Editor’s note: This article was written before Tuesday’s announcement that NESCAC Presidents had reached an agreement in favor of a limited sports season.
The NESCAC officially cancelled all sports seasons due to the coronavirus one year ago tomorrow, March 11. Since then, student-athletes have had to adjust to a slew of new Covid-safe protocols in order to keep in shape for when their seasons officially start up again. This adjustment has proven to be anything but a linear process. Student-athletes Luke Padian ’24 (baseball), Aidan Park ’22 (baseball), Margaret Werner ’21 (squash), Frankie Kelley ’24 (football), Allison Stafford ’23 (soccer) and Grace Abrahams ’24 (volleyball) reflected on their pandemic athletic experiences, noting that while they are disheartened to not have official seasons, they remain grateful to still be able to safely practice.
While baseball is, by construction, a socially-distanced sport, first-baseman Luke Padian ’24, shared that the chances of real games are appearing slimmer as time goes on. Still, he is “looking forward to the slight possibility of playing a few games with the players that are here [on campus],” and is not giving up hope. He feels fortunate that over half of the baseball team is on campus and is still able to have relatively normal practices, which is rare across the majority of Amherst teams this semester. Having three outdoor practices, three workouts and three sessions in Coolidge Cage a week allows Padian and his teammates to not only experience a sense of normality and routine, but also brings insight to first-years like him about what being a student-athlete is like. Junior first-baseman, Aidan Park ’22, shared that the biggest difference of this year’s season is the lack of seniors and sophomores on campus. Park believes that this allows for a “unique opportunity for the underclassmen to develop and take on more of a leadership role, but the loss of seniors to guide and teach about what it takes to win the NESCAC will be a difficult hole to fill.” On a brighter note, Park said, “the attitude and approach to practice has been intense and purposeful as we have been able to maintain that competitive edge by pushing each other to get better every day.”
As players like Padian navigate their first season as a college athlete, others have had their final season disrupted by the pandemic. Margaret Werner ’21, a senior on the squash team, provided insight into what her last season is looking like so far. Werner shared that “the squash team has three distanced practices per week, staying 12 feet apart on the court at all times while wearing face shields with masks. Although it may seem strange to train without any matches scheduled, everyone has been excited to return to the courts and welcome our new head coach, Busani Xaba.” The upset of playing on a team for three years only to have one’s senior spring season taken away is clear enough, but Werner and the squash team are making the most out of the situation as they continue to grow closer as a team on and off the court.
Frankie Kelley ’24, a first-year on the football team, spoke about his experience playing a highly involved contact sport in the era of social distancing. Kelley is one of the only first-year football players living on campus this semester, which has proven to be a challenge of its own. While he is still able to lift weights everyday, it is difficult to do so without spotters and with a limited gym capacity. Kelley explained that football players are not allowed to have actual practice for another month, and even then, they will only have 11 players, which is a major shift from the over 70 teammates in normal year practices. He also noted the struggle of social distancing in football, which makes it nearly impossible to experience even a semi-normal practice environment as they are forced to mainly focus on technique rather than contact. Kelley shared that “the current circumstances are extremely unfortunate, but it has only made me miss my sport even more and I cannot wait to play next year.”
Sophomore soccer player, Allison Stafford ’23, also discussed how her own team has been adjusting to the completely different version of the high contact game that they once knew. “The Covid-19 pandemic has been a challenging time for us all, and as a member of the women’s soccer team, it has been particularly challenging from an athletic standpoint. It was incredibly disappointing to return to campus in the fall without a soccer season,” Stafford said. Stafford and her teammates had high hopes of winning a second straight NESCAC championship this season, but they continue to intensively prepare for next fall. Stafford recognizes that “these circumstances are not within our control, but what we can control is the work we put in now to prepare for the next time we step on the field to compete.” While the team continues to work hard in group lifting sessions and individual training, they are itching to practice as a team in just a few weeks. Stafford “cannot wait until we get to play together again under normal circumstances so that we can show our opponents that AWS [Amherst Women’s Soccer] is back and ready to go.”
First year volleyball player, Grace Abrahams ’24, shared how the spring offseason is panning out. With only five out of sixteen players on campus, it is difficult to get a real sense of what it is like to practice as a team, especially since this is Abraham’s first year at the college generally. Even though practices are limited, Abrahams shared that her squad is still making the most of the situation by lifting three times and practicing twice per week in Lefrak Gym. While Abrahams is certainly disappointed that she will never get to play with the seniors, she is grateful that the team is still able to practice at all. Abrahams shared, “We all get up early together to lift and practice as somewhat of a team. Even though it is not ideal, the fact that we are all going through it together creates a shared bonding experience.” Although hopes of a season were shattered in the fall, the volleyball team is still working to prepare for the promising 2021 season.
The bottom line is that while most athletes are disappointed about how Covid-19 has affected their sports, it has by no means stopped them from trying to make the best out of the unfortunate situation. As Abrahams reflected, “Even though Covid-19 has made it difficult to receive the full student-athlete experience at Amherst as well as making it hard to fully connect due to physical distancing and being unable to see faces through masks, I feel like this experience has actually allowed for really strong relationships to form.”