NCAA eligibility decision brings relief while raising questions

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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WFXR) — Virginia Tech head coach Pete D’Amour chats with WFXR sports reporter David DeGuzman about the recent NCAA decision to grant another year of eligibility to Division I spring sports athletes whose seasons were cut short due to COVID-19.

DAVID DEGUZMAN: The big topic this week is the NCAA decision to allow another year of eligibility for all the spring sports athletes. It seems to be overall a decision that was well received. What’s your initial reaction to that?

PETE D’AMOUR: I think all the players are excited to get the year back. I don’t think anything quiets the blow of your season being over. But at least this helps and we can get four years out of this thing. I think everybody is pretty happy about it

What’s the last two or three weeks been like? I heard you say on another podcast that it’s felt like ten years or so.

Yeah it’s been nuts. Just a lot of uncertainty. With the NCAA coming out a couple of days ago, we now have some pathway to where we need to go because for those two or three weeks we were in limbo. People coming back? Or are they not? Like, give us some guidance here. We finally got it.

But yeah, it’s opened up another avenue of what we need to think about now. But at least right now we have some light at the end of the tunnel.

How are your players doing? What have the conversations been like? I’m sure the last couple of weeks, they’ve been in limbo trying to figure out what they’re status is in terms of eligibility.

Yeah, I’ve been in contact with all of them. I think they’re just going day by day. That’s the way our team kind rolls. The kids don’t really worry about a lot of stuff. Just tell us what to do and we’ll figure it out. They’re all home. The way I’m reaching out to them is I just text them every once in awhile. Once every five or six days, just seeing how they’re doing. Checking in and going to school, doing their workouts, all that kind of stuff. That’s pretty much what’s going on.

Your team is still relatively young so compared to senior heavy teams, your situation probably isn’t the same. That being said, you have one senior, Olivia Lattin. Have you had a conversation with her about what she wants to do now that the NCAA decision has been made? Or are you guys still trying to figure that out?

Yeah I haven’t really talked to her yet. We got a few days to figure it out. I’ll reach out to her within in the next couple of days. She’s a unique situation because this will be her sixth year. She’s already redshirted one year, last year. Then she gets her season cut short. It’s either ‘you wanna come back’ and we’ll certainly take her back. At the same time, ‘do you wanna get started with your life?’. How many times are you going to do this? Whatever she wants to do, I’m open to. But we just haven’t had that conversation yet because we didn’t know what’s going to happen.

One thing I wanna get your take on is that the NCAA ruling allows for schools to figure it out for themselves what to do with scholarships and rosters. What’s your take on that?

We’re in a unique situation. Especially coaches that are new to the program. I had all of my 2021 commits done pretty much. I had a couple more spots but for the most part those ’21s were locked in and I plan on keeping them. We have to navigate the scholarship situation and the climate of the scholarships in the next six months or so to see what’s going to happen. Is the NCAA going to allow us to go over the 12 scholarship limit. We just don’t know yet.

So that’s the one thing that there’s this blanket statement that everybody gets their year back it trickles down to the ’20s that are already signed. You know, kids that are going to be freshmen this year. And the kids that are already verbally committed to us. There’s more work to be done. And behind the scenes, everybody kinda sees that. But everybody also sees that the NCAA says everyone is coming back. It goes more than that. It’s deeper than that. There’s more work to be done.

From your point of view, how long would this process take? It sounds like that’s going to be a very long process.

We don’t know. I would hope by summertime. We just don’t know.

Let’s talk about your team a little bit. Before everything kinda spiraled, you guys were in the middle of your season. You guys got through one weekend of ACC play, sweeping Virginia. It seemed like this team had so much potential and promise coming off of a year where the Hokies went to the NCAA tournament. How much potential did this team have to go far this year?

It’s a good question. We were rolling. I think we won our last eight in a row. We went to UVA and swept them, didn’t give up a run. Some of our kids really started to swing the bat well. We don’t know how far we would’ve gone. And if I were to roll the dice and say would we be a regional team, I would say I think so. And I’ve been to enough of those to see once you get to regionals, it’s just whoever’s hot moves on. We just don’t know. I think the potential was pretty high. But a long time ago, a baseball guy told me ‘potential means you haven’t done it all.’

On paper, we were pretty good. We’ll just see if we can continue that next year.

How tough is this cancellation of a season take a toll on a player like Keely Rochard, who was really working it from the circle? She had a spectacular weekend against Virginia. Is it one of those cases where we really would’ve loved to see how far she could’ve gotten because she was on fire from the circle?

Yeah, I would’ve liked to have seen how she would’ve done. How our offense would’ve done. I would’ve liked to have seen all of it. You just got to tell the kids, and this is the mantra of a college coach, control what you can control. We say it til we puke you know. And that’s really what we’re doing. We can’t control this whole situation. But to waste time and energy on it, you’re just wasting time.

We’re thankful that we got to play a little bit this year. But at the same time, let’s just see where we are going to go from here.

What do you take away from a shortened season? At least you got to get on the field. You got to have some great wins and some highlights there. What’s the takeaway from a shortened 2020 year?

