The two NCAA national championship events Oklahoma State and Stillwater lost this calendar year due to the COVID-19 pandemic have received their new dates.
The Division I Men’s and Women’s Tennis Championships, which were the first canceled due to the sudden rise of the pandemic in the United States back in the spring, will be held in Stillwater in 2024.
It wasn’t the first year the event could have been given to the university after losing the chance to host in 2020. However, according to Oklahoma State women’s tennis coach, there was a reason they had their chance pushed back another year.
Apparently the United States Tennis Association, which hosted the 2019 event and was already slated to host it in 2021 and 2022 at the USTA National Campus (Collegiate Center) in Orlando, wanted to host all three NCAA division championships at one site. And due to Division II having a Spring Festival – where tennis, softball, lacrosse and golf all play their championships in the same city – every four years, it was in line with 2024.
So due to the Spring Festival, the NCAA awarded the USTA the 2023 tennis championships for all three divisions. And with that, Oklahoma State’s chance to host was pushed back an extra year.
“For us, it’s just really exciting to be able to get back on the calendar,” Young said. “It's one of those things that when it got taken away you just don't know what the future is and how it's gonna play out. So it's just a relief to get back on the calendar and to be able to have the opportunity to do it and whenever that opportunity comes we just got to be ready.”
One of the reasons Young was adamant about being able to host in 2023 was the current Cowgirls on the roster.
He wanted to ensure those athletes who thought they might have an opportunity to compete for a national championship on their home courts, still have that chance.
While a lot can change over the next four years, including with a sport that can see athletes leave in the middle of the season to turn professional, Young did bring up a number that he is hopeful could be beneficial come 2024.
“With the girls getting eligibility back from last year, we could have potentially as much as six freshmen on the roster this year, which will give us six of the eight scholarship spots taken up by seniors in 2024,” Young said. “So that would be huge for us. Obviously, you don't ever like to have a big turnover, but to be able to host it and have six seniors on the team, that's the potential that could happen. So I think not only is it going to be a carrot for the recruits to join our roster, but I think it's going to be something for these kids to maybe use that additional year that they got from last year.”
Oklahoma State’s Dave Smith and the cross country program won’t have to wait nearly as long after having its national championship – originally scheduled for this November before being canceled – make its first trip to Stillwater.
Oklahoma State was awarded the 2022 men’s and women’s cross country championships to be run at the OSU Cross Country Course as the first in line for the four national events assigned Wednesday.
“To have one in 2020 when almost every athlete on my team right now will be back in 2022 – I think we lose one female one male off of our current rosters – I think we’ll have real good teams,” Smith said. “For some of our athletes, like Isai Rodriguez, from right here in Oklahoma (Ringwood), was really excited to have the championships here. We talked four months ago and I said, ‘I hope we get to have another one soon.’ And he goes, ‘Do you think it’ll happen before I graduate in 2022?’
“Well, now I get to tell him, ‘Look, you’re going to get to run the full season nationals with everybody here on your home course as a senior, and we’re going to have a great team.’ I think that’s really exciting for him and for the rest of the guys and for me.”
However, there is still a chance they could have a national championship before then.
Smith said in a media Zoom call in August when the championship was canceled that the NCAA had reached out to Oklahoma State about the potential of hosting in the spring if the pandemic eases up and allows for a cross country season in early 2021.
In an interview with the News Press on Wednesday, he said there is still a hope for that with the scheduled date being March 15.
“We’re still hoping we get that March 15 championship and it comes through as it is being planned out, everything right now is until it isn’t,” Smith said. “… There’s going to be now a second half to the cross country season allowable by the NCAA in January and February, leading up to March 15. If we get to do it, it would be great, but it’s hard to tie your hopes to that. …
“Now we at least know we have 2022, but hopefully get both and it’ll be great to have two championships in 18 months. That’d be fantastic.”
Both Oklahoma State coaches being given a new opportunity to host a regularly-scheduled national championship have them already thinking bigger and better.
The tennis program had been putting so much time and money over the past few years into making the Greenwood Tennis Center camera-ready for the Tennis Channel – including installing miles of wire and building TV camera wells.
“We got some things put in place already as far as camera setups and different things that we wanted – visiting team locker room and additional fitness space,” Young said. “The additional spaces are already in place and we’re going to get good use out of them the next few years, but now our focus can be on fundraising and planning for hosting the championship and being able to put all our resources now into running the championship the best that we can. I’m excited about that.”
For cross country, the course had already received a remodel a few years back in preparations for the national championship. However, several ideas for this fall’s championships had been derailed due to the pandemic.
So Smith is looking to the 2022 event as a way to truly put their best foot forward in showcasing the Stillwater cross country course.
“There's some things we can still do to make the experience for fans and athletes even better – things we’d talked about doing before the pandemic swept in in March and kind of put a pause on the things we thought about,” Smith said. “There are some improves we can still make to make things better. And now, we’ve got a little more time, so maybe we can go back and revisit some of those ideas.”