For fall athletes at Vassar, their last season of real competition seems like forever ago. Due to restrictions and precautions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, competition was cancelled for the 2020 fall semester, meaning fall athletes last competed in 2019, nearly two years ago. Although cancelling the season was necessary due to the pandemic, for athletes, it still meant the loss of time and experience with the sport they love. This fall, teams finally received the green light for a season of normalcy. With that comes excitement, stress, and nerves.
Last year, fall sports––soccer, field hockey, women’s volleyball, cross country, rugby and golf––weren’t able to compete; however, teams still felt the impact of COVID-19 restrictions. They had to wear masks during practices and games, train in smaller groups and socially distance on the field. There was no doubt about the importance of these rules, but their imposition did disrupt the dynamics of play and team environment. Women’s soccer junior Sydney MacDonald touched on the impact of COVID restrictions on her practices, explaining via email, “Given the extreme restrictions, our team was split into groups spread across our entire field, where we were unable to play with or even talk to players on our own team. It was extremely isolating, especially for a team sport like soccer where you are constantly relying on teammates for support.”
As the college began loosening restrictions for the current fall semester, athletics were cleared to return to more normal practice and play. Athletes and coaches no longer have to wear masks or social distance when playing outside. Even vaccinated athletes who play inside, such as volleyball, are not required to wear a mask when performing strenuous activities. In-season athletes again have access to locker rooms, an addition that MacDonald highlighted when asked what she was most excited about for the upcoming season: “For our team, the locker room is a safe space where we are able to refocus our energy before games, practices, etc. and connect as a unit before hitting the field.”
Perhaps the biggest adjustment back to normalcy was the return of fans to the stands (The Miscellany News, “Stat Chat: The home of the brave,” 10.22.2020). While fall sports teams were unable to compete during their official season, most teams were allowed to play a few exhibition games in the spring. During home competitions and most away competitions, however, spectators couldn’t attend games, creating an isolating environment for the competing athletes. But with the easing of COVID rules this fall, fans can now once again grace the sidelines. Women’s volleyball senior Camille Donald spoke to the effect that the return of fans has had on matches, revealing via email, “Playing in front of spectators again is really exciting. It feels almost new to have that energy back in the gym.” She continued, “Especially at our first home game against United States Marine Merchant Academy last Tuesday, our team really engaged with the energy of the fans and supporters.” Donald elaborated further on the electricity fans brought to their first home match, which ended as a close 2-3 loss: “Something I think we were reminded of was the feelings of nerves, adrenaline and focus against the cheers and celebrations from the crowd. We definitely used that excitement to fuel us through the game.”
MacDonald additionally praised the atmosphere of packed stands: “It feels amazing to be able to play in front of spectators again. Not only is it so exciting to be able to reconnect with family and friends (especially furry friends) after the game, but hearing your classmates cheering you on is one of the best feelings in the world.”
Although the transition to normalcy for fall athletes has proven to be an adjustment, athletes are most of all glad to compete again––returning with lofty goals. When asked what he is looking forward to this season, men’s cross country junior Miles Takiguchi detailed his goals of both qualifying individually for nationals as well as with his team. The inability to properly compete the past two years has not stopped his preparation. He said, “There’s a lot of uncertainty this early in the season about what the competition will be like, but I’ve really been grinding the past year-and-a-half, running most workouts on my own, and have built up a lot of fitness and confidence in myself.” He continued, “I never let up, and always reminded myself, the day will come when the waiting will be over, I’ll get to toe that starting line, and all this work, every grueling day, will have been worth it.”
Although he’s got his mind on success, Takiguchi is careful to remember how grateful he is to even have a season: “Now that it’s finally here, I want to make sure I enjoy it, relish in the process, bond with and have a great time with my teammates, and push myself harder than I ever have before. I’m so excited that the opportunity is finally here again.” Sports are back, and let’s hope they’re here to stay.