‘When I was out there, I was home’: COVID-19 pandemic cuts senior seasons short for Schnitzius siblings
By the numbers
As of April 10
Number of COVID-19 cases in Nevada County: 34
Number in western county: 10
Number in eastern county: 24
Number of deaths: 1
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It wasn’t the ending to her high school athletics career she had envisioned.
Nevada Union senior Danielle Schnitzius was between games at a softball tourney in Chico when she was told the season she had so looked forward to was being halted and a return date was unknown.
“I was definitely upset. It was cut short really quickly,” Schnitzius said. “I was sad. I felt like I was letting my team down because I wasn’t going to be able to be there for them.”
On March 13, high school spring athletics were put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Three weeks later they were called off entirely. It was abrupt, frustrating and heartbreaking for so may student-athletes who were just digging into the season.
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“I felt not in control,” Schnitzius said. “It was frustrating since I’m a captain and I’m supposed to be there for my girls. But I wasn’t able to do that in these circumstances.”
A team captain for the Lady Miners, Schnitzius was in her fourth and final season with the program.
“She had leadership qualities from the start,” said NU softball head coach Dennis Houlihan. “She took a lot of pride in leading the team and building relationships with the girls. Pure heart is what she’s got.”
Schnitzius is one of five seniors on NU’s softball team. She, along with Reese Wheeler, Sammi Maliszewski, Michelle Gonzales and Amber Fackrell, had their final run with the Lady Miners cut short.
“I feel bad for them because they put so much time and effort in, and were the main reason we were headed in the right direction,” said Houlihan. “They ended their season on a sour note, because it was abruptly canceled, but I know they have other things in their lives that they are going to be successful in. I know they’re upset the season ended, but I know they are looking forward to making a big impact in their next adventure.”
Schnitzius saw the Lady Miners as more than just a team. Her teammates were like family to her.
“I’m really going to miss being a family,” Schnitzius said. “When I was out there, I was home. It was the place where nothing else mattered. I was just able to be on the field with people that I loved, and I knew every time I was there they would support me. I feel like I lost my biggest support system.”
‘I didn’t know how to feel’
Right around the same time and about 2,000 miles away in Batesville, Arkansas, Schnitzius’ older brother Andrew Schnitzius was dealing with similar emotions. Andrew, a 2016 Nevada Union graduate, is a student at Lyon College and had his senior season with the Scots baseball team cut short by the pandemic.
“Initially it was like I didn’t know how to feel. I was awestruck. It was so quick and it felt like it was just gone, and you were left with nothing,” said Andrew, a catcher in his second season with the Scots after transferring from Yuba College. “For so many years, it had been culminating to this point and then it was just all gone. Sometimes that can happen with injury and stuff like that, but it was such a different and unplanned for thing to happen. At one moment we were this team and we were together and we had this common goal and in a matter of three days the team was disbanded.”
Andrew was coming off a 2019 campaign in which he started 21 games for Lyon, had a fielding average of .976, batted .315, hit eight doubles and a home run. Before the 2020 season was canceled, he had started seven games, played errorless ball and threw out three would be base stealers while helping the Scots to a 20-6 overall record and the No. 13 spot in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) rankings.
“This team had leaders of every kind,” said Andrew. “We had talent like crazy. We had pitching that was getting better as we were going. We were so excited about where we were headed. There were so many hopes and dreams for the season, which makes it harder when you lose it. But for us guys that are leaving, we just have to cherish it and the guys next year will have to build upon it.”
While both Andrew and Danielle love the game itself, they both said it is the bond they have with their respective teammates they will miss the most.
“Softball isn’t just a place to play a game, it’s a place where people come alongside you and take care of you. Also, when I was able to be a captain, just having those talks with people where I wasn’t just a captain on the field, but also in other times whether that was prayers before a game, or if they’re having a bad day. What I’m going to miss the most is the relationships and just all the moments I had with them.”
Andrew added,“I was so blessed with the team that we had. We were super excited about where we were. The team was one of the most incredible teams I’ve ever been a part of.”
AN ENDING WITHOUT CLOSURE
The manner in which their respective seasons were cancelled left Andrew and Danielle both searching for closure to their playing careers.
“When you get that final game, when you know the game you’re playing might be the last one, you get a chance to ease into that goodbye,” said Andrew. “But the way it happened, there was no closure. It felt like that closure would never come, but thankfully our coaches, and our staff and school was able to give us a few opportunities to get that closure, to get to say our final goodbyes, do some exit meetings and have some last team meetings and a final meal. That definitely helped.”
Through it all, both said they are lucky to have each other to lean on.
“Just having someone to talk with that is arguably going through the same thing is nice. It’s nice to be able to have that whether it’s actually talking about it or just the comfort of knowing that someone is going through the same thing,” said Andrew, adding, “It’s tough, I was able to get my senior season in high school. I understand how important that is. I feel horrible for her. I don’t know exactly what I’m missing out on, but I do know exactly what she’s missing out on. It’s so tough to see.”
ANOTHER AT BAT?
Danielle had planned for the 2020 season to be her last, but now she’s not so sure.
“I figured after this season I would be able to say my goodbyes and leave on a good note, but now that my story has a rough ending, I might try to continue on to get the better ending I wanted,” said Danielle, who plans to attend Butte College in the fall and pursue a career in education. “I need another chance to show what I have.”
The NAIA has granted an extra year of eligibility to college seniors who had their spring seasons cut short, but Andrew may not take them up on the offer.
“For so many people it’s just not an option,” he said. “I got a biology degree in four years, it’s not like that’s a crazy accomplishment, but it was tough to do, I worked really hard to do that, so going back for that fifth year goes against every plan that I’ve been working toward.”
While Andrew has plans to continue his education and get an advanced degree, he didn’t completely rule out playing again.
“It’s still on the table,” he said. “But, right now, it’s a ‘no.’”
Whatever path Andrew takes in the future, he will always hold dear his time on the diamond.
“I feel blessed to have played four more years after high school. So few people get that,” he said. “I’m just trying to cherish the good times and cherish the memories I have, and not be bitter about the ones I don’t have.”
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email email@example.com.
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