Starting a new school and a new sport during COVID.
By Madison Sciba
COVID hit during the last semester of my senior year of high school. I thought I was just getting an extra week of spring break, not losing prom and graduation. In March of 2020, I had no idea where I was going to go to college. A month into quarantine I decided on Saint Mary’s. It wasn’t my dream school choice, but a practical one. Saint Mary’s checked all the boxes of criteria I had for schools. Small school? Check. Close to home but not TOO close? Check. Not in a big city? Check. Gave me a scholarship? Check. And the final criteria, has a rowing team? Check.
I had been a swimmer my whole life, swimming on a club team for 10 years and for all 4 years of high school (even though both of my senior seasons were very short). After doing sports my whole life I knew I wanted to continue that in college, but I knew college swimming was just not my thing. So the question remained: what sport can I do? The answer became rowing. My cousin rowed at UCLA and recommended that I reach out to the team at Saint Mary’s and be a walk-on, just like she did at UCLA. So I did. I reached out to the assistant coach and was given paperwork to fill out and told to have a sports physical. Next thing I knew, I was on a team of a sport I knew barely anything about.
Because of COVID, there was no competition of any kind in the fall, so I decided to save money on housing and stay home for my first semester of college. When Jan Term finally came around I moved onto campus and was at my first practice a week later. Almost two months after seeing a racing boat for the first time, I was racing every weekend at a different racecourse on the varsity crew. No spectators were allowed and COVID rules were strictly enforced. Masks were always required unless you were actively rowing, frequently tested, and sanitized everything.
Sophomore year was vastly different. There were events on campus, no more required testing, and we finally had a fall season of racing. It was a whole new kind of racing, with different courses, different rules, and new experiences. Spring semester was where things really picked up. Masking was only required in classrooms and the library. Teams were finally able to do weight training without sweating through their masks and spectators were finally allowed. My parents were finally able to come and watch one of my races. It was a really big deal for me, I had sent photos and told them all about it but now I had people shouting my name from the shore.
All sports are finally getting the seasons and spectators we so greatly need. I cannot imagine how weird it must have been to go from loud screaming fans at basketball games to empty silence. The infamous Gonzaga game was just an example of that. When I told my family and friends that I was going to go to Saint Mary’s, everyone mentioned the basketball team and how legendary the student section was. Freshman year, I had no idea what they were talking about. No one was allowed at games because of COVID. When that was all lifted in 2022 there was a packed house, people practically on top of one another, ready to support. It was an incredible experience watching and supporting our team as they beat the best in the country. It also made me sad, thinking about what else I had missed out on my freshman year.
Women’s Rowing Second Varsity 8 Crew racing at Lake Natoma in 2022. (Image Courtesy smcgaels.com)