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McFarling: Continued COVID-19 setbacks for UVa and others shouldn't drown out hope
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McFarling: Continued COVID-19 setbacks for UVa and others shouldn't drown out hope

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GREENSBORO, N.C. — He was asked about Duke.

Duke was still the big story at that moment on Thursday afternoon. Even after Virginia had just beaten Syracuse on a buzzer-beating shot – the kind of March moment we all missed so dearly last year – the national sports outlets were focused on what we didn’t have.

Earlier that morning, Duke had announced that it would not compete in the rest of the ACC Tournament after a positive COVID-19 test within the program. The school’s athletic director added that this would mark the end of the Blue Devils’ season.

UVa forward Sam Hauser listened to the postgame question. Essentially, he was asked if he was proud that his team could have an experience like Thursday’s finish in the wake of the Duke news, which was a grave reminder that pandemic issues persist.

“I mean, this whole year has been a little different for everyone with the testing protocols, socially distancing, wearing masks, making sure you’re not seeing people outside of your bubble, really,” Hauser said. “Very proud of the guys. We were very disciplined throughout the year and continue to be, especially this time of the year where if you get a COVID bug like that, it could end your season.

“It sucks for Duke. You never wish that upon anyone. We’re just going to continue to take the right protocols, and we should be all right.”

Less than 24 hours later, UVa’s semifinal game against Georgia Tech was canceled. Positive test within the Cavaliers’ program. ACC Tournament run over. NCAA Tournament availability cast into question.

That’s how quickly this all can still change. Perhaps no team in the country took the pandemic more seriously than Duke. Since athletes began returning to campus last summer, UVa’s testing numbers throughout the athletic department have been highly encouraging more weeks than not. Yet here they both are, out of this event, ousted by an invisible foe.

And the way I see it, there are two ways to look at this:

1. We can shake our fists at the conferences for their cash grabs, criticize the NCAA for not giving teams a longer runway to the big dance and endlessly mourn the loss of every game that isn’t played, or;

2. We can take the approach that Hauser detailed when he was asked that question on Thursday. We can understand the imperfections at play, deal with them the best we can, celebrate the moments we do get and understand that nothing’s guaranteed.

Put me in the latter camp.

That doesn’t mean you aren’t sympathetic. ACC commissioner Jim Phillips said he was “heartbroken” for the players at Duke and Virginia. UVa coach Tony Bennett described Friday’s events as a “gut punch.” UVa AD Carla Williams said she was “incredibly disappointed for our players.”

All appropriate.

But the world is not crumbling around us like it was at this time last year. Arms are getting stuck with needles. Pandemic metrics are moving in the right direction. Fans are slowly coming back to stadiums.

With any luck, these cancellations and others like them are the last vestiges of a horrific experience for everyone. The pandemic endures, but it’s losing its grip on us.

As we await the most unusual Selection Sunday in history, we should be appreciative of what we have and mindful of how easily it can be taken.

Most of all, unlike this time last year, we can and should be hopeful. Some bad is still here, but the worst has come and gone.

Contact sports columnist Aaron McFarling at 540-981-3423 or aaron.mcfarling@roanoke.com.

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