For Kevin Negus and Eric Loeppky, the 2020 U Sports national men’s volleyball championship was supposed to be special.
Both entered the tournament with exceptional careers behind them and had plenty of reasons to be excited. Instead, with an 11th-hour cancellation the night before the pair was slated to square off at Investors Group Athletic Centre, the two were left disappointed.
“Just completely devastated,” Negus of the U of M Bisons said.
“Our team had been hearing rumours all night that it would be cancelled, but finally hearing the news was just extremely disappointing.”
Loeppky and the Trinity Western University Spartans were also blindsided by the news, even though they expected changes would be made to accommodate COVID-19 concerns.
“In the morning practice they told us that no fans were allowed, only family, then no family later in the afternoon,” Loeppky said.
“Then they finally pulled the plug late that night. Honestly we weren’t surprised by the fans but didn’t think they would cancel. At the time there was only one case in Manitoba.”
On March 12 — the day before the tournament was slated to begin — Bison Sports released a statement officially announcing the tournament would be played without fans in attendance. By 9:30 p.m., U Sports had convened an emergency meeting and decided the men’s championship, along with the women’s volleyball, women’s hockey and men’s hockey championships, would not continue.
Despite the disappointment, Negus said he is certain that cancelling the tournament was the right thing to do.
He said the decision “wasn’t ideal, but it was necessary.”
“As tough as it was to come to terms with everything, I knew that U Sports and Bison Sports were just doing what was best,” he said.
As the lone senior on the Bisons men’s volleyball team, the cancellation hurt just a bit more for Negus.
“I was really looking forward to putting on the Bison uniform one last time,” he said.
Loeppky had his own reasons to be disappointed, as the Steinbach-born outside was ready to play in front of friends and family — some for both the first and last time.
“Lots of family and friends were planning on being there. [I] was so excited to play in front of all of them for one last time,” he said.
The Sioux Lookout-born Negus was also ready to take to the court in front of family and friends.
He mentioned that a large contingent of Ontario-based supporters were ready to fly in to Winnipeg to see him take to the court one last time.
“My parents and my sister had planned on coming as well as a lot of friends from my hometown,” he said.
“But they heard the news early enough to cancel travel plans.”
Now the pair of veteran volleyball players is looking toward the future and getting through the next stretch of uncertainty caused by the current viral outbreak. Loeppky made the long drive home to Manitoba from the West Coast following the closure of Trinity Western University housing to students who were able to travel home.
Negus is already planning his professional debut.
“Next up for me is hopefully flying overseas to play pro either this coming fall or the following year,” he said.