It’s not unusual for college athletes to prepare their bodies and practice their skills year-round, and perhaps even play non-league games in their offseason. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the ways in which college athletics operate have completely changed.
And the biggest change of all might be the Patriot League’s decision for all fall sports to play a condensed spring season this year.
While student-athletes admit that this experience has taken time to adjust to, they remain grateful for the opportunity to get back on the field, the courts and even in the water.
This adjustment has had a unique effect on the cross country and track teams, which usually participate in the fall and spring seasons respectively, with some crossover between athletes who compete on both teams.
“It was kind of confusing when we first came back in January and February because some people were doing cross country and some people were doing track, and normally that’s not a problem,” said junior distance runner Cassandra Wilk. “Cross country is technically over now, so everyone’s kind of on the same page running outdoor track.”
Wilk said that the spring weather is a welcome change after the cross country teams started off their season against Loyola Maryland in snowy, icy conditions. Both teams placed first despite the adversity.
Conditions in relation to the pandemic have also put a damper on the teams’ practices, leading to some isolated runners.
“We’re still supposed to practice mostly in our pods, which end up being a combination of people that run a bunch of different events,” Wilk said. “In my pod, we have people who really focused on the 400 and 800 (meter dashes), and then we have a girl who runs the 10 [kilometer race]. There’s 1000s of meters difference between these two races, and then everyone in between, so sometimes the workouts can get kind of lonely. We don’t really end up doing the workouts together because we’re doing very different workouts.”
These ‘practice pods’ have become the norm for most teams in an effort to prohibit a team-wide breakout in the instance that a student-athlete tests positive for the virus.
“At the beginning when we came back for the semester, we had to kind [of] work our way into practicing because of the fact that we hadn’t been around each other, and even now the contact has been limited in practice,” said senior quarterback Cole Northrup.
“We also do lifting groups, where we have specific players at specific times and those don’t change, so that way it limits the spread of COVID as well, so not everyone is exposed if someone does test positive,” he added.
The Lafayette crew team has even had to rework their positioning on their boats in accordance with social distancing protocols.
“This season, we can’t have as many people practicing at the same time, so that’s been a little difficult trying to split up the team,” explained sophomore rower Allison Cusumano, “We are also limited in the amount of people allowed in the boat, so in addition to masks, we also have to distance ourselves. There’s usually eight people in the boat, but only four people can go in it now with a gap between the pairs, so there is room for social distancing in the boat itself.”
In addition to the adjustments on the boat, the crew team has lacked the typical winter training schedule which usually helps prepare the athletes for spring sprints.
“The fall is usually filled with longer distance competitions, whether in high school or college,” Cusumano said. “In the winter you’d usually train inside, and build up stamina for the sprints in the spring.”
The field hockey team also felt a lack of preparation together before the spring season begun. Like many of the other teams, their training period was very condensed.
“Our preparation period was much shorter this year because when we come back together in the fall, we usually have about a month to practice for our season with the team,” said senior midfielder Anna Steps. “It’s usually warm during a normal preseason, but when we got back in the spring, we started doing our conditioning with ice and snow. Over the winter, everyone did workouts on their own, so we all came prepared but the time we had as a team together was cut short.”
Junior forward Molly McAndrew added that despite the shortened season and institution of pandemic protocols, the hype and mentality going into games has been the same.
For the tennis team, spring weather has been an issue as well, given that the courts were not playable at times in February and early March.
“I know it has been a pretty tough situation with COVID and the weather, but I would have loved to have more court space for our outdoor spring season,” said sophomore Josh Wolfe. “But I am grateful to still be playing in the midst of COVID.”
As for the men’s soccer team, head coach Dennis Bohn explained that this spring season may have even helped the team prepare for what’s to come in the future of men’s collegiate soccer. The spring format might be here to stay.
“The NCAA and college soccer coaches have put forward a model that the ACC, the Big 10, and many big conferences have supported where men’s soccer would become a two-semester sport,” Bohn said. “This is actually allowing us to kind of test out that model and see if the one-game-a-week is better for the student-athletes in regards to their mental state, physical state and their academics.”
“Spreading the season out over two semesters and playing once a week I think would be a very positive thing for soccer student-athletes if that was ever to come to fruition,” he added.
While the timing of competitive seasons have changed this year, there may be some silver linings to an unusual spring slate of competition: some of the unpredictable circumstances have created potential long-term solutions.
And most importantly, the athletes and teams are just happy to be back.