Taryn Simmons and her UNA women’s golf team teammates were headed to Hilton Head, South Carolina, for the Kiawah Island Intercollegiate when the call came, telling them to reverse course and head home.
The call signaled the end of a season that was really just getting started for the women’s team, which was opening its spring season before sports came to a screeching halt due to the coronavirus pandemic.
For the team’s seniors – Simmons, AnnaLee Stephens, Megan Fusak, Morgan Mayfield - the cancellation of the spring sport season meant a premature end to their college careers unless the NCAA offers an extra year of eligibility.
For Simmons, who is from San Tan Valley, Arizona, the abrupt ending means she couldn’t finish something she and her fellow seniors started a year ago as the inaugural signing class for the program.
“Of course I feel like I have things left to do,” she said via email from her home in Arizona. “I’m part of the very first women’s golf team at UNA. We are a big part of the history at the University of North Alabama."
The Lions golf team showed improvement in the fall over its first season and was on the rise. Now, Simmons and her teammates won't get to see the fruits of their labor through to the end.
"My teammates and I are setting records for the next generation to beat or to strive for," she said. "It’s disappointing to work so hard and set personal goals and then not get the chance to achieve them. It’s truly heartbreaking.”
Simmons admitted to enduring a wide range of emotions upon hearing the news — everything from anger to sadness to uncertainty.
“I’m not going to lie, on the flight home I was very upset when I thought of losing my senior season,” she said. “I cried most of the flight home. Sure, I was angry, but this situation is out of my control and I know the safety of my classmates is UNA’s main concern. That’s why I can’t stay mad at what the NCAA has done.”
Simmons has been a staple of the UNA golf team since she arrived as a transfer from Chandler-Gilbert Community College in Arizona. In the fall season, Simmons tied for 16th place at the F&M Bank APSU Intercollegiate at Austin Peay had a 79.4 scoring average.
Regardless of whether she gets to tee it up again for the Lions, Simmons is confident she and her fellow seniors set a solid foundation for future UNA teams.
“We practice hard and in every kind of weather – from super hot days to cold, dreary days,” she said. “We get after it. Coach Neil (Self) and I are alike in that way. Hard work builds character for golf and carries on in your everyday life.”
Simmons will have a decision to make if the NCAA offers another year of eligibility to spring sports athletes. She is about to graduate with a degree in recreation management. She wants to work near her home in Arizona, coach high school golf and continue to work on her game.
“My dream has always been to turn professional, so I will continue to play a lot of golf,” she said. “If given the chance to come back and play, I would jump at the opportunity. To be honest, the whole situation has been tragic.”
If she doesn’t get a chance to return for another year, Simmons said she will always remember her time at UNA.
“I have loved my time in Alabama and at UNA,” she said. “My time here has been great. I have made memories that will last a lifeftime, but not competing my senior year will also be a memory I will carry. What a huge disappointment.”