 400 meter. "Even if I didn't make the finals (of the 400), I just wanted to run."
Instead, he is just running through his school books this spring, with a double major in finance and economics.
The hardest part is not being able to benefit from all his countless hours of rehab.
"I strained the hamstring my freshman year but I kept running on it and it developed problems down the road," Stanley said.
"But I was really upset when we were canceled because I had recovered from the injury and I was back to being in really good shape. I was actually faster than my freshman year, the fastest I've ever been. Then it all went away. All the work felt pointless."
Stanley said he did 'OK' as a sophomore while competing in the 400 and 200-meter sprints.
He credited the help of his school's trainers with getting him back much stronger this spring.
"As far as I know they are not refunding eligibility for this indoor season simply because we were at the very end of the season," Stanley said.
Eligibility is based on the outdoor and indoor seasons.
"I have retained my outdoor eligibility but I'm not considering two more outdoor seasons at the moment," Stanley sad. "I will be done with my classes so it would be hard to schedule just a few and to run a fifth year outdoors.
"It just (stinks) because I was really looking forward to competing in the 400 when we got canceled this season."
Gustafson started out his sophomore season 3-0 in No. 2 doubles.
"I was really looking forward to this season," Gustafson said. "I felt I had really improved upon my game from last year and I had gotten a new doubles partner (freshman Arthur Batista).
"We had been hitting it off really well and I thought we had an opportunity to actually give some schools a run for their money. I thought we had a chance to give them some good matches but now it will never happen."
Due to budget cuts, the Knox players knew going into the season that it was the last one for men's or women's tennis at the school.
"As a result, we were looking forward to being able to play for the school in its final season of the sport but unfortunately that was cut short," Gustafson said. "We were all bummed about that."
Even more disheartening was that the team had planned a trip to Florida for a tournament.
"That hadn't been done for the tennis team in a while and that was canceled, too," Gustafson said.
So, like all other D-III three students, Gustafson is at home taking his classes online.
He is working toward a chemistry and chemical engineering degree.
"It's a 'three-two' program which means I'm only here for three years," Gustafson said. "I'm in the middle of my second year right now so I have one more year here and then for the second part of the program I would wind up going to another college."
Next: Local Division III female athletes