Just personally and selfishly, we got better from last year. So I always look back and say ‘what can we do different to become better players and improve as a program?’. We got better this year. And you continually have to get better or you’re getting worse. For me, it’s just what we do works. It’s confirmation on that. I’m excited about next year with some of these kids that are coming back. Looking back I think we saw improvement certainly from the fall to our first weekend in the ACCs. That’s my goal as a coach. To make our kids better. Certainly, there’s more that goes into it. Grades. Building relationships and all that. But as far as being on the field: did we get better? The answer was yes. So let’s continue to do that.

There’s no games to play for right now. So as a coach, what do you tell your players? Do you tell them, ‘hey, you can eat that donut now!’ Do you still give them a workout? What do you do with a team that now has a little less than a year to prepare for 2021?

I’m not a stickler as far as having a regiment or being really stringent about what they do in the summer. I haven’t even approached that yet. I sent the hitters at least a program yesterday. Just to stay busy, here’s some swing things you can do. But as far as telling them what they eat or stuff, I don’t say anything about it yet.

The expectation is: ‘be ready when you get here in the fall.’ Whatever that looks like. If you’re one of those kids that can eat that donut and you can be ready by the time the fall rolls around, go ahead. But that’s the thing. With a lot of people coming back, everybody coming back, and then we have this freshman class that’s good, that’s a lot of competition. I mean a ton. So you better be ready on Day 1. I mean, that’s what I’m going to tell them. If you’re not, somebody will be. Our girls know that. They know how I roll. There’s no secrets.

What are you looking forward to the most with this 2021 team?

9:23 PD: It’s an older Keely Rochard. It’s an older Mackenzie Lawter. It’s an older Jayme Bailey and Kelsey Bennett and Kelsey Brown. All those kids are a year older. And they didn’t lose a year. So that’s exciting. I’m excited about the freshmen class. We got a couple more pitchers. And another athlete for the outfield and some infielders. The thing is we were pretty good this year and hopefully we get Olivia back. So we’re returning the same team, with more pieces. Potential is a strange word for me because I don’t want to bank on the unknown but I’m excited about it.

No one is playing right now. How does that make your job a little harder from a recruiting standpoint when you can’t literally go anywhere and you’re still trying to find talent for the future and that talent isn’t even playing right now?

It’s a little bit harder now because we’re on a dead period until April 15th. So we can’t recruit. The thing is that we couldn’t recruit until after the World Series anyway. Unless we wanted to go out and watch high school games in the spring, we don’t really do anyway. Nothing has really changed much as far as what we’re going after, what we’re looking for in future classes. So we just have to ride it out. I know some teams put some fancy stuff out on social media but, I don’t know, I’m just not that way. We’re just going to ride it out and whenever they tell us we can go on the road, we’ll go on the road. We have a list of who we’re looking for and what we need in those classes and we’ll hit the highway when that time comes.

What’s the advice that coaches would be giving to players who were being potentially looked at and they can’t do anything right now?

Continue to get better. I think I see a lot on social media from kids who are still hitting. The one thing right now is you got an opportunity to keep getting stronger. You have two choices. You can sit around and not do anything or go out and get stronger, get work in and all those kinds of things.

I can’t downplay the importance of video right now. There’s some kids that are on my list who are doing a good job with this. They’re just sending me videos through their phone of them throwing in a barn or something, I don’t know. It’s like, ‘okay! you’re working!’.

From an overall perspective, don’t lose hope. Things are going to work out. Kids end up where they need to end up. Everybody is in the same boat right now. It’s not like you’re getting overlooked or nobody is going to see me. Just keep doing what you’re doing. There’s no substitute for working hard right now. There’s no excuse why you wouldn’t because there’s nothing else to do.

You definitely have to get creative that’s for sure. How have you been staying busy? We’re all under a stay-at-home order. What’s quarantine life been like? Have you been doing a lot of Netflix or things that you normally wouldn’t do? Or maybe watching a lot of softball?

I’m driving my wife nuts. I’ve been watching a lot of instructional videos. Been reading. I try to get a walk around and get my steps in. It’s crazy. There’s a routine right now and that gets pretty boring. And just to keep your mind active and doing certain things, it’s a challenge. That’s how I kinda live my life. Everybody else is in it. And there’s a lot of people that are on ventilators now and have it worse than I do. I’m not going to sit around and complain about how bored I am. It’s just what’s going on in the world right now. It’s the hand that you’re dealt.

I watched a mobster show on Amazon Prime. I started getting into Ozarks again on Netflix. That’s a good show but there’s too much cussing in it. I’m not a prude about cussing but c’mon you can use other words. So that’s pretty much how I’m abiding my time.

There must be an Eddie Money documentary that you haven’t watched yet.

Eddie, passed away, God rest his soul, in October and they had a thing on Axis TV about his concert. They played his reality show for a weekend and then they had a tribute concert for him. I still haven’t seen it so I’ve got to find it.

Any book recommendations?

Not really because the one that I just read, I wouldn’t recommend to anybody. I got so bored because the libraries are closed. And I haven’t really bought anything on Amazon so last week I went to the grocery store and got a book. Like there’s books at the grocery store.

Yeah at Kroger.

Yeah, I went to Kroger and I’m not reading a bunch of romance novels with Fabio on the front. I’m not doing that. So I got one on James Patterson. He had a book. And it’s eight bucks and 140 pages. And I was done in like two days. And I was like, man I didn’t learn anything. It’s a way to kill time.

We’ve got to tell ACC Network to start replaying some softball games or something.

Yeah they need to do that.

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