February 10, 2020. It was a day in which shockwaves rocked the grounds situated at 2811 Northeast Holman Street in Portland, Oregon. This had nothing to do with the global pandemic that would change the way the entire world operated roughly a month later. Rumors swirled on that Monday as an email informed students at Concordia University, Portland that classes for the day were canceled.
A mysterious meeting for the entire student body was called at 10 a.m. There was no warning for what was coming. A member of the basketball team at Concordia-Portland, Abby Aplaca noticed the tears that welled up in the eyes of her head coach, just before the meeting began.
With concern growing, students flooded into a building known as the SEAC. Recalls Aplaca, “He wouldn’t tell us what was wrong. I was with my team when we found out and all of us started crying. At that time I was a junior and had one year left to play. I felt pretty helpless. I didn’t know what was going to come next. It was a bad day.”
Elsewhere in the room, Mia Martin and Liz Stottlemyre also tried to make sense of the situation. Martin recalled talking to professors that morning. Even they had been left in the dark as to what was on the horizon. Says Stottlemyre, “Everyone was freaking out.” Little did they know at the time, months into the future, Aplaca, Martin and Stottlemyre would reunite some 1,500 miles away in a location none of them had ever seen before.
Concordia University, Portland closes its doors
Just after 10 a.m., students learned that Concordia-Portland would close its doors after 115 years in operation. Come the spring of 2020, all faculty and staff would lose their jobs and all underclassmen students would be forced to look elsewhere in order to finish their degrees. Closures to universities and colleges is not completely out of the ordinary, but no one ever expects it to happen to their school.
Aplaca, Martin and Stottlemyre were each juniors with no plans of going anywhere for the 2020-21 academic year. The suddenness of it left them stunned. What now?
An NCAA Division II national qualifier in the javelin, Stottlemyre still had an outdoor track season to look forward to – or at least she thought. Said Stottlemyre, “It was an emotional time for everyone because at first we thought we would have the rest of our season and be able to compete one last time and put it all out there one more time for Concordia-Portland. Then COVID happened. Everything was shut down really dramatically. There was no end to anything. It just ceased to exist.”
Meanwhile, Aplaca and the Cavalier women’s basketball team was in the midst of its 2019-20 season when the hammer was dropped. “We found out the school was closing with four games left,” Aplaca said. “Those games were impossible to play. We were all not even focused. It was like going through the recruiting process all over again. All of us were really stressed out.”
The pandemic only exacerbated the frustration and despair. Classes moved online, athletic events were canceled and graduation ceremonies were also eventually wiped out because of the virus. In some cases, classmates and friends never got to say final goodbyes in person. There were no senior days, no end-of-year parties and no hugs to mark the close of a bond that had been cherished. It was just – over.
Explained Martin, “It wasn’t on anyone’s radar. Suddenly you have everything that you know taken from you. I had my entire senior year mapped out. I had it all planned. It was just like, ‘Good luck getting your degree and finding a new university.’”
Stottlemyre got the ball rolling quickly on the next move. She’s a problem solver. The native of Olympia, Wash., wanted to firm up her next destination – and she wanted to figure it out now. She remembers the exact timeline of how things happened. She won’t forget February 10, 2020, and she’ll always remember March 5, 2020.
Less than a month after learning of Concordia-Portland’s imminent closure, there Stottlemyre was posing in front of the iconic Bulldog statue, having just signed to on to become a student-athlete at Concordia University, Nebraska. At the encouragement of campus pastor Bo Baumeister (formerly the pastor at CUNE), Stottlemyre booked a plane ticket to Nebraska, virtually spur of the moment.
In a visit that barely lasted 24 hours, Stottlemyre had found her new home. Because of NAIA indoor track nationals taking place at the time, Stottlemyre did not get to meet with Bulldog coaches. She also did not see a whole lot of students with it being spring break. Despite those circumstances, Stottlemyre found what she was looking for.
Said Stottlemyre, “I woke up really early and walked around the campus myself, and I just remember thinking it’s so beautiful and open. As a bio major, I remember thinking the new building was just gorgeous. They have to have good classes if they have this good of facilities. I had a checklist and it just crossed everything off.”
Stottlemyre made a call to her parents and let them know that the search was over. Her credits would transfer, she could graduate in the spring of 2021 and there was a spot for her on the track team. If she was going to be so far from home, this was the place it had to be.
Said Stottlemyre, “It was a surreal experience to fly here, not be here for very long, instantly fly back, and as soon as I get back, everything shuts down.”
The process of finding the right place to finish her academic pursuits began on that February 10 day when Stottlemyre and her former javelin coach Ray Kauffman walked around the school “like 100 times trying to figure out the rest of the year and putting together my options.”
Her decision to choose Concordia-Nebraska set the wheels in motion for Martin and Aplaca to also make their way to Seward.
