COVID-19’s extra year of eligibility opened unique opportunities for one CWU athlete

Evan Couch, Staff Reporter

COVID-19 brought uncertainty and inconsistency to athletics all over the world. For collegiate athletes like Graduate Senior Leanna Shymanski COVID-19 presented a second chance and new opportunities. 

In March of 2020, the NCAA granted spring athletics an extra year of eligibility as a result of COVID-19 affecting their seasons. Eventually, the approval rolled into fall and winter sports as well.   

As a volleyball player, Shymanksi experienced the effects that COVID-19 had on athletics as she awaited the final word on what was to be her last season as a Wildcast in fall of 2020.

“I was kind of sticking out that whole year, and we got told in the summertime that our season would be postponed in the fall,” Shymanski said. 

Shymanski and the team played an unofficial season in the spring before finding out that she would have another chance at a full and official season, according to Shymanski. She explained what the feeling was like once she realized she had gained a second chance. 

“For me, it just happened to be my senior year, so it’s even more meaningful I would say,” Shymanksi said. 

Prior to learning she would have another opportunity to play, Shymanski said playing the unofficial spring season brought about a new perspective for her. She said she was taking in every moment she could with her teammates, as well as appreciating the program while getting to play the sport. 

“I think I just had this other level of gratitude for volleyball that I don’t think I would have had if it weren’t for the pandemic,” Shymanski said. 

For Shymanksi, she said it was all about embracing what it meant to be a student athlete and enjoying everything that the experience brought with it. 

The experience of realizing she had another season to look forward to was a moment that she said she had to sit back and take in. 

“It was super surreal, I think I was in shock at first,” Shymanski said. 

Skymanksi explained that until she and the team stepped onto the court to play that first official game, it felt too good to be true. 

“It really wasn’t until we actually started our preseason and started traveling for games that it got super real for me,” Shymanski said. 

She said the first preseason game that the Wildcats faced meant a little more to her. 

“It was amazing,” Shymanski said. “Our first preseason game was against Eastern [Washington University] which is where I transferred from, and they’re a Big Sky school and it was such a cool experience and full circle for me to start off my true, full senior season at Eastern.” 

Skymanski said she would not have stayed the extra year and got to experience some of the moments she did had it not been for the team. 

“I was just really grateful,” Shymanski said. “I wouldn’t have stayed if it wasn’t for the girls and for [Head Coach] Mario Andaya .”

Choosing to stay allowed Shymanski to accomplish some set goals on and off the court. Shymanski said leading up to the season, she spoke with coach Andaya about being a leader and setting an example for the standards within the program. However, she said the most important goal was to just enjoy it.

“Overall, my biggest goal was to truly just enjoy the season and enjoy the moment,” Shymanski said.

Off the court, Shymanski had her sights set on furthering her education. Shymanski received a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and spanish. After graduation, Shymanski began to pursue her master’s degree in instruction and curriculum. She also started substitute teaching and has been doing so ever since. All these factors kept Shymanski at CWU.

Continuing her education is not the only reason Shymanski planned to stay in Ellensburg. As she works towards her masters, Shymanski will work as graduate assistant coach for the volleyball team.

According to Shymanski, she is looking forward to being in these moments as she takes on all of her different roles.

“It’s wearing a lot of different hats and balancing a lot of things,” Shymanski said. “I think I am just looking forward to more growth.” 

Shymanski said she wants all other athletes who are heading into their final year to take the time to focus on the little things that come with it.

“They’re all going to teach really good lessons that you’re going to be able to carry over,” Shymanski said. “The memories [are] what it’s all about, so just make lots of memories and really enjoy it.”