Jake Mulholland wasn’t ready to participate in this story, because his answer to all the questions would be, “I don’t know.”
On March 12 the NCAA made the unprecedented decision to cancel all spring sports because of the coronavirus outbreak, stopping those seasons before they had a chance to get started in earnest.
On March 30 the NCAA announced it was granting an extra year of eligibility to spring sports seniors, who did not get the opportunity to finish their college careers as planned.
But Mulholland, a graduate of Snohomish High School and a senior pitcher on the Oregon State University baseball team, is an illustration that choosing to return for one more year is not necessarily a black-and-white decision. Mulholland, a key figure in the Beavers claiming the 2018 College World Series, has to weigh all the factors, from whether to ease the disappointment of losing his senior season to whether to proceed with what he hopes is a professional baseball career.
The Herald checked the status of a dozen prominent NCAA Division I and II athletes who hail from Snohomish County to find out — to paraphrase The Clash — whether they would stay or they would go. Of that group, half were planning on taking advantage of the NCAA’s offer. However, some were still weighing whether to return for another year, while others are moving on with their lives.
“I’m coming back”
Alyson Matriotti didn’t need to be asked twice.
The Archbishop Murphy High School graduate was the starting third baseman on the Seattle University softball team, which qualified for the NCAA Division I tournament for the first time in program history last year and was looking to build upon that this year. When the season was canceled — on the day the Redhawks were scheduled to have their home opener — she thought she had lost what was supposed to be the pinnacle of her sporting career.
So when the extra year of eligibility was offered to seniors, she made a snap decision to come back.
“Once that was granted, a lot of stress and sadness was lifted off our shoulders,” said Matriotti, who added that all the seniors on the Redhawks softball team planned on returning. “I think everyone was relieved to get that season back. I worked my whole life for this, so I’m going to seize every opportunity thrown my way.”
There are complications, particularly in a team sport like softball. First, the team is still adding its incoming class, so with all the seniors returning it’s going to be a crowded roster. Also, schools are still figuring out how they’re going to allocate scholarship money to returning seniors.
“I think everyone (at SU) gets the same scholarship they had,” Matriotti said. “I not sure how it works out with the university, but our coach (Geoff Hirai) has been telling us he’ll do whatever he can to get us back and make it work for all of us. We feel very supported by the whole athletic administrative staff.
“I think it will be a superstar squad with the incoming freshmen,” Matriotti added. “There will be a lot of competition, but that will bring up the team as a whole.”
Matriotti is graduating with a degree in Sport Exercise and Science. She is applying to graduate programs at SU for the 2020-21 school year.
Ethan Casto, unlike Matriotti, needed a few days before deciding to come back for another senior season. The Snohomish High School grad is the No. 1 player on the Western Washington University men’s golf team. He had a stellar fall season and had his sights set on the Great Northwest Athletic Conference championship when, while playing the 10th hole during a practice round at Bellingham Golf & Country Club, he was informed the season had been cut short.
“It took a couple days,” Casto said about deciding to return for another year.
“My main goal is to play on the PGA Tour and turn pro,” Casto added. “I was going to turn pro probably at the end of the summer, so I had to make a decision. But there’s not really any professional events going on anyway for the next little bit. That made it easier to decide. And I don’t think I was ready for that step yet, I still need to improve and mature a little bit.”
Casto now gets the chance to end his college career in a manner befitting someone who was named the 2020 GNAC Player of the Year. He still has some credits remaining to complete his degree in Multidisciplinary Studies, so scholastically it also made sense to return for another year.
Miler Haller thought his senior season with the Boise State University men’s track and field team was going to be a balancing act.
The Edmonds-Woodway High School graduate was nursing Achilles tendinitis, meaning training for his distance events would be complicated. The cancellation of the spring outdoor track season gave Haller the chance to heal his injury fully, but it may also have ended his collegiate career.
Haller, like Mulholland, is undecided about whether he’ll take advantage of the NCAA’s offer. Haller would like to return, but there are factors out of his control that affect his decision. Will there be room for him on the Broncos’ roster? If he has to transfer to another school, will the school have the right graduate program (Haller is graduating with a degree in International Business)?
“I’m currently trying to take advantage of it,” Haller said. “There are a lot of things up in the air with the NCAA and the university. I’m still figuring it out. We don’t know what it will be like in a couple months. I’ve talked to my coaches and I’ve talked to other universities, and I’m hopeful of running the following year. Right now it’s up in the air, and I’m doing what I can to just be present in the moment, focus on what I’m doing now and not thinking too much in the future.”
What makes Haller’s decision unique is his best sport is cross country, as he earned All-American honors in both 2017 and 2019. Haller has exhausted his eligibility in cross country, so if he returned for another track season he’d have to change his fall routine.
The NCAA has yet to set a deadline date for seniors accepting an extra year of eligibility, so Haller has time to work things out.
“I’m not coming back”
Katherine Walter was looking forward to seeing what she could accomplish when she actually trained for her event.
The Mountlake Terrace High School graduate spent most of her career with the Seattle Pacific University women’s track and field team competing in the 5,000 meters. But last year she decided on a whim to give the 10,000 meters a try, receiving a wild card to compete in the event at the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Championships. She ended up placing second to earn All-GNAC honors. So her focus this season was going to be on the 10K before the season was canceled.
While Walter would like to continue competing, taking the extra year of eligibility wasn’t the best option in her situation. Walter has a 3.97 grade-point average as an Accounting and Business Administration double major, and she already had her post-graduation plans in place.
“I’d already put a deposit down on the University of Washington to attend its Master’s program,” Walter explained. “It wouldn’t have made sense for me to try and return to SPU for the spring quarter and push the Master’s program back another year. I suppose I could have tried to communicate with the UW team and try and compete with them. But it wouldn’t have felt right to not finish out with SPU after all the time I had with them and how much the team means to me.
“I knew pretty much right away,” Walter added, saying it didn’t take long to make her decision. “I’ve been putting a lot of time the last few years into planning out my career. Everything was already in motion, so it wasn’t really an option in my mind to throw that out of gear. I think what I did have to think about after the season ended was what it meant for me running and racing wise. Did I still want to train on my own and do races in the future, or had the time come to calm down a bit and just run for the pure enjoyment of it? After a couple weeks I realized I absolutely still had the racing bug, so I’m hoping to continue to fit in races the next few years wherever I can.”