Home Cherry Hill News Bottom of the Ninth: South Jersey grads face uncertain future

Bottom of the Ninth: South Jersey grads face uncertain future

After abbreviated 2020 season and news that 2021 would be the program's last, La Salle baseball players keep on fighting

Just over a year ago, the La Salle University baseball team, like thousands of other colleges across the country, was notified its 2020 season would be cancelled due to the then-new pandemic.

To the shock and dismay of the La Salle student-athletes, players had no choice but to return home and resume their education through remote learning, with no clue as to what lay in store for their Division I careers moving forward, after playing just 14 games in 2020.

For guys like then-freshmen Connor Coolahan, a Shawnee High School graduate, last year was his opportunity to make a name for himself at the highest level of collegiate baseball; instead, that chance quickly vanished beyond his control.

“I started seven games and had a shot to really bring my name out there to earn more starts, but all of a sudden it got taken away from me,” said Coolahan. “Knowing that we couldn’t practice or play together really took a hard hit on us and myself.”

And just when Coolahan didn’t think his college baseball experience could start off any worse, he and the rest of the Explorers were delivered another unpredictable knockout punch: the La Salle University Board of Trustees approved a recommendation to reduce the number of its collegiate athletic teams from 25 to 18 at the end of the academic year, with the baseball program being one of the seven sports nixed.

In late September, the team was notified they were to attend a zoom meeting with the university’s Director of Intercollegiate Athletics and Recreation for an originally unknown reason. Shortly before the meeting started, players say it became clear what the meeting was to be about.

“I think we found out about 10 minutes before the meeting that they cut our program so we had an idea going in what the meeting was about,” said Cherry Hill West graduate and current junior Nick Di Vietro. “Obviously, we were all devastated, shocked and pretty angry… honestly we’re still pretty angry about it.”

According to Coolahan and Highland Regional graduate Dylan Maria, family and friends had already started to reach out before the meeting ended as news had already spread around the La Salle community.

In the moment, they were left with little to say, still trying to process the news they were just given.

“The worst thing was getting texts from your best friends asking what was going on… you trained so hard to go to a Division I school and all of a sudden it’s getting cut,” said Coolahan. “It felt really embarrassing in the moment.”

“It was kind of tough to digest really… as the zoom meeting was going on I was getting phone calls and text messages before I could even process for myself what was happening,” said Maria. “Seeing faces from the other programs in that zoom meeting that also got cut, it was just a really bitter moment.”

For freshmen Ryan Nutley and Nick Hammer, graduates of Gloucester Catholic and Washington Township that hadn’t yet played even a single collegiate inning when the decision was made, the news was unbearable.

“I was in complete shock, I didn’t even believe it was real,” said Hammer. “I started panicking and calling coaches thinking I had to transfer because maybe there won’t even be a season this year.”

“I didn’t even step foot on campus [as a student] yet, haven’t had my first practice, and they’re telling me that the program was cut,” said Nutley.

According to a joint release from President Colleen Hanycz and Director of Intercollegiate Athletics and Recreation Brain Baptiste, the university plans to honor all existing athletic scholarship aid previously awarded to the approximately 130 student-athletes across the seven sports and will assist students in transferring credits and eligibility, if they so choose to go elsewhere to continue their collegiate careers after the season.

Social media campaigns and a GoFundMe page has been started in an attempt to save the program since the decision was announced this past September. It remains unknown what effect the numerous attempts will have on the university’s original intent to shut down the program at the conclusion of the academic year.

Despite an uncertain future and ongoing attempts to reverse the decision, La Salle baseball plays on, with the team hoping to take the program out on top while players look to make a name for themselves in the hopes that maybe they can play elsewhere next year.

“We definitely have a chip on our shoulder, this team’s kind of different,” said Di Vietro. “No ones had their backs against the wall like we have. Each one of us is betting on ourselves, we don’t know what our future holds so we are playing for ourselves.”

“We just have to go out there this year and make a name for La Salle to try to get saved while also trying to make a name for yourself so that you can find a place in case that it doesn’t get saved,” said Hammer.

While the idea of playing for another school next year isn’t one that they say lingers in their mind, they know that possibility is very much real, meaning each game is an opportunity to showcase their skills in hopes that they can continue to play next season, wherever that might be. 

“I’m obviously hoping that the program gets saved and I can stay here,” said Maria. “But if it does get cut, I’m taking every opportunity on the field to make a name for myself and hopefully some coach sees how I play and gives me the opportunity.”

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