The St. John’s women’s golf team was opening its spring season at a tournament in Jacksonville, Florida, when the murmurs began.
The COVID-19 health scare was growing daily in the United States and abroad, adding an unavoidably large element of uncertainty to what would be in store for the Red Storm program, coached by former Franklin standout Ambry Bishop-Santillo.
Two days later, Bishop-Santillo, who had just watched St. John’s claim the Benbow Invitational for the second time in three years, addressed her players in what was the most painful speech in her 16 years as coach.
St. John’s announced it was suspending all activities for its 17 Division I sports. Just like that, the Red Storm women’s golf season was over.
“It was such an emotional roller coaster, receiving communication from the university that classes are going to be online until at least March 27,” said Bishop-Santillo, 38. “There are all these conferences cancelling sports for the rest of the season. You know when one of the power five conferences pulls the plug, it’s definitely becoming a reality.”
The Red Storm entered winter conditioning with momentum, having wrapped up the fall golf season with a runner-up finish at the Towson Invitational and winning the 10-team event hosted by Lehigh. In all, four players from the team that finished fourth at the 2019 Big East championships were prepared for the spring season.
Reigning Big East freshman of the year Jessie Kweon was returning, as were the team’s seniors, Kaitleen Shee and Linda Wang, and junior Andrea Sanchez.
Telling Shee and Wang their college golf careers were, in effect, over, was an experience their coach hopes she never has to repeat.
“What I experienced last week, it was obviously very emotional,” Bishop-Santillo said. “To tell the kids that everything they had worked for was over on that day … just the fact it happened so quickly, it was such an emotional day. Some kids are in tears or cleaning out their lockers. It was surreal.”
Three Red Storm players are from other countries — freshman Laia Barro from the Phillippines, Sanchez from Mexico and freshman Cloe Clocchiatti from Italy. The first Italian casualty from the coronavirus took place in Padua, a northern city of over 200,000 residents that Clocchiatti is from.
Bishop-Santillo’s teams at St. John’s have varied through the years in terms of talent and expectations, though the 2019-20 Red Storm appeared to be set up for one of their best seasons in recent years.
Kweon was the individual runner-up at the team’s last event, shooting scores of 75 and 72. Two shots back were Wang and Sanchez, making them part of a three-way tie for third place.
Golf talent aside, this Red Storm squad possessed other intangibles that likely would have positioned it well for success.
“Team chemistry does play a big part. Once you have that, if you have the talent to go with it, you have the makings of a special team,” Bishop-Santillo said. “Everyone was really excited going into the spring season.
“It’s such a weird, bizarre departing for everyone. Hopefully, down the road we can have some closure where we can all get together.”