WHEELERSBURG — For two former Wheelersburg High School student-athletes, their 2020 spring sports seasons at Mount Vernon Nazarene University essentially never existed.
However, Jacob Roe — already a fifth-season senior baseball pitcher — will have the choice to return, while sophomore Ellie Ruby’s return to track and field will be defined as a season spent for recovery and rebuilding of strength and speed.
Both ex-Pirates have found academic and athletic success at MVNU —an NAIA intentionally-Christian institution located in Mount Vernon and a member of the Crossroads League.
Roe, a Biology major set to graduate this spring with plans to attend medical school, said he has the option to return to MVNU for another season — thanks to the NAIA allowing spring sports student-athletes an extra year of eligibility.
ALL spring sports seasons at every collegiate level were cancelled in March due to the threat of the coronavirus.
The NAIA officially cancelled its spring sports on March 16, but in that same announcement, organization President and CEO Jim Carr said that spring sports athletes will not be charged with a season of competition.
“In an effort to provide relief, any spring sport student-athlete who was enrolled full-time in 2020 will be awarded two additional semester terms of attendance or the equivalent,” he said.
As a result, Roe —one of nine Cougar seniors including one of four fifth-years —has a major decision to make between an opportunity for yet another spring on the diamond or to officially begin his life in the medical field.
He is a two-time Daktronics NAIA Scholar-Athlete award winner, which is the NAIA’s highest award for academic achievement.
To be eligible for this award, student-athletes must be at least a junior, have been at their institution for at least two years, and have maintained a 3.5 cumulative GPA in the course of their studies.
“It’s kind of an exciting choice to make, given I have the chance to play baseball one more year if I want to, but there is also confusion. My career path was set to attend medical school after graduation, and my wife and I have discussed where we would go depending on what medical school I got into. But this cancellation has put a kink into those thoughts,” said Roe. “I didn’t want my baseball career to end the way it did, and this was the best team I’ve been a part of since I’ve been at MVNU. It’s definitely a confusing time, trying to determine what to do. I am waiting to hear back from two more medical schools before I determine my career path for the next few years.”
Those two medical schools are Ohio University and Marshall University, as Roe explained he would like to make a final decision by the end of April or early May.
Roe received an original fifth season with a medical redshirt, as the five-foot, 11-inch 175-pound left-handed hurler pitched in just three games as a freshman and two as a sophomore.
He appeared in 19 games (28 1/3 innings pitched, 20 runs allowed, 14 earned runs allowed, 4.45 ERA, 32 hits, 18 walks, 22 strikeouts) in 2018 and 18 games (31 2/3 innings pitched, 20 runs allowed, 15 earned runs allowed, 4.26 ERA, 52 hits, four walks, 18 strikeouts) in 2019, and made seven appearances and 11 innings pitched prior to the cancellation of this season after 24 games.
For his career, he has thrown 76 and 1/3 innings with 44 runs allowed and 31 earned —good enough for an earned run average of 3.66.
He has given up 96 hits with 11 doubles and five home runs, thrown eight wild pitches with 29 walks, and has struck out 51.
The 2020 Cougars, officially starting their season in the fall for five victories, forged an 18-6 record prior to their final tilt — as they were ranked 22nd in the final NAIA poll to be done.
Resuming on Feb. 21, MVNU went 2-1 in a weekend series at the University of Pikeville — prior to playing 15 games over two entire weeks in Florida before returning to Ohio for the single-game win on March 12.
The Cougars’ doubleheader at Wright-State Lake in Celina on March 10 was rained out.
“This was probably the most fun year of the five in terms of playing baseball. It was the best group of guys. We played all those games in Florida before coming back to Ohio and we had worked hard to finally get things going our way,” said Roe. “We were finally ranked, we were moving up, playing well, and was really looking forward to the rest of the season.”
Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 crisis, that rest of the season never happened.
“At first, there was disappointment. We knew the call was coming when all the sports were getting cancelled, but we were still disappointed. But when you look at the whole scope of things, this is bigger than us,” said Roe. “I understand the gravity of the situation, especially going into the health care field.”
And, Roe knows that’s where his ultimate future lies — regardless if he plays another baseball season or not.
“Going into that field takes priority over everything. My time at MVNU has been good in that not many people can prepare for medical school and handle a full course-load and still practice or play baseball every day for three or four hours,” he said. “I am able to accomplish anything if I set myself to it.”
Ruby, meanwhile, now has three seasons of spring track and field remaining in addition to her final two volleyball seasons— if she too wants to use that extra year of track.
Ruby — returning off qualifying for the NAIA nationals — runs indoor track and field as well, but on the day before the Cougars’ first meet at Ohio Wesleyan University following Christmas break, she tore the PCL ligament in her knee.
“I was told by my doctors that I had to be out for three months due to physical therapy and healing,” she said. “I hadn’t really talked to my coach about what we were going to do, but I will probably use both indoor and outdoor as a redshirt season because even if COVID-19 wasn’t in place, I wouldn’t be running outdoor anyways due to my torn PCL.”
While Ruby’s running in the spring was off, she still was sad for her Cougar teammates that their season was scrapped.
Her volleyball spring sessions were also wiped out.
“I was very disappointed for my teammates that the season got cancelled. There were big things coming for the team, so I was upset for them that they couldn’t run this season. I was also very disappointed for volleyball that we didn’t get our spring season coming off a great season and being able to improve and capitalize on things,” she said.
While at Wheelersburg, Ruby was a regular at the OHSAA’s Division III state meet every June — in the 100m hurdles, the 300m hurdles and the long jump.
With the exception of a ninth-place finish in the 300m hurdles as a sophomore, she captured all-Ohio honors in all her participating events for all four years — including third-place in the 300s as a senior, runner-up in the 100s as a sophomore and junior, and state champion in the long jump as a sophomore and senior.
But she has especially excelled at volleyball at MVNU, earning first-team all-Crossroads League as a libero — and Crossroads League Defensive Player of the Week six times over the course of last season.
An AVCA all-Mid Central Region Honorable Mention selection as a sophomore, she led the Crossroads League in digs with 751, which was seventh in ALL of the NAIA.
“The past two years of volleyball at MVNU have been amazing,” said Ruby. “My freshman year was a lot of change and just earning my position and getting our team to all be on board and playing together. It was a great season with the girls and just playing in general. My sophomore year was amazing, for we had a great team and all of us got along and we played really well and bonded so well off the floor. I’m so excited for the years to come, because we are young and have basically all of our returning starters. But I just love volleyball and it is amazing there as well.”
Ruby’s return to both sports, of course, depends upon her healing from the torn PCL.
While currently away from the closed MVNU campus due to COVID-19 concerns, she is working out in getting next seasons under way — while working towards becoming a speech therapist and majoring in Communication Science and Disorders.
“During this time preparing for both track and volleyball, I am lifting and running every day along with a lot of agility and therapy to get back up to my max and full potential and be able to be 100-percent for next year,” said Ruby. “I am also getting a lot of touches with volleyball and passing and digging and my parents have been a lot of help in that aspect.”
Hence, she seeks to return to top form from a track and field season which never was, while Roe decides on whether to return from a baseball campaign which was lost.
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved