Being a captain on an NCAA team is always a huge honor and responsibility, but this semester, it looks a little different.
With the COVID-19 pandemic having cancelled fall sports competition for the student-athletes at Keene State, the captains of this year’s fall sports teams are focusing on things other than games. Instead, the captains are focusing on keeping their teams motivated and happy, even though they don’t get to compete in the sports that they love this fall.
“A big goal would be to make sure everyone is motivated to play,” said Alex Kennedy, a junior defender and captain on the KSC women’s soccer team. “It is hard to be like, ‘Yes guys, we aren’t having a season, but we still should work hard.’ Making sure to stay positive and telling them what to look forward to [is important], and [telling them] what we’re working on is going to help them when we do have a season.”
“It’s obviously way different because we don’t have full-on games against other people, so the energy is a little off with our team at practice and scrimmages,” said McKenna Blean, a senior midfielder and captain on the KSC field hockey team.
“It’s weird for everyone playing just games against each other. So it’s hard trying to figure out how to motivate everyone to work their hardest at practice, but my co-captain Nina [Bruno] and I definitely do try, and seniors are on everyone to try their best at least. This is what we’re given, and the seniors are probably never going to play again after this. So we’re just trying to tell them that it’s worth it to work this hard because they’re probably never going to play with us again. The practices have been going a lot better since that [was said].”
Although it has been challenging keeping everybody’s spirits up with the absence of outside competition, the captains say that they are finding ways to keep their teammates energized, and the mood at practices and scrimmages is getting better as time goes on.
“We do stick taps, like if we’re doing drills at practice and someone has their turn we stick tap them, kind of like a high five,” Blean said. “We try to keep the talking up, because when it goes silent, the energy is so down. So we try to say, ‘Good job,’ and keep up the energy and motivate them. For our scrimmages, we have this ritual where we get in a circle and we say a chant, basically. It all helps.”
“It’s been a little stressful because it’s been about getting the team to realize that we don’t have a season, but they should keep the mindset that we still need to practice and work hard,” said Kennedy. “That was the first couple of weeks, because a lot of people were mad that we weren’t having a season. But as it went on, it lightened up, everyone got along and it was more smoothly run. It changed over time. Everyone realized we weren’t having a season but we should still try because we have those scrimmages. I love soccer, so putting my mindset into it, saying, ‘I’m a player, everyone here is a player,’ it helped me relate to our other players.”
While the captains are doing their best to keep their teammates happy and motivated, keeping themselves motivated has been important too. Blean and Kennedy said that when they found out their fall sports seasons were being cancelled, they were just as upset as their teammates.
“It was really hard, especially finding out we weren’t going to have a season,” Blean said. “I live in California, so I wasn’t originally going to come back because I didn’t know about the COVID-19 results and stuff. So finding out we weren’t going to have a season broke my heart, because I was so excited and so hyped to actually have a season with these girls, I knew the chemistry was going to go so well. But I mean, I’m still glad that we’re at least practicing though, because we still get that same energy and vibe, we get to hang out with the freshmen and give them connections with us.”
“It was a little like, ‘Ah, that sucks,’” Kennedy said. “I was looking forward to having a season and being able to be a captain for that season. Then getting told, ‘You don’t have a season, it’s just practices,’ I knew I could still be a captain, but I knew it would be different.”
Since then, Blean and Kennedy have found ways to keep their own spirits up and cope with the fact that this fall sports season isn’t the same.
“This is what we have right now, we have to work with what we got,” said Blean. “If we weren’t as lucky, we wouldn’t have any practices at all. So just knowing that we do have some practices and scrimmages keeps the motivation up because we never know if we’re going to play again or when it’s going to stop, or even if we’re going to have a season next year. So that’s helping, the fact that we’re seniors and this is it for us.”
“I just tell myself, ‘You can do it, push yourself,’” said Kennedy. “So that helps me get motivated. It is hard because there were times where I was unmotivated, like, ‘We don’t have a season, why am I pushing myself so hard?’ Then I got back to it and said ‘you know what, I’m going to make myself better.’ That helped me motivate myself to keep going harder.”
Although it occurred during a pandemic, Blean still said that becoming a captain is a dream come true for her.
“It kind of took my breath away when I found out I was a captain, because I’ve been trying to reach these goals for so long in this sport,” Blean said. “I set up a few goals personally when I came to Keene. One of them was to start freshman year, which I did do, and one of them was to be a captain. So it’s super gratifying to know that now I’ve reached another goal of mine.”
If their fall sports teams do end up getting seasons in the spring, the captains said that they have a few more goals in mind as well.
“My mindset would generally stay the same as other seasons, I want to set a really great example for the underclassmen and the other players,” Blean said. “One of my main goals which has not happened yet is to score, because I do not score that often, I don’t have that many points, I’m not as recognized. I want to get at least one goal and I want to get a bunch of assists, and I want to be an All-American. So those are still goals, but I don’t know if they’ll happen. I’m still going to strive for it though. If we do have a season, I can hope.”
“If we do have a season in the spring, I think more people would be more driven, the positivity would change,” Kennedy said. “A lot of girls get stressed about COVID-19, because it could be a big situation facing another team and not knowing if they are sick and stuff. But I think a goal to keep in mind is knowing that yes, COVID-19 is a big thing, but we’re all safe, we all get tested, they’re getting tested. We all want to play, and it is a health risk, but they’re doing everything they can to stay safe.”
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