How Cheri Harrer of Baldwin Wallace has Dealt with COVID-19

Baldwin Wallace women’s basketball head coach Cheri Harrer has been spending time on her family’s farm, isolating in rural Northern Ohio in light of the coronavirus crisis. Just a few weeks ago, though, she was at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, with her team to compete in the Sweet 16.

The team had already had its practice for the day, Harrer said, and most of the players were showering in their hotel and getting ready for a team dinner. While the coach was waiting, she was doing a phone interview with a reporter. Right at the end of the call, he asked her what she would do if the tournament was cancelled.

Moments later, the email arrived.

“Immediately, I called the troops together. I didn’t want our kids to find out in another way,” Harrer said. “We told them what was up and tried to really lift up the seniors and tried to paint it positively for them as best as I could at that moment without having a whole lot of time to think about what we were going to say.”

She knew their hearts would be broken. The team finished the regular season 26-2 and had won its first two games of the NCAA Tournament to reach the Sweet 16, was ranked No. 5 in the nation by D3hoops.com, and won the OAC regular season and tournament titles. They had good reason to believe that a Final Four and more were in reach.

But that didn’t mean the coaching staff couldn’t give them something to smile about at least.

“No matter what I said, they were going to be sad and disappointed, but I wanted them to still have some good feeling walking out of that room about what had happened during the season,” the coach explained. “I talked about what a great year they had, how we got to end on a win. Normally, only one team gets to do that. And the bigger things with their relationships. Ten years from now, they’re going to be getting together. They’ll talk about the season being shortened, but that won’t be the big deal. The big deal will be all the memories that happened during the year.”

That’s part of the perspective she thinks her players can gain from this situation.

Cheri Harrer and her team celebrate on the sideline. Photo courtesy of Baldwin Wallace Athletics.

While the team cannot meet in person, Cheri Harrer and her staff are still keeping the unit together through phone and video calls, and maintaining those relationships is crucial for her program, she said. When she talks to her players now, she asks them what they’re doing differently right now that they’ll continue to do moving forward.

One of her players said that for the first time, she is going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day, and it turns out that she likes it. There are silver linings.

“I think the biggest thing is helping them keep it in perspective that, yeah, it didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but it’s not the end of the world. There are worse things that can happen,” she said. “Seniors can use this in job interviews, they can talk about dealing with this. The younger kids, they said they’ve learned to appreciate every game and every day we have together, because you never know when it’s going to be taken away.”

Of course, that doesn’t make it easy for her players, and especially not her five seniors: Tiffany Bentler, Hannah Fecht, Kasey Hughes, Kara Marshall and Riley Schill. It’s not easy for Harrer, either. She knew immediately what the most difficult part of this is for her.

“Not seeing the kids,” Harrer said. “Not seeing the kids and the coaching staff all the time. Normally, they’d be popping into the office. When you walk across our campus right now, it’s like a ghost town. Totally abandoned basically. Not seeing those kids all the time, yeah, it’s the toughest part.”

While Cheri Harrer has years of experience in basketball and life on her players, she has never been through anything like this before, just like the rest of the world.

In the span of only three weeks, her life completely changed from the up-tempo, high-pressure atmosphere of college basketball coaching to the calm, slower and quieter environment on the farm where she grew up. And she couldn’t have seen it coming.

“I’m actually enjoying some of the time away,” she said. “We’d be hosting campus visits right now, helter-skelter, we’d be out every weekend recruiting a bunch. To be honest, not having to be at a recruiting event every weekend has been refreshing.”

This is time she wouldn’t have normally spent with her parents, who are in their 70s. Harrer said she tries to get to the farm once a week in the summer, but she hasn’t been home for this long since she was in college, and she’s appreciating it.

The time people are being allowed with their family right now is something Harrer hopes everyone also cherishes, along with the necessity of community.

“I think people are going to appreciate the time they’ve spent with families and being able to slow down a little bit,” she explained. “There are people who aren’t following the stay-at-home stuff and still doing their thing, and they’re obviously not thinking about others. The ability to think about others, and that you want to isolate not for yourself but for other people. Hopefully people think more globally that way or more community wise. I think we’ve lost our way a little bit in spending time with family, and hopefully people have learned to appreciate that a little bit more.”

All this doesn’t mean Baldwin Wallace has stopped recruiting, though. Cheri Harrer said her operation is up and running at the fullest speed possible, utilizing technology to maintain contact and relationships.

An example of how Baldwin Wallace is choosing to view this situation through a positive lens. Photo courtesy of Baldwin Wallace Athletics.

She is also keeping regular and close contact with her players and staff, consistently scheduling times to call with them individually and in groups. Harrer is sending her players workouts and ways to help those who don’t have access to a hoop still keep their game at a high level. The idea is to keep things as typical as they can be.

“We’re helping them move forward in their situations but still continuing things we would normally do,” the coach said. “We’re still going to have a team call every other week, talk about the things we’re grateful for and have a topic each week. Keeping it positive, keeping it uplifting, so when they hang up that phone, they feel like they’ve been together with their team and enjoyed themselves.”

These conversations are critical to the health and wellness of the program, Cheri Harrer said. Baldwin Wallace basketball is based on this.

“Our team culture is based on the relationships,” Harrer said, “and that’s got to be the highest priority.”

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