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What we’ve lost and where we’re going in a world without sports

So many stories were left unfinished as winter and spring seasons have been swiftly canceled. And now we’re all left searching.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Tournament-Rutgers vs Michigan Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Five days ago, I was at Xfinity Center one last time. One more home game before I started a new personal chapter. And on that day, I saw the most beautiful scene I’d ever witnessed in the building.

Maryland basketball had played its best game in weeks, pulling ahead early and beating a ranked Michigan team by double digits. The Terps clinched a share of the Big Ten regular-season title. It was their first championship in their new conference, and under head coach Mark Turgeon. So they celebrated. They hoisted the trophy as a group. They cut down nets one-by-one as students swarmed the court, with Turgeon and Anthony Cowan Jr. earning the loudest ovations.

It did feel a little weird that all this was going on for a shared championship, especially when we already knew tiebreakers would move Maryland as low as the No. 3 seed in its conference tournament after looking like a lock for No. 1 not long ago. But for a team, coach and senior point guard who’d been grinding for years in search of a moment like this, it made perfect sense.

And now it’s our lasting memory of Maryland’s 2019-20 season.

Maryland basketball Big Ten trophy celebration Sarah Sopher / Testudo Times

This season started with high expectations. Maryland opened with 10 straight wins, then followed with two consecutive losses and twin transfers and more road struggles. It responded with a nine-game winning streak and earned a chance at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, then hit a skid before closing with a win. Ultimately, though, we were going to remember this year by what happened in the postseason. We’d either remember a deep run or a disappointing burnout. But those are out the window now.

Instead, we’ve got that moment from Sunday. We’ve got pictures and videos and memories of Cowan walking off the floor and into Turgeon’s outstretched arms. Of the team huddled together, raising a trophy as confetti rained down. Of every single Maryland Terrapin walking up the ladder and cutting down a piece of the net — Cowan was still wearing his during postgame media availability, and I can neither confirm nor deny that he’s taken it off.

Sure, Maryland fans would’ve wanted to see something like that for a more prestigious occurrence. But when a pandemic forces the entire sporting world to shut down in the middle of March, you become much more appreciative of the things you did get to witness.

And Terps fans got to witness … well, quite a lot this season.

There was the perfect start, punctuated by a dominant win over Marquette in the Orlando Invitational and a ridiculous comeback against Illinois. There was the second half against Northwestern that felt like a turning point. Maryland erased a six-point deficit with 1:08 remaining at Indiana and a 14-point first-half deficit Illinois. The Terps closed out Michigan State in its own building with a 14-0 run, the last 11 points coming from Cowan. There were show-stopping dunks from Jalen Smith and Aaron Wiggins. There was Darryl Morsell’s game-winner at Minnesota. There was College GameDay, and the flash mob, and senior day, and a Big Ten title that lifted a massive proverbial weight off everyone’s shoulders.

It’s all over now, which is depressing and infuriating. We won’t see Kaila Charles and the women’s team try to make a run either. Also gone are the spring sports — baseball and softball, men’s and women’s lacrosse, golf and track — and even a promising gymnastics season and a chance to find some individual glory in a brutal wrestling campaign. It seems like the NCAA wants to extend eligibility for some seniors who did nothing to deserve this, but maybe it won’t even matter. In so many instances, these are kids who still expect to graduate and get jobs and start an adult life. And they’ll walk away wondering what their last ride could have been like.

It just sucks. For all of us. I relocated to Atlanta for a (temporary) real-person job Monday, and sports were supposed to help me get through being (temporarily) a loner in a city full of strangers. Now I don’t have sports, and you don’t have sports, and Lila and Sean and Cody don’t have sports, and the people whose livelihoods depend on sports don’t have sports. We’re all coming at this from different angles, but we’ll go through it together. And we’ll get through it together.

Eventually, the games will come back. And maybe we’ll appreciate them for what they are — chances to be part of something bigger than ourselves, to identify with people we might never otherwise identify with. Eventually, we’ll probably revert to being obsessive fans who want this coach fired and that player to get the national respect they deserve. But maybe some of us will just be happy to have these things back in the first place. Absence does make the heart grow fonder, after all.

I’m not really sure what happens now. I don’t know how I’ll spend my days, or how our editors will handle the coming months, or how the next few weeks will unfold for these leagues that hit the stop button, or how devastating this viral outbreak becomes. It’s scary not knowing these things. But it’s comforting to know that there is, eventually, a light at the other end of the tunnel.

Stay safe. Stay strong. We’ll make it.

Maryland basketball flag drop Sarah Sopher / Testudo Times