When Concordia-Portland closed and the pandemic hit the United States, Martin thought she may have to finish her degree in her home country of Australia. The Brisbane native applied for classes in Australia, but learned that her credits did not transfer as she hoped. Most colleges would have required her to complete another two years in order to finish her degree.
She found CUNE to be the most accommodating. In a conversation with Stottlemyre last summer, Martin revealed that she was considering joining her in Nebraska. First and foremost, Martin wanted to find a place with a strong exercise science program. She also wanted to have the ability to play golf. Both of those opportunities were offered during a virtual interview and campus tour of CUNE.
Said Martin, “They checked every box that Portland did – the smaller university, the community involvement, the strong exercise science program and the fact that they would allow me to finish my degree on the same schedule. It was just unbelievable. Golf was the added benefit.”
It just so happens that Martin is a fine golfer who has already become one of the top performers within Head Coach Brett Muller’s program. In some ways, it has felt like Martin has been here all along. She was blown away by the support of her teammates. When Martin first flew into Lincoln, Nebraska, for the start of classes, two teammates were happy to come pick her up from the airport. It made a huge first impression upon Martin.
In the time of COVID-19, Martin called her journey to Seward a “chaotic” one. Said Martin, “I was really sorry for the hassle. Meeting Andrea (Peterson) and Ashley (Gerczynski) on that first night made me feel welcome and I was excited to be a part of it. We have a team culture that is so inclusive. All of us are there to encourage each other. We want to play the best golf we can play.”
Martin credited her previous professors in Portland for helping her land on her feet. Said Martin, “Our professors were unbelievable. They all went above and beyond to find universities that would accept our credits and give us the best opportunity.”
Aplaca was the last of three to find her way to Seward. A native of Waipahu, Aplaca had spent her entire childhood in Hawaii before playing three years of basketball at Concordia-Portland. Aplaca ran into some of the same roadblocks that Stottlemyre and Martin discovered when applying for colleges. Most schools could not grant full credit for classes taken at Concordia-Portland. Aplaca spent the fall 2020 semester as a student only at the University of Hawaii. It wasn’t quite the fit she needed academically – and Aplaca missed basketball.
Aplaca knew Martin and Stottlemyre had relocated to CUNE and she also remembered receiving an email from Bulldog assistant coach Tae’lor Purdy-Korell when Concordia-Portland announced its closure. Aplaca reached out to CUNE and a number of other schools. The Midwest was like foreign territory, but she felt compelled to give it a shot.
Recalls Aplaca, “She (Purdy-Korell) gave Coach (Drew) Olson my information and he reached out saying he would love to have me on the team. It worked out well academically and athletically. It all fell into place here. It all happened really fast. One day I went to my mom and asked, ‘Can I go to Concordia-Nebraska?’”
The biology program was also a major draw for Aplaca, who heard about the brand new science building. Aplaca calls Concordia’s science program “awesome” and added that the “professors here are great.” In what seems like a world away, Aplaca has found a first-class experience – a blessing after her life had been uprooted. She had also considered a move to the University of Alaska Anchorage, but the timing didn’t work right as it coincided along with the pandemic.
Aplaca appeared in a game with the Bulldogs for the first time on Jan. 23 in a win over Briar Cliff. She got acclimated just in time to be part of a run to the NAIA national quarterfinals.
Says Aplaca, “When I made the decision to come here I pretty much knew nothing about the program. I was just so excited to play again. Before coming I researched the team and realized how prestigious this program is, especially around here. I was really nervous coming in, but the girls made it a really easy transition. They were so nice and so willing to help me along in practice – and the coaching staff is amazing. They were really welcoming. After the first week-and-a-half of practice I felt like I was right there with them.”
The Portland trio
It’s become clear now that Aplaca, Martin and Stottlemyre have rebounded impressively from the uncertainty that arose on February 10, 2020. As Martin put it, “It was a day that will be in my memory for life.” Over the 14 months since then, they have each made new memories that figure to stand the test of time.
All good friends who see each other frequently in their new surroundings, Aplaca, Martin and Stottlemyre know exactly what one another experienced emotionally. Continued Martin, “It was definitely a time that will bond people from Portland together because we all went through it. Having these girls and making that transfer with them, and having that understanding of what we navigated last year, has been amazing.”
Many of their classmates found new digs of their own after picking up the pieces. God had a plan for them all. For Aplaca, Martin and Stottlemyre, God’s plan included a divergent path to Seward. It meant a broadening of their horizons, exposure to a harshly cold winter and a brand new set of friends, professors, coaches, teammates and supporters. Welcome to the land of Runza, cornfields and lavish Fourth of July celebrations.
When Concordia-Portland said goodbye, Concordia-Nebraska said hello.