By David Youngs
Olsen Pancoast wasn’t your average elementary school kid when it came to gym class. The eyes of the Cobber distance runner didn’t light up to the words “Capture the Football,” “Mission Impossible,” or “Dodgeball.”
His favorite activity? Running through the soles of his shoes across the gym for the yearly PACER test.
“I was a big fan of that,” Pancoast laughed. “I got pretty competitive, I think I tried to go for the school record in either fourth or fifth grade.”
Pancoast’s love of running led him to Concordia, where he has competed for the cross country and track team the last four years.
That love shifted to heartbreak for Pancoast and many other Cobber student-athlete seniors whose seasons were unexpectedly cut short last Friday when the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) announced it would be canceling the reminder of spring sport seasons amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
The MIAC’s decision echoed that of athletic conferences and organizations across the nation in an effort to limit the spread of the virus, which has hit over 3,000 Americans in the last week.
And while the decision was proactive, it didn’t make hanging up the cleats any easier for the 25-plus Cobber seniors who said goodbye to their collegiate careers on Friday.
But it’s not the records or conference standings that resonate with the senior class as they reflect on their years as student athletes. It’s the fond memories, the lessons, and the relationships that formulated their love of the game.
Tennis was never the sole focus for Cobber tennis standout Erik Porter growing up in Mandan, North Dakota. Family, however, was. Porter’s older sister Jacey picked up the sport, prompting Porter to pick up a tennis racquet for the first time at age five.
“My sister played tennis, so I started as a result of starting what she did,” Porter said. “I started when I was four or five, just hitting against the garage door with my dad’s racquet.”
As he grew older, he would follow his sister and dad to the courts, watching the two hit back and forth. In between rallies Porter would interrupt the tennis with another sport he loved: baseball.
“I would stand at the back of the court by the fence and in between rallies he would boom a couple of balls to the sky and see if I could catch them,” Porter said.
Young Porter would get to combine his love for both tennis and baseball, competing in both sports plus basketball for the majority of his childhood. When his senior year of high school came around, Porter shifted his focus to tennis, which led him to something both he and his dad had always talked about: the opportunity to play college athletics.
“College tennis kind of came about as a function of wanting to participate in college athletics in general,” Porter said. “My dad and I came to the agreement that the college sports experience wasn’t like anything else. He said that I didn’t have to stay [in college sports] but that if I didn’t try it I would regret it.”
That sense of family connection echoes how women’s track and field athlete Miriah Forness got involved in running.
“My parents were both in track, they never pushed us [her and her siblings] to do it growing up, but it was always there. We would do the Hershey Track meets growing up, running the 100m dash.”
Like Porter, Forness participated in multiple sports growing up, including basketball, volleyball, and track. When it came time for college, Forness played basketball and decided to continue track because her older sister Mikayla was on the team at the time.
“Honestly, I did track my freshman year because my sister Mikayla was on the team and we had always done sports together growing up,” Forness said. “I figured that I would do track for her and wasn’t really sure after that.”
Throughout the course of that season Forness reignited her love for competition through her team, prompting her to continue track through her senior year.
“I just fell in love with the team and found my competitive edge again,” Forness said. “I don’t know what I would do without that break in my day and without competing.”
Forness started her Cobber experience sharing the track with her older sister. She got to finish it by sharing it with her younger sister Lauren, who was a freshman on this years’ team.
BIGGER THAN SPORTS
Ask any retired athlete about their greatest or most memorable feat, and there’s a good chance that it won’t have to do with wins or losses.
For lone Cobber softball senior Betsy Asp, it was the lessons learned on and off the field.
“People call softball just a game. Things like hitting and fielding will come and go but the life lessons like being selfless, accountability and teamwork will last a lifetime,” Asp said.
Those lessons helped Asp through her four years as she battled on and off with injuries.
“You learn a lot about who you are in those moments where you’re not on the field, Asp said. “Joining this team was the best decision that I ever could have made.”