Dakota Ayala, out of Reynolds High, was on the rise with the Concordia men's basketball team, seeing his minutes double during his junior season as he went from being being a role player to being one of the Cavaliers' go-to guys. He averaged almost 12 points per game and led the team in scoring nine times this past season.
"I really worked on my footwork and on my 3-point shot over the summer," Ayala said. "I felt like I'd do a move and the defense wouldn't be there or I'd have an angle. It's really a simple game, you just put the ball into the hoop."
Macie Allen, out of Barlow High, had just celebrated her team's run to the Great Northwest Athletic Conference indoor track title. The Cavaliers piled up 128.33 points to hold off Seattle Pacific in a tight race to the trophy. Allen supplied 11 of those points, highlighted by a third-place finish in the 60-meter dash — 0.06 hundredths off the lead.
"It's over before you know it," Allen said of the 60-meter sprint. "I spend about an hour before the race mentally going through my race, and went I step into the starting blocks I have a totally blank slate."
Unfortunately for both juniors it would be their last time wearing the Cavaliers' navy blue and white.
A mass text/email chain called students to a mandatory meeting in early February.
The hunch among the students was that the school had an announcement about policy for COVID-19 protocol.
That hunch was wrong.
"Everyone was gathered at the main building on campus. They told us they were financially closing," Ayala said. "A lot of students were upset. It was shell-shocking. No one was expecting that — it really came out of the blue."
"I had no idea how far in debt the school was — I was blindsided by it," Allen said. "It's disappointing, especially with how long the school has been there and the number of positive impacts it has made."
The Cavaliers' basketball team had six games remaining when the news hit.
"Our first practice back wasn't the best, it felt like a cloud was over us, and we called it about 40 minutes in," Ayala said. "You never know when something can be taken away from you. We built a brotherhood and it felt like that had been ruined."
The next two games were rough — losses by 23 and 26 points — although Ayala came up with a career-high 27-point night at Western Washington.
The next two games were narrow losses that came down to the final shot.
That set the stage for the school's final two home games — ever.
The Cavaliers scored a 78-73 win over Alaska Fairbanks on a Thursday night, then knocked off Alaska Anchorage 72-69 in Saturday's finale. Both opponents which had qualified for the league playoffs.
"We had nothing to lose, so we wanted to play free and have fun, and that is what those last two games against the Alaska schools were about," Ayala said. "It was fun to get a win in front of a packed house in the last game in Concordia history."
The school closure has left both student-athletes looking for landing spots when fall term begins.
Ayala is a marketing major with a speciality on consumer behavior. He is looking to join a research team. Allen is halfway through a two-year nursing program at the school.
"I started out in biology and was figuring out how things worked at the cellular level, but I also had an interest in caring for people. Nursing was the perfect conjunction of those two things," Allen said.
Ayala, who spent two junior-college seasons at Skagit Valley, is eyeing a return north with Western Washington and Central Washington as his most likely destinations.
"Right now, it's a toss up — both are offering full rides and both coaches are polite and supportive," Ayala said.
It's not the first time, Ayala has been forced to restart his basketball career. He tore his Anterior Cruciate Ligament during his senior year of high school and used an injury redshirt season his first year at Skagit Valley.
"That was the hardest time in my life when it came to basketball," Ayala said. "But I love the sport, so I took 10 months off to rehab, and I got my explosiveness and balance back."
He was so impressive in his second season with the Cardinals that he earned a spot on the team at NCAA Division II Concordia.
Allen has an open book of possibilities in front of her, although one possibility may keep her in the same place. Concordia-St. Paul out of Minnesota in pursuit of taking on the school's nursing program. Allen is halfway through the two-year nursing program.
"Obviously, my most important priority is to finish the nursing program," Allen said. "I'd love to keep running, too — I'm trying to stay positive."
While Allen is coming off a successful winter track season, the heart of the track & field schedule has been cancelled due to COVID-19, while all classes have gone online-only.
"It's disappointing not to be able to compete as a Concordia athlete one more time," Allen said. "It's definitely thrown people for a loop. Now it's all online, so I'm 'going to' class in pajamas and with my coffee next to me."
The NCAA has announced plans to restore a season of eligibility to athletes effected by cancellations.
This story is scheduled for our Tuesday, March 24, print edition.
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