A season like no other

Fall sports rose to the challenge of playing during a pandemic

Soren Frantz / Photo Editor, Claire Boughton / Sports Editor, Equinox Archives

          Claire Boughton                                Matt Holderman                  

Sports Editor                              Senior Sports Reporter

Challenging.

That was the word of the hour when talking to a variety of coaches and athletes who participated in this fall sporting season. From the top of the totem pole administration to the masses of student-athletes that call fields, courts and pools their home, all agreed this season was like no other.

Going into the fall semester, there was uncertainty surrounding the level of athletics the school would be able to participate in.

“There’s no playbook for operating during a pandemic,” said Phil Racicot, Keene State College’s Director of Athletics and Recreation. “It’s really been a big challenge. Going back in March, we had teams on spring break, then obviously the semester ended really abruptly and at that point we really had no idea how much more complicated things were about to get.”

On July 28, news came from the Little East Conference headquarters in Rhode Island that all regular season competitions and championships would be cancelled for the Fall 2020 season. This left the Owls sports teams suspended in the question: What now?

Athletic departments around the conference stepped up to the plate and started penciling out a plan to allow fall sports to safely take to their respective playing surfaces come fall. By using safety guidelines put in place by both the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC), athletic departments created a return-to-play plan that began the moment student-athletes returned to campus.

With hefty student-athlete and coach participation, it wasn’t long until Keene State saw its first Red vs. White Intrasquad Scrimmage.

These scrimmages became a staple for student-athletes and spectators alike, returning a sense of normalcy to an unfamiliar semester. Scrimmages also allowed teams to celebrate long-running traditions, such as senior night.

“One of the [senior night’s] that was so touching… was the Red vs. White scrimmage in volleyball,” said Racicot, remembering one of his many highlights of the season. “We had one senior and had a video presentation from family and friends as part of that senior event.”

Another individual who had a senior night stand out to him as a highlight of the season was men’s soccer head coach Rick Scott.

On November 11, the men’s soccer team held their final Red vs. White Intrasquad Scrimmage of the season and celebrated their four seniors on the team: Isaiah Lovering, Jonah Smith, Connor Downey and Blaise Masumbuko.

“Our last Red [vs.] White game combined with senior night was special,” said Scott in an email interview. “Parents could not be there [but] we had flowers delivered to all the mothers of the seniors that afternoon. Large banners with action shots of each senior were hung on the fence [and] the field was immaculate with logos painted.”

However, with highs there always must be lows and this season was no exception.

Even with safety precautions in place, all fall sports teams with the exception of swim and dive and women’s soccer were forced into quarantine at least once during the semester as a result of a positive case on the team.

“We had to quarantine because we had one player that tested positive,” said Scott. “He never was never sick or showed any symptoms. The quarantine was especially tough on the guys that had to live in the Owls Nests.”

Scott also explained that a different hardship his team underwent this season was a lack in team chemistry, something the men’s soccer team has always been known for having.

“It affected our team chemistry,” said Scott. “The separation, away from the field, never really allowed our team to bond as we normally do. Strong team chemistry has always been a trademark of our teams.”

Another low of the season came in the middle of October when the Keene State Athletic Department had to cancel the first, and ultimately only, outside competition opportunity fall sports teams had seen. October 17 saw all fall sports teams, with the exception of swim and dive, competing against either Rhode Island College, Plymouth State University, or both. A day before the competition was set to take place, the KSC Athletic Department published a press release announcing the cancellation of the games after three KSC student-athletes tested positive for COVID.

Denise Lyons, the head coach of the women’s soccer team, explained in an email interview that that was one of the hardest moments she and her team underwent during the season.

“Overcoming the disappointment of looking forward to playing outside competition and having it taken away less than 24 hours before game day due to an unforeseen circumstance that was out of our control [was one of the unexpected challenges we faced].” said Lyons.

Tyler Young, a junior on the swim and dive team, said that the hardest part of the season for him was a lack of communication from the school in regards to what the plans are surrounding his own sporting team.

“[We’re] struggling with the lack of knowledge, [we] feel [like] we really find things out last minute,” explained Young. “That’s not to diss whoever’s making the calls and the decisions, but I think part of the team would just rather know, like yes or no, are we going to have a season or are we not and just cope with that and accept it and have time to understand what the decision is rather than have it being thrown on us last minute… We understand the school’s definitely under a lot of pressure dealing with their decisions, so that’s not a hit at the school, it’s just a little frustrating as an athlete to have these things happen at what feels to be last minute over and over again.”

The swim and dive team has participated in two Red vs. White Intrasquad Scrimmages. The team, along with other winter sports teams, are still uncertain about what the winter break and beginning of the spring semester hold for them.

However, regardless of the bumps along the road, many coaches and student-athletes alike had the same thing to say when asked the very simple question: How did we do?

“Honestly, in light of all the challenges and hoops we’ve had to jump through and things we all had to go through, I’m super proud of our whole athletics department and our track and field program and the job they’ve done,” said Paige Mills, the head coach of both the cross country and track and field teams. “I’m really thankful to be part of a team of people who want to make it work so well and want to keep our athletes safe, and I think we’ve done a really good job at that. It’s definitely been tough, but overall our team has been having fun, we’re keeping our good attitudes. As a coach, I always want to spin things positively, look at things on the bright side, and I encourage my athletes to do that too, and they’ve done good at that. They’re always looking forward to practice, they beg for practice.”

Skyler Gauthier, one of the captains on the cross country team, said that while she appreciates the opportunity to practice, she does miss competing.

“This semester was interesting, definitely went by way too fast,” said Gauthier. “I miss being able to compete and have that preseason training like we used to, but everyone is doing the same thing. Some schools don’t even get the opportunity to practice, so I’m trying to appreciate the little things. Obviously, being my senior year, I wish it was the way it used to be, but we’re just doing what we can and getting ready for outdoor and possibly some indoor meets. I just want to compete again! I miss that competitive motivation.”

 

Claire Boughton can be contacted at:              Matt Holderman can be contacted at:
cboughton@kscequinox.com                         mholderman@kscequinox.com