BILLINGS — If anyone knows what it’s like to take full advantage of their final season of college eligibility, it’s Thomas Chameraud.
As a senior midfielder on the Montana State Billings men’s soccer squad in 2012, Chameraud put together one of the finest seasons in program history, scoring 10 goals and 11 assists, the latter of which set a single-season team record.
Now Chameraud is the Yellowjackets’ second-year head coach, and he’s trying to navigate the program through a much different challenge: There will be no sports at MSUB until at least Nov. 30 following recent decisions by the NCAA Division II Presidents Council and the Great Northwest Athletic Conference as concerns remain over the unwavering coronavirus pandemic.
There are three seniors on the Jackets’ roster that hoped to build on the first-year positives Chameraud molded during an 8-9-2 campaign a year ago. But defender Luca Battistott and midfielders Paul Cuevas and Noah Runsvold now must wait for the same opportunity Chameraud took advantage of as a player.
“I was really looking forward to watching them compete and see everything come together,” Chameraud said Wednesday. “We really had some high hopes for this upcoming season.”
Chameraud said his hope now is that his three seniors (and the rest of the team) will be able to play this spring in the event competition is allowed, although they’ll only be able to participate in 50% of whatever events are scheduled or risk losing their eligibility, per NCAA rules.
“I cannot tell them, ‘You have to play this spring.’ If they feel like they deserve a better way out and want to wait until next year we are happy to keep them,” said Chameraud, a native of Niort, France.
“Our seniors are really good guys — guys that sweated a lot and bled a lot on the field for the program. If they want one more year we’ll give them one more year.”
Men’s soccer isn’t the only team in a holding pattern. MSUB’s women’s soccer, volleyball, men’s and women’s cross country, men’s and women’s golf and women’s triathlon programs will also be relegated to practice and organized team activities for the next 3½ months.
The Jackets were scheduled to host the NCAA Division II West Region cross country meet in November, but no longer.
Even the men’s and women’s basketball seasons, which typically get under way in October, aren’t expected to start until December at the earliest.
Until then, practice and team drills must suffice.
The hope for MSUB’s fall sports programs is to play games in the spring — provided it’s feasible — even though all championships for the fall season at the D-II level have been canceled and won’t be rescheduled due to the continued spread of COVID-19.
Conversations about the college football season dominate the 24-hour sports news cycle, but student-athletes at MSU Billings, which is Montana’s only NCAA D-II institution and hasn’t played football in decades, aren’t any less affected.
The Yellowjackets, as athletes begin trickling back on campus for the start of the fall semester next Wednesday, will try to make the best out of a bad situation.
MSUB athletic director Krista Montague called the five months since the outbreak took hold in the U.S. “exhausting,” but also said all is not lost.
“I’m optimistic that better days are ahead,” Montague said. “That’s one thing athletics teaches us. It teaches you to be resilient and to work through adversity. That’s pretty much what sports are all about. I think we will do that.
“I think that maybe there will be some student-athletes, unfortunately, that are going to lose out because they’re seniors and they just want to graduate and be done, but I know our coaches and staff are really passionate about what they do and they’re definitely going to turn this adversity into opportunities in the future.”
Count volleyball coach Casey Williams among them.
Williams, entering her fifth season at the helm, hasn’t been able to gather her team together in full since the middle of March. But she's focused on keeping her players engaged and focused on improvement.
“We have a really good group right now and they understand the magnitude of everything that’s going on,” Williams said. “But the fall is going to get tedious, for sure.”
“It’s going to be tough,” she said. “We don’t have any outside competition at this point. It’s going to be just the 15 of us for 3½ months.”
Like Chameraud, Williams has three seniors back in the fold this year — hitters Maddi Vigil and Bayli Monck and middle blocker Joelle Mahowald — and every starter has returned. Williams, a 2008 graduate of Billings Skyview High School where she played libero, said she expects everyone to remain on board.
If there is a spring season, Williams said her team will do what it can to be ready. In the meantime, the Jackets will practice, scrimmage, and work on team-wide leadership development.
“Without the element of competition it’s going to be challenging,” she said. “My hope is to continue to get better throughout the fall and that our athletes remain eager.”
For Montague, dealing with the halting nature of the past five months has been one of her most difficult challenges as an athletic administrator.
“Everybody’s disappointed that we won’t be competing this fall. That’s obvious,” she said. “But I do think everybody’s pretty optimistic. We’re going to be able to continue practicing in small groups and train and do team functions within our local health guidelines. Our coaches are doing what they can to keep the student-athletes engaged. It’s been exhausting, just the back-and-forth and the uncertainty. That’s the hardest part.”
“You can only do so much. They play their sports to compete, that’s what it’s all about,” she said. “But everybody in the country is faced with this, and I think we just have to keep that in perspective.”