Photo by Andrew Towell, SPU: Seattle Pacific University women’s soccer athlete Chloe Gelhaus plays in a home game in this file photo courtesy of SPU. Women’s soccer will once again play a full season this year as the university plans to return to a normal schedule beginning in the fall.
Photo by Andrew Towell, SPU: Seattle Pacific University women’s soccer athlete Chloe Gelhaus plays in a home game in this file photo courtesy of SPU. Women’s soccer will once again play a full season this year as the university plans to return to a normal schedule beginning in the fall.
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While the past year featured a different look for Seattle Pacific University sports, things are looking up this year.

This past school year, SPU athletes in all 12 varsity sports were able to compete in some way, but everything, from practices to contests were modified, SPU Athletic Director Jackson Stava said. Starting this fall, however, athletics should be back to normal.

“Our current plan is for this fall to begin a year where we have as close to a normal season as we can,” he said. “We really do think that it’s going to be pretty much back to normal.”

Stava said the athletics department intends for teams play a full number of games, and no limitations for the contests. Staff is now working on logistics, specifically determining the protocols teams will follow when they visit other schools and risk mitigation factors to ensure everyone stays healthy and safe while traveling for competitions, Stava said.

For home contests, things should be much as they ever were, including fans returning to the stands to watch competitions, something they could not do this past year.

“So, I can’t wait to have parents yelling at the referees again,” Stava said. “I never thought I’d say that, but I can’t wait to hear it.”

While 2020 was relatively sedate for SPU sports, the athletics department did receive a piece of exciting news in the fall:  SPU was notified it was selected by the NCAA to host the Division II fall championships in 2022, which will take place from Dec. 1 through Dec. 3 at various locations in the region.

While the timing works out well because SPU athletics should be completely back to normal long before then, Stava said the bid was prepared and submitted in 2019 — well before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the state.

 “The bid process from the NCAA is a pretty long and arduous one,” he said. “... Almost think of it as a mini-Olympics.”

The fall championship is a pretty special one for the university, as it will be the largest SPU has ever hosted, with more than 900 student-athletes, coaches and visitors attending.

During the three-day event, SPU will host six competitions: men’s and women’s cross country, men’s and women’s soccer, women’s field hockey and women’s volleyball.

“We will have equal representation from across the country,” Stava said.

Stava said the number of teams could top 100, but there will be at least 70 or 80 participating. While the championships for men and women’s soccer will just be the final four teams, and the final eight for volleyball and field hockey, Stava said cross county could have 30 to 40 schools for each men and women.

Stava said he is grateful to the Seattle Sports Commission with help in the bid application process because it required a lot of effort to demonstrate SPU was able to host a festival of this size.

“There has never been a festival like this that has been west of the Rockies,” he said.

To accommodate so many athletes, some of the competitions are taking place elsewhere. Men and women’s cross country will take place at Chambers Bay in University Place, and women’s field hockey will play at Starfire Sports in Tukwila. The men and women’s soccer championships will play at Interbay Stadium, which is SPU’s home stadium. The women’s volleyball championship will take place at Brougham Pavilion on SPU’s campus.

Although the big challenge was demonstrating to the NCAA that SPU could accommodate such an event, a lot more work has to be done.

“Now that we’ve said what we’re going to do, we have to figure out how to do it,” Stava said, adding there is a “ton of hospitality” involved.

With six different championship, six different facilities will need to be prepped and staffing scheduled prior to the events.

The hotels have been reserved, Stava said, but stated the specifics on how many ballrooms, study rooms, opening ceremony events and those details will be worked out in the next year.

“One thing I do know is it will have a lot of opportunities for the community to be involved,” Stava said.

Community engagement will play a significant role at the festival, with people being able to help at events and SPU coordinating volunteer opportunities for students and arranging for local children to meet the athletes and attend some of the contests.