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Student-athletes adjust to masked practices

By Ryan Vermette
rvermette@springfieldcollege.edu

As students at Springfield College wrap up their third week of school, student-athletes on campus have just undergone an experience like no other in their first week of practices.

As campus shutdown in March due to the growing threat of COVID-19, and as spring changed to summer, nobody, especially student-athletes, could have predicted what life was going to look like when, and if, campus was able to reopen in the fall. Even more so, they couldn’t have even imagined that they were not going to be able to wear “The Jersey”.

Nonetheless, student-athletes find themselves back at Springfield College with a week full of perhaps the most bizarre and difficult practices they have had in their lifetimes.

“I think our team has adapted really well to the guidelines,” said Jack Costa, a junior midfielder for the men’s soccer team at Springfield.

Some of the guidelines that have been implemented to ensure safe practices include a mask mandate (Masks are also to be worn at all times by non-student-athletes), creating groups or “pods” of 10 or less athletes to conduct practice in, sanitization of all equipment used during practice and social distancing when athletes are not in their pods.

With no competition, and the requirement of mask wearing and social distancing during practice, teams find themselves on a tough path as it is now harder than ever to create team chemistry, bond at practice with teammates and find a team identity to roll with for the season.

“It hasn’t changed practice intensity, it’s been fun, it’s been unique, but it hasn’t slowed us down at all. We’re still practicing at full potential which is nice,” said Costa.

While Costa and the rest of the soccer team seem to be adapting well to the new normal, other teams are having a harder time adjusting.

“To say the COVID experience has been isolating would be an understatement,” says senior hurdler on the track and field team Damian Mackay-Morgan. “I’m used to coming back to a big, happy, excited track and field team, and though the emotion is still there, it’s more difficult to get to know new teammates and become closer.”

Now, it is especially tough for team bonding and connections to be made as the numerous pods that are put in place to distance athletes make it hard for them to get to know one another.

“The guidelines for social distancing and for COVID in general do not provide us the opportunity to gather as a whole team, or even as a whole sprint event group,” added Mackay-Morgan.

As a result, some athletes are feeling isolated and distant from their teammates, especially those participating in sports that are already individually oriented.

Most fall sports require some form of running and exertion on the lungs, making the mask requirement on campus and during practice challenging.

“It’s not as bad as you’d think, especially once you get used to it,” said Costa.

To help keep their athletes from overheating from the masks, rest stations and water breaks have been set up throughout practices.

Sports that are completely centered around running, such as cross country and track, find themselves in a tougher position when it comes to controlling breathing with a mask on.

“Running requires us to breathe very hard and it fogs up my glasses and I gasp for breath even when wearing a thin mask,” Mackay-Morgan explained.

Distance runners like Brenna Lachapelle, a sophomore on the women’s cross-country team, also experience the struggles of running with a mask on, but she knows that they must do whatever it takes to keep practicing. “Although the new COVID restrictions can be a pain, like running in masks for example, the whole team has kept a positive attitude” she said.

Other measures have taken place to ensure the safety of athletes and coaches during lift. Although lift sessions look very different for teams now, athletes are still looking forward to getting work in at the weight room.

“Everyone wants to be on the racks every week, but it’s nice because you get to break up and get to see new workouts, it’s just a new way to do everything, but you’re still hitting the same muscles,” Costa said.

This pandemic is an ever changing and evolving situation and so are the guidelines and procedures that are in place for student-athletes at Springfield.

The unknown nature of the pandemic, along with the inevitable threat that a potential outbreak would force the premature end to the semester on campus, makes for an uncertain future where changes to practice protocols are happening constantly.

Still, students are happy and grateful that they can still practice, even with these guidelines and procedures in place.

“Not being able to compete hurts, but the team knows it’s the right decision and ultimately I think we all just feel very fortunate to still be able to practice with one another,” said Lachapelle.

Despite the mask mandates and the social distancing, practices all around campus, from cross country, to soccer and lacrosse, all seem to be keeping the same intensity and passion for their sport.

Everyone seems to still have bought into the process, even in the face of adversity. Now, more than ever, leadership is needed from athletes on each team to push their teammates through these difficult times and keep the motivation high through challenging practices.

“I have not only a responsibility to myself, but to my teammates and underclassmen who look up to me to give my all and lead by example,” Mackay-Morgan said.

Athletes are still pushing for their teammates to work harder and everyone is providing motivation in their own unique ways. Despite all athletes wearing masks at all times, it’s easy to see the passion and the positivity, even with the struggles that come with the new coronavirus guidelines.

Even during a season with no outside competition, student-athletes here are still striving to be the best that they can be. Mask wearing and staying six feet apart from each other doesn’t seem to be slowing athletes at Springfield College down because although they are not physically putting on “The Jersey,” they know that they are representing it at each and every practice, which is what keeps the drive and motivation going at practices, even in the bizarre situation that all student-athletes are finding themselves in this fall.

Photo Courtesy of Jack Margaros/Springfield Athletics

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