Complications due to COVID-19 have been plentiful on campus since the pandemic first began last March. With many schools being told to shut down to slow the spread of the virus, it was only a matter of time before AU was told to do the same.
Spring sports were already in full effect, and the only viable solution was simply to cancel the rest of the season and start afresh next year.
Flash forward to last fall when COVID-19 cases were on the rise. Once again, the HCAC was tasked with how to handle their sports programs. The solution this time wasn’t as simple. Fall sports were to be moved to the spring.
Now, almost a year after COVID-19 stripped the second half of spring seasons away, both fall and spring sports teams will be competing at the same time. For AU, that means double the seasons, double the events, double the people and on and on. That being said, this spring sports season will truly be like none before it.
“Having survived the fall we all have an understanding of what the protocols are in place with COVID and training,” said AU Women’s Soccer coach Jennifer Myhre. “Over the past few months, the NCAA has changed the risk level for some sports, so instead of the phasing in and pods in the fall, most sports are able to start right away with full practices given their individual testing requirements. The new challenge this spring with competitions will be the travel protocols and then ensuring the opponent is able to play as well. There will likely be some adjustment with schedules throughout the spring. The athletic department and athletic trainers have put in a lot of time and effort to help prepare for the season with all the COVID protocols to keep us as healthy and safe as possible.”
Although coaches and staff have had a semester to deal with the effects of COVID-19 on their programs, that does not mean this semester is without its challenges.
“Getting to play as a full team would be great,” said head men’s soccer coach, Scott Fridley. “Limited groups have been a stretch.”
Scheduling and planning these games have looked different as well, Coach Myhre explained.
“For the fall and winter sports competitions, this spring will be conference only,” said Myhre. “Each sport’s schedule is set differently based on the NCAA’s Classification of COVID risk and COVID testing requirements. Most sports will be playing a modified schedule. Football and Men’s & Women’s Soccer are playing each conference school once. Basketball split the conference in pods and are playing the same institution home and away in a few day window and then will have a blind draw with everyone for a conference tournament playoff. Volleyball is able to play twice a week, but are required to wear a mask while playing. Spring Sports schedules are mainly conference schools, as well and likely playing each school two to three times.”
Both Myhre and Fridley expressed that, even with preparation, there are still some challenges they haven’t been able to work around due to COVID-19.
“Getting the boys to make sure they are making good decisions when they are away from the team” has been one of those challenges, Fridley explained.
“[One of] the challenges—especially related to COVID—is having athletes be quarantined or isolate,” said Myhre, “We really feel for the students, as it takes them out of their daily routine and away from the team’s activities and training. It was hard in the fall to not have the normal team time together and be separated as a group with the phasing.”
Myhre also explained how the separation of players can be challenging physically.
“From a physical standpoint, they had the challenge of trying to get back into shape and catch up from what they missed,” said Myhre. “The players have been good about staying connected and checking in with each other, but it was still hard to be away. The other aspect is just being flexible, as there have been lots schedules and re-scheduling/changes. We’ve learned to take it day by day and just be thankful for what we have, as some schools aren’t competing or even back on campus together.”