Spring sports teams adapt to safety regulations ahead of uncertain season

Lions+baseball+team+training+under+the+pandemic.

Photo: Courtesy/Lions Baseball

Lions baseball team training under the pandemic.

By Tyler Foy, Assistant Sports Editor

With the status of the spring sports season still up in the air following the cancellations of the fall and winter seasons by the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference, teams are innovating clever solutions to stay connected and prepared. 

Amid the uncertainty, players and coaches say they are optimistic about the chances of the season heading into the spring. Affected teams—like baseball, lacrosse, softball, and tennis —used the fall off-season to stay ready for the next season, even as they watched their peers miss out on opportunities to play. 

“It’s still up in the air just because everything is so ever-changing in this pandemic,” head women’s lacrosse coach Jesse Koffman said in an interview. “I feel like everyone just needs to be patient…and you see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Athletes were active in their efforts to stay prepared for the season over winter break. The women’s lacrosse team received a workout packet from their coach focused on conditioning to keep them in shape. Koffman said she doesn’t have to worry about her players slacking off during the break. 

“I’m not worried about them not conditioning or not doing what was asked,” Koffman said. “They take the initiative, they want to work hard. They want to be in the best physical conditions so that hopefully, when we do come back and if there’s a season, they’re ready.”

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The softball team kept close contact with their coaches through TeamBuildR, a team  messaging/virtual training app. Assistant coach Jen Boyder sent workouts to help players stay active over the break.

Freshman softball position player, Claire Overton, had an opportunity that most athletes didn’t over the winter break. She was able to reunite with her former travel team in Pennsylvania, which enabled her to practice with them over the break

“I’m sure, in comparison to the other girls, I was actually able to keep all of my skills up,” Overton said in an interview. “I was still able to hit, field, and throw. For me, it was sort of normal like I never took a big break from softball.”

Head baseball coach Nicholas Vennochi believes the future of the season will be decided in the next month, and his team is preparing to play. 

“I know the presidents of the conference are meeting a few times between now and the first of February,” Vennochi said in an interview. “I think we should know within the next few weeks, but we’re all just kind of waiting. Obviously, from a mental standpoint, the other guys I’ve talked to definitely want to play. You have to plan to play.”

Despite the uncertainty, athletes began preparing for the possibility of a normal season during their off-season in the fall. Teams were forced to find alternative ways to improve their skills with COVID-19 limiting athletic resources across the country. Players searched for open fields and resorted to using their own hardware to work around the absence of weights and equipment. 

Jack Lewis, a junior defender for the men’s lacrosse team, said he believes there is a way for an athlete to push through any adversity they face and improve themselves. Lewis and his father created their own dumbbells in their hometown of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to train while gyms were shut down.

“My dad and I made some homemade weights to go out to a field or to put in backpacks,” Lewis said. “We made 15-pound dumbbells out of concrete because they weren’t available anywhere.”

Once players returned to campus, teams scheduled adapted practices to comply with new guidelines and hosted team meetings over Zoom. 

The baseball team trained for nearly five weeks in small groups on and off the field during the fall semester. Vennochi said the smaller groups had their drawbacks, but were better than not training at all.

“It was different because we weren’t really together with the team,” Vennochi said. “Instead, we were in small groups, and we weren’t able to scrimmage.”

Head men’s lacrosse coach, Matthew Colombini, said he focused on fundamental training rather than full-team activities when the team got a chance to practice in small groups on the field. 

“[During] a normal fall for us on the field, we would usually have 16 practices over four weeks that we go about two hours a session,” Colombini said in an interview. “This fall, when we were on the field, it was almost exclusively all position-based stuff. It was all socially distant and non-contact.”

Koffman said first-year students benefited from practicing in smaller groups rather than as a complete team.

“We were able to do practices in the smaller groups with all the restrictions, and I think that was good for the [first-years],” Koffman said. “It went well because our upperclassmen were really tough to the younger kids and were extra attentive to them.”

The softball team focused on strength and conditioning when they had the opportunity to get onto the field. Karagan Knowles, a junior pitcher, said that the team didn’t get to use their equipment with the exception of one practice.

“I think the weather and sharing Rotch Field became a conflict,” Knowles said in an interview. “We ended up only having one practice where we actually could play softball. There were supposed to be two other ones, but conflicts just got in the way, so it was a lot of conditioning and running.”

The uncertainty of the spring season placed athletes’ seasons and careers on hold, forcing them to come up with new ways to motivate themselves. 

Before the 2020 spring season was canceled in March due to the outbreak of COVID-19, the women’s lacrosse team posted two victories against Rhode Island College and Nichols College. Koffman said those two victories play a major part in the team’s fight to keep the competitive spark alive heading into the spring semester. 

“For the players that were on the team last year, even though our season was cut short, we did have two wins,” Koffman said. “I think that has been the motivation knowing that we have the ability to be a great team and that the possibilities are endless once we are able to get on the field.”

The men’s lacrosse team utilizes the phrase “doesn’t matter, get better” as their way to stay driven to compete.  The motto hangs in the team’s locker room for players to view each time they walk in or out for practices and games.

Vennochi said whether the baseball team plays or not in the spring, the program’s culture would not change.

“We always tell all of our players that they should want the program to be better when they leave,” Vennochi said. “You want to leave an imprint on this. It’s not just [going to] affect us, it’s going to affect everybody. I think it’s really just about taking it day by day, which is boring, but I think it’s the only way to stay in it.”

The men’s and women’s tennis teams are still awaiting word on the future of their seasons, but are expected to be able to practice. Tennis, which typically competes in the fall, did not practice at all last semester.

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