Saint Mary’s athletes must adapt to socially distant practices to prepare for their athletic seasons.
By Olivia Virgen
The empty University Credit Union (UCU) Pavilion and the quiet Saint Mary’s Stadium are only a couple of the facilities that would typically be overflowing with Gael fans during the fall sports season. However, the typical day in the life of a Saint Mary’s student athlete has been changed this year due to the widespread pandemic. Temperature checks, wrist bands, small group practices, and zoom meetings have been the new reality for sports teams anticipating their postponed seasons. As officials try to organize the overlapping of fall and spring sports, teams have begun training in any way they can with the clearance from the school.
With the recent opening of the new Sports Performance Center on campus, athletes are eager to use the equipment in the beautifully designed space. However, for the safety of coaching staff and students, access to the weight room has been limited to particular teams but is slowly becoming available to more athletes.
Softball player, Angelina Franco, expressed her excitement to use the new facilities. She explains that coaches have been very strict on social distancing and wearing masks at all times. The team has meetings on Mondays and study hall via zoom on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Practices have looked very different this year, as they welcome pods of twelve people or less along with one coach, on the field at once.
Franco elaborates on the extensive safety measures they have to participate in as a team. “We have to sanitize the balls if they were already used”, Franco said, “and we can’t use each other's equipment.”
The catcher explained that her greatest concern is not having any fall games to prepare for the spring season. Franco’s coach, Sonja Garnett, spoke on the guidelines they received from the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the Saint Mary’s Sports Medicine staff, and Contra Costa County to follow in anticipation for training and ultimately the season. The softball head coach explained that when coming on to campus, similar to the off-campus athletes, she has to fill out a survey to assess how she is feeling that day using the Livesafe app before getting her temperature checked. Once cleared, coaches will receive a wristband to signify their eligibility to practice; similar to the athletes.
When asked about her expectations for the season, Garnett expressed her feelings as “optimistic.” With the constant changes in the severity of the virus, she is not certain what to expect. Garnett explained that the clearance of basketball and some football programs by the NCAA, will have a huge impact on the league’s decision to follow through with the remainder of the year. With scheduling changes of moving some fall sports to the spring, Garnett describes these sports as a pivotal point for the remaining seasons.
In a similar way, the Men’s Cross Country team has had to make adjustments to their practices in light of the changes to their season. Freshman, Luke Bland, discusses what practice is like with COVID-19 rules in effect. Instead of practicing with the entire team, runners are to stay in their pods of three. All practices are outside, including weights, as the Cross Country team has yet to use any indoor facilities. Bland explains that regardless of the circumstances, he has enjoyed training with teammates; as they anticipate having their first race in the spring.
Teammate Derek O'Connor adds that he felt a sense of relief moving on campus already knowing some of his teammates. The cross country runner explained that he feels very safe on campus and that the school has done an excellent job in taking the necessary precautions. O’Connor added that he agrees with the decision to have all on-campus students live in single dorms because it reduces the likelihood of multiple students in small spaces.
“Even people living in Aquinas, which are suite style dorms, it’s not five people living in one little area”, O’Connor said, “limiting how many people live in one area is very smart of them [St. Mary’s College]”.
Both Bland and O’Connor emphasized that they feel very comfortable and confident on campus and are looking forward to their season in the spring. However, even with the various precautions and safety rules put in place, not all sports have been so lucky.
For rugby player, Ty Lenberg, this was a huge upset for him and his teammates. After moving from Aquinas to Justin Hall, where the entire rugby team lives on the second floor, Lenberg expresses his disappointment in the delayed season.
“We’ve been waiting for clearance from the Saint Mary’s COVID team and have yet to get it,” Lenberg said, “we’ve been told we are basically in limbo for our season.”
After being moved to live in a “bubble” with his teammates, the first year student expresses the devastation of the entire team in light of the delays due to Covid-19. As school approaches the middle of the semester, he has been able to adjust to the college curriculum but is still awaiting the season he was hoping for.
“How big is your moral for school, how prepared are you for your classes versus how prepared are you for your sport.” Lenberg said, “I think we all know we were waiting for our season to come around because ‘student’ does come first, it’s year round, but ‘athlete’ is fifty percent of the statement- student athlete”. Lenberg is hopeful that the team will still be able to have their season. The team has been notified that they will begin practice in the next coming weeks, with restrictions.
These changes have been an immense adjustment for athletes and coaches as the virus continues to be an obstacle. Student athletes, who anticipate their sport all year, have had to make the best of these new realities and remain focused on their performance for the season ahead.
Melanie Moyer '22,