Athletes return to practice for phase one

Sam Tapper Managing Editor

It has been about six months since COVID-19 put a stop to all sports on campus and across the Northeast 10 conference, now student-athletes have returned, but with several modifications.

Despite practices resuming, there remains a long way to go before the university or the NE10 is able to host athletic events again. The first week of practices that began on Sept. 14 was just one part of phase one of the plan to bring back athletics, which means there were limitations of what the teams could do during practice.

“It was definitely different than what we’re used to,” said women’s basketball forward Kiana Steinauer, a graduate student. “It was just cool to be around people and be back in that basketball atmosphere. There’s nothing really to complain about – it’s better than nothing, we’re just grateful for the opportunity to do something, even if we have to wait until January to play.”

One of the biggest changes during week one of practices for Owls Athletics was that no equipment could be used, so the bulk of all teams’ practices were spent on conditioning.

This meant the basketball teams could not even shoot a basketball. For Steinauer, despite not playing in a game since December of 2019 after redshirting last season, she said just being able to step back out onto the court “felt great.”

“It felt amazing to be able to participate in practice and do the drills, we’re not doing contact or anything yet,” she said. “Just in general, it’s been great to be back in the SCSU women’s basketball vibes, playing with everyone, it felt great because I was missing it a lot.”

Another key difference in week one was the introduction of “pods” or “bubbles” of athletes. Per social distancing guidelines, teams now have to be split up to reduce the number of athletes together in close contact.

Pods also apply to coaches. In the case of women’s basketball, Head Coach Kate Lynch has been placed in a pod herself, meaning only one pod of athletes practices with her at a time, and the other pod of players cannot practice with their head coach present. However, Steinauer said that all these new variables have not affected the toughness of their practices.

“We got right into it – ease off isn’t really our style of play,” said Steinauer. “We definitely have potential to be great this year and I think that easing into practices wouldn’t be the best start. I think [Lynch] definitely pushed us to our limits.”

The volleyball team is in a situation not unlike the basketball teams, as the inability to use equipment during practices meant no volleyballs could be touched and no nets could be set up – two essential things the sport.

It is true however, that Head Coach Lisa Barbaro used the time to focus on getting her team back in shape. To her players, this is uncharted territory.

“[Practices] definitely were pretty weird, Pelz [Gymnasium] isn’t very big, and then my [pod] is all the newbies,” said middle hitter Kirstin Colwell, one of two seniors on the roster. “I miss high-fiving people – that was kind of sad. There was one time I literally had my hand up and I was just like ‘put it back, you can’t touch anybody.’”

Colwell said all her team’s huddles are now socially-distanced at 12 feet apart and that every player must wear a mask – even during a drill – if staying 12-feet away from teammates is not possible.

“We focused on getting our conditioning back to where it needed, especially more jumping movements, because not doing that for a while can result in injury and stuff like that,” said Colwell. “Footwork is really important for us too, so we did a lot of footwork.”

Barbaro’s squad has a lot of new players this year, and Colwell said that some practices are much slower than others, so the new athletes can learn the system. Starting in week two of practices, teams will be able to use equipment. An outlier during the first week of practices was football. Despite being one of the biggest teams with around 100 players as well as a larger coaching staff, the entire team was able to practice together at once, according to quarterback Jackson Ostrowsky, a sophomore.

“For our team workouts, we were able to get on the field and have the whole team out there,” Ostrowsky said. “We’re all separated by more than five yards, we were able to utilize the whole field so I’m nowhere near anybody, we have an exit protocol, an entrance protocol, I think we’re handling it okay.”

Ostrowsky said despite being separated by at least five yards – far more than the standard social distancing protocols – masks are always worn while players and coaches are on the field.

So far, according to Ostrowsky, the football team has only done body weight work, not yet having the ability to run through game drills or even run sprints, the latter being because of social distancing. However, with other teams, as phase two of resuming athletics begins, equipment will become available.

“We’re doing what we can,” said Ostrowsky, “we’re getting good workouts in, and sweating and being together, so it’s good.”

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