Yasmin Kuck remembers the swift turn from anticipation to angst in painful detail.
Kuck and her teammates had just returned from Malibu and Santa Monica, California, two of the most picturesque places in the world. There, March 7-8, they competed against several of the finest teams in the United States.
Although the Hatters had struggled a bit in the early season — slipping from No. 6 to No. 11 nationally — a season of great promise still remained, particularly with the Hatters hosting the Stetson Beach Blast the following weekend. Three of the five best teams nationwide were heading to campus: the University of Southern California, University of Hawaii and Florida State University.
Also, Stetson was coming off a historic season in 2019, when it defeated top-ranked USC in the NCAA Championship tournament on the way to finishing ranked No. 6 in the nation. The Stetson Beach Blast was a chance to again prove the Hatters belonged.
“We got back and had a normal practice that Monday [March 9],” recalled Kuck, a sophomore athletically and a junior academically, majoring in international business. “On Tuesday, there was talk of us playing without fans. On Wednesday, it was ‘We might have to cancel.’ And then on Thursday, it was over just like that.
“I just remember the team huddle; everyone was crying, and the coaches were crying. It was dreams crushed over something that you just can’t control. We had no control over this, and there was nothing we could do.”
The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, had struck.
On March 12, one day before the Hatters were to square off against USC, Stetson President Wendy B. Libby, PhD, announced the university would move classes online, with the final day for in-person classes being March 14. The change was put in effect for the remainder of the spring semester, which ends May 5.
The beach volleyball season was over — the same for all spring sports at Stetson and across the country.
“It’s been hard to accept it,” Kuck continued via teleconference on campus March 26. “It took me a while to actually believe it was over. At first, I didn’t realize that the season was just taken away like it, because we were right in the middle of it.
“It’s really hard to think that we didn’t get to prove ourselves, because of what we did last year.”
That disappointment is only part of Kuck’s story. She is from Montpellier, France, and she had to return home.
“I thought it was better for me to stay here [on campus], and I also wasn’t ready for the semester to be over,” she said. “I [didn’t] want to go home; I still wanted another two months here. But given the current situation, it’s best to be home with family.”
Kuck departed DeLand the next day, March 27, starting with a flight to New York as part of planned three-stop trip. Despite flight cancellations, delays and changes, she’s now home. “It took me five flights and two days, but I made it!” she emailed upon arrival.
Much of her heart, however, remains on campus.
Kuck is especially sad for her teammates, such as senior Sunniva Helland-Hansen, whom Kuck described as “one of the best [team] captains ever.”
“Just thinking of the fact that she didn’t even get closure for her season; I can’t even imagine what’s it’s like for seniors,” Kuck said.
“I know I get to come back; I know I get to have another one of these seasons. But for them, it’s over.”
Notably, on March 30, the Division I Council of the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) voted to allow schools to provide spring-sport student-athletes an additional season of competition and an extension of their period of eligibility. That paves the way for many seniors to return to their schools — but most of Kuck’s teammates already have other plans following their graduation, Kuck cited.
The Hatters 15-member roster includes nine international student-athletes. Helland-Hansen, for example, is from Norway.
“All my teammates are gone; everyone has left,” Kuck said.
In a world of new unknowns, Kuck plans to return to Stetson this fall. “Yes, I want to complete my degree!” she asserted. Kuck represents Stetson on the NCAA Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, and she is a social media contributor for Stetson’s office of University Marketing.
She arrived in DeLand after playing at Daytona State College, down the road. Kuck was recruited to DSC while practicing with the French women’s national team. Her father, Wolfgang, born in Germany, was captain of the German National Team and played volleyball professionally in France. Her mother, Susan, is from Canada and played professionally there. They moved from Germany to France when Kuck was 1.
After high school, Kuck was invited to play with the French women’s team, and she practiced with the team for two years while seeking French citizenship, which would have enabled her to compete in matches. Ultimately, she was unsuccessful. So, she looked to attend college in America and wound up at DSC.
Similarly, her younger sister, Zoe, ventured to North America, now attending a sports academy in Canada, where she lives with their grandparents. Following quarantine restrictions, her schooling was expected to continue on her campus within weeks.
Now, Kuck is back in France, where although it’s home and she is with family, it is not Stetson. And she left campus, like so many other Hatters, with a heavy heart.
“I still can’t believe that it’s over,” Kuck said, the day before departing.