Chanel Fanter was seconds away from running onto the court for an opening-round game at the 32-team NAIA Division II women’s basketball national tournament last week in Sioux City, Iowa.
“We had a lot to prove,” said Fanter, a Crystal Lake South graduate and a starting senior forward for the No. 6-ranked St. Xavier University Cougars (29-4) of Chicago.
That’s when nationwide concern about the coronavirus stepped in.
“We were in the tunnel ready to run out on the court and start warmups,” Fanter said. “There was 0.2 seconds on the clock in the game before us. The NAIA directors came up to us and told us we all had to go back to the locker room. Right then and there, they called the tournament.”
Fanter and her teammates were stunned.
“Everyone was really thrown off,” she said. “I didn’t really know how to feel until I saw my parents, and that’s when I got emotional, because it was the end for them, too.”
Fanter started 134 career games and was a key part of a program that finished 116-20 in her four seasons. On Thursday, she was named a second-team All-American by the NAIA after leading the team in scoring (14.4 points a game) and blocked shots (2.1) and finishing second in rebounding (5.7) this season.
Fanter’s career ended as the No. 5 career scorer in school history (1,857 points) and No. 6 in career rebounds (792).
Despite the abrupt end to the season, Fanter said she is appreciative of the experiences she enjoyed at SXU and the lifelong friends she made.
“It’s definitely a shock, but it puts things in perspective,” she said. “I got to play my whole season – the regular season and the conference tournament. I’m so grateful for that. Seeing how different sports like softball, baseball and track had to completely end their seasons without getting a chance to play many games [was difficult].
“My situation [stinks], but I’m sure theirs is even worse,” she said.
Fanter and her teammates were forced to move out of the SXU residence halls this week and head home to finish their classes this semester online.
Although a week doesn’t seem long in basketball terms, the virus has spread exponentially in that time, infecting more than 10,000 Americans in 50 states and killing more than 150, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Along with the unique circumstances surrounding the coronavirus outbreak, SXU dealt this season with the death in November of head coach Bob Hallberg, who coached Fanter in her first three seasons before retiring in February 2019.
Hallberg was diagnosed with liver cancer in November 2018. He retired after coaching for 49 years around the Chicago area at various colleges and universities.
“When he retired, we knew he was in remission,” she said. “Then we got word that his cancer had come back. It was very hard. But now, he’s in a better place. The pain is gone for him.”
The end of her career was bittersweet, but Fanter said playing the tournament would have created concerns about whether teams were unknowingly spreading the virus.
First-year coach Corry Irvin told the team that the idea of playing games at the tournament, which had restricted attendance, made her uncomfortable.
“It was handled very well,” Fanter said. “Coach Irvin said, ‘I know it’s very hard for all of you, but this is a moment compared to the rest of your life.’
“I’m at peace with it,” said Fanter, who hopes to find a job teaching on the elementary school level and coaching basketball. “There’s so much more ahead.”
West Texas wonder: Johnsburg graduate Zach Toussaint played fewer than 18 minutes a game this season as a freshman guard at D-II West Texas A&M. His effect in that time was impressive.
Toussaint was second on the team with 62 3-pointers and made 44% of his shots from long distance. He averaged 7.7 points a game and 1.5 rebounds, earning him a spot on the five-member Lone Star Conference All-Freshman team.
The Buffs finished the season 32-1 and ranked third in the National Association of Basketball Coaches poll. The team won 23 consecutive games during the season.
West Texas A&M also won both the regular-season conference title and the conference tournament, which it achieved for the third year in a row.
Big bat for Illinois: Hampshire grad Delaney Rummell, a freshman utility player for Illinois (11-11), finished the abbreviated spring softball season as the team leader in home runs and was second in RBIs.
Rummell hit five homers for the Illini, including two in a game against North Carolina State, and drove in 13 runs. Her .452 slugging percentage also ranked second for the Illini before the Big Ten canceled all remaining spring competitions because of COVID-19.
Augie contributor: Augustana College senior women’s basketball guard Jeni Crain (Woodstock) ranked second on her team in assists (48) while contributing 7.1 points a game for the Vikings (14-13). Crain played in 26 games with 13 starts. She averaged 2.3 rebounds a game and shot 36% from 3-point range.
• Barry Bottino writes a weekly column about local college athletes for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at email@example.com and follow @BarryOnCampus on Twitter.