Student-athlete check-in: What life looks like on campus this semester

With no Patriot League competitions this fall, some Lafayette athletes have been practicing in small groups on campus. (Photo courtesy of Chuck Zovko, Zovko Photographic LLC)

Despite the cancellation of the fall season for all Lafayette sports teams, student-athletes on and off-campus are still preparing for an eventual return to competition.

Zoom meetings, fitness challenges, watching film and holding socially-distanced practices are just a few of the ways that athletes have stayed connected with their teams this fall.

“One of the misconceptions I think many people have is that if we’re not playing games that somehow there’s nothing going on in athletics and that couldn’t be further from the truth,” athletic director Sherryta Freeman said. “Our coaches are still coaching, our staff members are still working. For those who are at home, we’re delivering all that stuff virtually.”

Currently, Lafayette student-athletes are shifting from phase I to phase II of the NCAA resocialization process, and shared their experiences of what life has been like on campus so far under these guidelines. 

“The first two weeks we could only lift, and then in the next two weeks we can lift and swim for a total of eight hours a week,” said senior swim co-captain Sam Bluvol. “We lift three times a week, and we get our own [weight] rack and space.”

According to the NCAA website, the guidelines for phase II of resocialization highlight that vulnerable individuals should still continue to partake in proper isolation practices, physical distancing should continue, gatherings of more than 50 people (in comparison with phase I’s 10-person limit) should be avoided if physical distancing and proper sanitation measures are not in place, gyms and student-athlete common areas should have appropriate distancing and sanitation protocols, and virtual meetings are still encouraged. 

“The athlete gym is open and the lifting coaches are there giving us workouts, but it is very much in accordance with the COVID-19 guidelines and social distancing,” added senior Mary Zimmerman, one of the co-captains. “There are about 12 people from our team that are on campus and we’ll be able to start having socially distanced practices within our own lanes.”

Swimming and diving is classified as a “low contact risk” sport by the NCAA, but restrictions remain.

“Being on deck is something we miss, which was nice to sort of get back, but it’s super different,” said senior Casey Goodwin, another one of the co-captains. “Everything is very distanced, and you have to follow a path to get into the pool and there are only six of us on deck at a time.” 

These three captains are working to keep the team in touch with each other through Zoom, while getting to know the new freshmen as well. 

“We’re trying to somehow have our first years be integrated onto the team, which is hard,” Goodwin said. 

“To keep the team connected, we just implemented a fitness challenge, where the team is broken into five different sectors with one sector per captain,” Zimmerman said. “There’s a bunch of different things you can do to score points. It’s kind of like a competition.” 

“It’s your fitness group but also for check-ins with each other, just to make sure everyone is doing well,” Goodwin added. “We’re trying to come up with more creative ways to do things.”  

Goodwin also lamented the lack of an in-person season as a loss for the seniors on the team in particular.

“It’s my last season, and it’s sort of the season you work a very long time for, especially being a captain,” she said. “I was very excited to have a normal season because there are a lot of things you look forward to being able to lead, but the team is still a team, we’re still a family.” 

For Lafayette’s cheerleaders, strict workout and stretching regimens this summer has helped the team prepare for a potential return to the basketball sidelines next semester. 

“In the beginning [of the summer], we had three or four meetings and were all very connected,” said sophomore Isabella Martino, who is a first-year member of the team. “Now since school started our coach is more focused on us getting good grades and making sure everyone’s in a good headspace.” 

The captains are working out music for dances, but over Zoom they are difficult to coordinate.

“For me it was upsetting because it was my first year on the cheer team, but it also has kind of helped me because I have something to look forward to and keep me in check,” Martino said. “It’s also very nice to be in group chats with girls who are older than me. It makes me feel very connected.”

The Lafayette dance team has also been using Zoom to work on their choreography this fall. 

“We hold all of our practices over Zoom; we do stretching, conditioning, and we learn combos and work on our technique,” said senior captain Rachel Petzoldt. “I was really bummed, especially as a senior, because it’s like the last hoorah is cancelled.”

But Petzoldt explained that the part of the basketball season they dance for is in the spring, so if the basketball season happens she may have one more season to dance with her team. 

Over on the tennis team, another “low contact risk” sport, some team members who are on campus this semester have been getting together to play games and spend time together in socially-distanced groups of no larger than 10. 

