How COVID-19 Abruptly Ended a Winning Women’s Basketball Season

A co-captain of Tufts women’s basketball team reflects on a record-setting season cut short by the pandemic—and the support the team felt from Jumbos near and far

In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the winter seasons of many Tufts Athletics teams, including basketball, swimming and diving, and track and field. Every spring team—baseball, softball, lacrosse, rowing—also had their seasons canceled.

For our retrospective on the Tufts community's early response to the pandemic, Tufts Now spoke with one athlete whose college career came to a sudden stop: Erica DeCandido, A20, a two-time captain of the Tufts women's basketball team and four-time Dean’s List student.

By early March 2020, the Tufts University women’s basketball team was an unstoppable force. The tight-knit team, which sat atop the Division 3 rankings at 28-1 under new head coach Jill Pace, had just won their first two games in the NCAA tournament and was focused on the upcoming Sweet 16 championship.

Though they had a lot of momentum and were extremely motivated to bring home their first national championship banner, the COVID-19 virus had started to impact their season. The first indication was when Tufts and other universities announced that fans could no longer attend sports events due to the virus. But in quick succession, in-person classes at Tufts were halted, and the NBA suspended its season.

“It was my senior year, so I was excited to play every game like it was my last,” said Erica DeCandido, A20, who was co-captain of the team at the time. “My brother always says you never know when that is, and you truly didn’t know because of coronavirus.” 

When the team found out their winning season was going to be cut short, the players were all together in the locker room at Cousens Gym, getting ready to practice. DeCandido described the moment as upsetting and recalled that there were a lot of tears. But she also knew how lucky they were to have shared in the experience of the season. 

“We spent a couple hours on the court in a circle with our coaches and our teammates talking about how even though it was over, our season was awesome. We set records, we had so much fun, and we love each other,” she said. “There was a lot of good to come out of it because we got to spend those last few hours in our favorite place with our favorite people.” 

In the days and months afterward, the Tufts community near and far (virtually) embraced the women’s basketball team. DeCandido, who was named the D3hoops National Player of the Year for 2019-2020, said the “whole Tufts Athletics department” expressed support, even though many winter teams had their seasons canceled last March, including men's basketball, men's and women's swimming and diving, and men's and women's track & field. Every spring team—baseball, softball, lacrosse, rowing—also had their season canceled. 

“People who watched Tufts women’s basketball who we didn’t even know texted and called afterward to say how much they were going to miss seeing us and going to our games,” said DeCandido. “It’s the people you didn’t even realize who were supporting you as well as the people who are right next to you along for the whole ride.” 

Over the next few weeks, the players and coaches kept in touch via a weekly Zoom, where filled each other in on virtual classes and what new activity they tried during quarantine. Though the players had to go on their separate ways, DeCandido and her senior teammates returned to campus at the end of May to move out of their apartment and take graduation photos with the Jumbo statue.

She still talks to her teammates all the time, and she now lives with two of them in Pennsylvania. Even though her last season didn’t end up the way she hoped, she said she felt lucky to be part of something so special.

“This was definitely bigger than D3 women’s basketball,” she said. “My biggest takeaway is that I have some of the greatest people around me, not only my immediate teammates but their parents, coaches, Tufts Athletics, and Tufts as a whole.” 

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