This wasn’t what Mark Montgomery was planning on doing midway through March.
But then again, so much of what’s happened these past few weeks is out of the ordinary, an unexpected shift in everyday life to temper the spread of coronavirus. On Tuesday afternoon, instead of leading a Maryland softball practice, the coach was driving back down to Louisiana, getting a head start on a move he didn’t expect to fully make until May or June.
“I don’t like sitting around twiddling my thumbs, and there’s not much else to do right now,” Montgomery said over the phone, partway through his drive south. “I figured I could come on back and pack — we were planning on probably two trucks, so we’re just gonna go ahead and pack one of them up and get that knocked out of the way.”
When there are so many unknowns surrounding what could have been this season and where to go from here, Montgomery falls back on what he does know for sure: He’ll close on his old house in Louisiana and begin the full move north earlier than anticipated.
Since taking over as Maryland softball’s coach in September — leaving Louisiana Tech after seven years — Montgomery has lived by himself. He and his family were waiting to make a full transition after his first season with the Terps was in the books.
After 23 games, though, that season is now over. With the coronavirus spreading — there are 85 cases in Maryland as of Wednesday — the Big Ten announced March 12 that all spring sports would be canceled. So, in a way, his focus on the move to Maryland follows something he so often preaches to his players.
“I think they were excited to show who they were, who they were becoming. And so it’s disappointing,” Montgomery said. “But again, one of the things that we tell them all the time, ‘you can’t control an umpire, you can’t control the weather.’”
And you can’t control a global pandemic.
The decision wasn’t much of a surprise, Montgomery said. Throughout the week leading up to last Thursday’s announcement — while the Terps were practicing for a tournament in Fairfax, Virginia, they’d never play — the Maryland athletics department kept him updated.
When the Ivy League canceled its spring sports, Montgomery heard about it right away. Whenever there were updates from the NCAA, the department let him know. The writing was on the wall, and it was only a matter of time before Maryland’s season would be the next to hit the shelf.
“We started talking about what could happen even as early as Tuesday with the team, as far as what are some scenarios that could play out,” Montgomery said. “Not to be doom and gloom, just to be practical, so I think they were able to get their head around it.”
There was a feeling among the team that it had turned a corner. The Terps will finish the year with an above .500 record at 12-11 — the first time they managed that since 2013, although there will be an asterisk next to it — and they won four of their five games during the final weekend of play.
Still, Montgomery knows it was the correct decision to call a halt to things early. And even in a shortened campaign, he feels the framework of the program has been laid.
“As devastating as it is,” Montgomery said, “I think it’s about what’s next.”
With the Big Ten’s decision to cancel the remainder of spring sports seasons comes a series of other stoppages. All team activities are suspended until at least April 6. And in-person recruiting has come to an end until at least April 15, following an NCAA ban.
And then there are the complications surrounding the waivers offering players another season. It’s a nice gesture, but some players have concrete plans after graduation already. Montgomery said one player plans to attend law school while another will go to a graduate-level design school.
Those plans may not be feasible to change, and the coach called on the NCAA to deliver more clear logistics for how everything will work so players can make difficult decisions. In all, it leaves plenty of unknowns.
“The most frustrating part is, I think nobody knows what’s next,” Montgomery said. “We’re all just waiting to see.”
So he will use that time to drive a moving truck back north, a ride he didn’t expect to make for another few months. But then again, hardly anything has gone as expected in recent weeks.