The COVID-19 pandemic has already eliminated countless opportunities in the realm of sports, and it looks as though it will eliminate countless more.
Unfortunately for former Cooperstown swimmer and Amherst College senior Sean Mebust, the pandemic has already taken away his final intercollegiate athletic contest. On March 12, just six days before the NCAA Division III Swimming and Diving Championships were set to begin in Greensboro, North Carolina, the NCAA canceled its winter championships, denying Mebust a third appearance at the season’s final meet.
“When we found out, I was just kind of glad to have a decision. It just felt like a matter of time, and training isn’t super fun if it’s not for something, so I was glad to have an answer,” Mebust told The Daily Star on Monday.
“It’s definitely super disappointing altogether,” he said. “It was a normal swim season, then over the course of four or five days this went from being something we knew was a big problem to things being canceled.”
The college had notified its students Monday, March 9, that it would be transitioning to remote learning after spring break, which was scheduled for March 14 through March 22. While Mebust continued to train until the NCAA’s cancellation came down, the college’s early decision to transition softened the news’ impact.
“As far as we knew, the meet hadn’t been canceled and the school was still going to let us go. So we were trying to keep things normal, but it was a pretty big blow when we heard classes were canceled,” Mebust said. “It just felt like it was a matter of time until the meet got canceled. I wasn’t too hopeful we would be able to go after classes were moved to remote learning.”
Mebust was slated to compete in five events at the championships, qualifying with one of the top 16 times in the nation in a pair of individual events and featuring on three relays. Mebust’s seed time of 1:59.54 in the 200-yard breaststroke put him among the favorites as the sixth seed. In the 100-yard breaststroke, he was seeded 15th with a time of 55.00.
In the 400-yard freestyle relay, the Mammoths were seeded sixth, having also qualified for the 200-yard medley relay (13th) and 400-yard medley relay (12th).
Beyond the voided events, Mebust also missed the opportunity to gain a bit of revenge after the New England Small College Athletic Conference Championships. Having already won four conference championships, one in the 100-yard breaststroke as a junior and all three of the previous 200-yard breaststroke events in which he competed, he was beaten by a pair of freshmen from Williams College in the events this season, settling for second in the 200 and third in the 100.
He finished with three second-place finishes and three third-place finishes at the meet.
“NESCAC was a good meet overall, I wouldn’t say I was disappointed with any of my swims. But it would have been nice to be able to swim against those guys again at a national level,” Mebust said.
His best effort at the national meet was a fifth-place finish in the 200-yard breaststroke as a junior, earning All-America status as a top-eight finisher.
For Amherst coach Nick Nichols, Mebust’s career will be remembered for steep improvement to being a landmark name in the program.
“He literally went from being a pretty good swimmer to really being an amazing competitor. He’s been our go-to breaststroker ever since,” Nichols said of Mebust’s drastic improvement as a freshman. “He’s one of our all-time greats, no question about it, and I was really excited to see him swim again at NCAAs this year.”
“It was a really, really great experience being able to swim against the best guys from all over the country,” Mebust said. “I was looking forward to that as the end of my career. It would have been nice to get another shot at some guys and some of the relays we had were really fun, so there was definitely some disappointment.”
While the end of an intercollegiate athletic career is jarring enough for some athletes, the transition to remote learning is just the first of added uncertainties Mebust is facing in the coming months. He returned to Cooperstown briefly after leaving Amherst before deciding to spend his remaining months of school at a friend’s house in Maine.
A computer science major, he said his start date for a job in Massachusetts as a software developer has been pushed back.
“Life without swimming, what comes to mind first is the free time, I guess,” he said. “I’m going to have to figure out what to do with myself. It’s just going to be crazy, regardless, going into the next year or so figuring out the end of school, but also with the state of the world right now and things up in the air.”
Jared Bomba, staff writer, can be reached at email@example.com or 607-441-7229.