“Sometimes we do team Zooms, or bonding Zooms to talk about things that are going on in our life,” said sophomore Melanie Sparhawk. “I also go on runs every day and walk the arts trail all the time.”  

Senior volleyball player Audrey Mangum explained that team members have been lifting and conditioning three times a week and catching up through Zoom meetings.

“I miss seeing my teammates every day and getting to be together because even if we’re staying in touch, it’s definitely not the same,” Mangum said. “It’s disappointing for sure, but there’s a lot going on in the world right now so I’m definitely trying to keep a positive attitude and be hopeful for spring and what could come.”

Although the team is missing their main fall season, some spring competition remains possible.

“[The spring is] not our competitive season, but we play a couple spring tournaments,” Mangum added. 

According to sophomore K.J. Rodgers, members of the Lafayette football team have had regular Zoom meetings to stay in touch, and they have been able to get back onto the field with regulations in place.

“We’re lifting Monday, Wednesday, and Friday early in the morning,” Rodgers said. 

About half of the football team is currently on campus, and the athletes are able to practice in small groups. 

“This week we started football practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays,” said senior Harrison Greenhill, who is also on campus this semester. “Twice a week we meet on Zoom with the people at home and watch film.” 

“We’re all on the field at the same time, but it’s spread out and we go straight into our respective groups because we can’t have groups larger than eight people,” Greenhill said. “We also disinfect the equipment after we use it.” 

Anna Steps, a senior field hockey player, explained that the team is still really connected despite the cancellation of her last fall season at Lafayette.

“In the spring when we went remote we finished our season with a lot of Zoom meetings,” she said. “Over the summer, without the coaches, we continued to have Zoom meetings to keep each other accountable with workouts, and we were actually doing bodyweight HIIT classes with one of our alums who is now a cycling instructor.”

The field hockey team also went through some change this summer with the addition of a new assistant coach, Scott Tupper, as well as seven recruits.

“Since July, we’ve got to know our new assistant coach through Zoom, and started to have meetings more regularly. Now that the semester has started, we have two team meetings a week, so we’re super connected and have a bunch of little projects going on,” Steps said. “Our head coach is very empathetic, and she was there for us at any time of the day on FaceTime.” 

After a loss in the Patriot League championship game last fall, Steps said the team was eager to get back to the pitch this fall.

“Last year since we lost in the final, we have had a mission of winning a final trophy this year. And when they cancelled fall sports it felt as though all preparation we put in was for nothing, which it isn’t, of course,” Steps said. “Once I put it into perspective, we still had each other. There is a possibility of us getting a spring season, and I think that’ll be nice because when we are back together we’re going to value every second we spend together on the turf.” 

While these are difficult and unprecedented times for the student-athletes, the department staff at Lafayette is also finding creative ways to provide the best services they can while improving for future seasons, whenever those materialize. 

“Our coaches are still recruiting, whether those are virtual calls, FaceTimes, or emails,” Freeman said. “You can recruit kids across the world and maybe focus on areas you haven’t been able to recruit in. It’s an opportunity to evaluate more prospective student-athletes than they ever have.” 

Freeman also spoke about the department’s efforts to combat racism and other issues of inclusion that have been recently brought to light through the Black at Laf and Anti Violence Laf social media accounts. 

“Our staff had a lot of time dedicated to our own professional development and understanding ways we can be better leaders and better facilitators of conversations with our student athletes when it comes to systemic racism and diversity [and] inclusion, so we’ve done some significant work in that area,” Freeman said. “We also have focused on engagement with our alumni and those who care and support Lafayette athletics. While we can’t play games, we are trying to up our game in other areas.”

With all of the unknowns this semester, Freeman acknowledged the challenges of working through a pandemic with no clear blueprint for how to best handle it.

“There’s no athletic director in this country who can say ‘I’ve been through a pandemic before and I have some great advice for you,'” she said. “It is a time where you want to be with your students and staff in order to work through these challenging times so it makes it even harder when we can’t see people face-to-face as well.” 

“Not only are you dealing with difficult news, but you’re also delivering it on a screen,” Freeman added. “I think it’s also an opportunity, being an athletic director at this time, to come up with ways to connect with your staff and student-athletes to try to be as engaging as possible, and hopefully setting up your department for success when this is over.”

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