Athletes and coaches adjust to a new normal

Jess Kaplan, Print Managing Editor

In late July, the Patriot League was among one of the first conferences to place all sports on hold until at least January. As a result, a wide array of sports, from basketball and football to cross country and field hockey, were all placed in limbo.

In accordance with the NCAA Resocialization of Collegiate Sport requirements and the Department of Athletics extensive reassociation plan, University athletics began the 7-10 day transition period prior to beginning any official team practice this week. Men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s golf, men’s and women’s swimming & diving and women’s rowing have all hit their start dates, with other sports staggered throughout the month of September and early October.

Despite the progress, administrators remain cautious in their optimism. “These start dates do not mean ‘business as usual’ as far as team practices go,” Associate Director of Communications for men’s basketball, women’s soccer, men’s and women’s golf and rowing Jon Terry said.

Terry stressed that practices are unrecognizable from years before: no more than 10 student-athletes can train together at once, athletes are required to take two days off of practice each week, captain’s practices are not permitted, and fitness performance testing will not be conducted. The first week of practice is dedicated to the re-acclimation of athletes through strength and conditioning training. Teams can progress their workouts with sport-specific practices in the following week. Athletes were encouraged to do workouts on their own or in a small group prior to starting practice. 

The women’s basketball team was on the brink of a league title, two wrestling student-athletes were headed to the NCAA Championships, and the spring sports were halted just as they were getting underway when sports were put on hiatus. Although students understand the necessity of the precautions, the loss of a season is still a huge disappointment. “It’s hard to know that I am not going to be able to watch my teammates compete. The uncertainty surrounding when we are actually going to be competing again is also challenging,” Daija Misler ’21, a member of the track and field team, said.

Other student-athletes struggled without a strict practice schedule. “For me, the biggest change coming back to school was adjusting to a looser practice schedule. It felt very different not having practice at the end of the day, followed by a cafeteria dinner with the team and mass-studying in the library,” Jacqueline Rounsavill ’23, a member on the swim and dive team, said.

The well-being of student-athletes is a top priority of coaches and administrators alike. “Our student-athletes are so passionate about excelling in their sports and their academic pursuits, and we need to support them as much as possible since a major part of their lives has been put on hold,” Terry said. 

Many teams stayed connected through various outreaches, phone calls and Zoom meetings throughout the summer. “In some ways, we were in better contact with each other throughout the summer than perhaps we would have been under ‘normal’ circumstances,” Dan Schinnerer, head coach of the men’s and women’s swim and dive team, said.

Although practices are at a lower intensity, students and coaches have adapted to the changes quickly. For instance, NCAA requirements only allow for one swimmer in a pool lane at once. “Our team’s practices are broken up into several smaller groups,” Schinnerer said. “We are fortunate to have a great facility so that we can still handle more numbers than some of our peer schools.”

“All team members are required to wear masks, social distance, and only allow one swimmer in each lane. It is different and we are all adjusting, but we are very fortunate to be back in the water practicing as a team,” Mitch Gavars ’21, a member on the swim and dive team, said.

The NCAA continues to closely monitor COVID-19 and is taking proactive measures to mitigate the impact of the virus. They have made it clear that as long as society is operating in a pandemic normal, sports cannot resume as normal. “That doesn’t mean that it will be impossible to have some athletic competitions in the future, but health and safety measures will be in place to limit the spread of the virus to the fullest extent possible,” Terry said.

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