After an extended wait, fall sports have returned to practice at Salisbury University.
On Oct. 1, the football, field hockey, volleyball and men’s and women’s cross country teams were able to begin training. Men’s and women’s soccer had their first practice on Monday.
The return to the field has not come without obstacles.
On July 21, the Capital Athletic Conference and Salisbury University announced the suspension of competition for sports in the fall due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The New Jersey Athletic Conference made the same announcement one week later.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association said teams would be permitted to practice and workout during the fall semester, provided Center for Disease Control and Prevention, state and local guidelines were followed. They allotted 114 days for practices and games to take place during the 2020-21 academic year.
Head football coach Sherman Wood said this number was all the inspiration his team needed to give their all in getting back on the field.
“Our slogan was that we have 114 days to win a championship,” Wood said. “That’s the motivation for our guys, that after that [announcement], every little bit counts.”
The beginning of the semester was a tough time for both student-athletes and fall coaching staffs. Attempting to prepare for a season that was largely up in the air has a unique set of challenges.
Wood said one of the biggest goals for the football staff was to keep communication with the team.
“When the decision was made, our kids were down,” Wood said. “It was pretty tough for them. It was our duty to make sure that we all as a staff were in touch with our kids.”
The field hockey team has faced a unique situation as well.
With nine freshmen on the roster this season, senior goalkeeper Dom Farrace said the team has had to find remote ways to get to know each other.
“We’re doing everything we can around it,” Farrace said. “We’re doing Zoom meetings, group chats, contacting each other as much as possible … it’s all been a process.”
Despite the challenges, some good has come from adapting to a remote setting.
Wood said the limitation on in-person visits to campus helped the program strengthen their recruiting process. He also mentioned the accountability that comes with being a student-athlete while trying to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“If you’re part of a team, you can’t make selfish decisions,” Wood said. “That was our biggest deal and it opened up a few eyes, especially with the new guys.”
The return to the field comes at the perfect time for Farrace.
As the only senior on the field hockey roster, Farrace hopes for the opportunity to compete this spring.
“It would be amazing,” Farrace said. “I could finish my senior year out just on time, the right way.”
All SU student-athletes are required to get tested every 14 days, twice as often as the general student body. In addition to this, masks are worn in the locker rooms and throughout the duration of practices and any equipment used is disinfected after every practice.
Due to the large roster, the football team split practices into two sessions to ensure social distancing would be possible.
Wood said that despite the adjustments, the early practices have gone well.
“It’s been working great,” Wood said. “The guys are excited, we’re all happy just to be out here doing what we love the most.”
Chamberlin said these practices have meant more than just preparing for game days.
She said it is important for the student-athletes to have the opportunity to do what they love, particularly for their mental health.
“Field hockey has been a big part of their life for many, many, years,” Chamberlin said. “To rip that away from them, it takes a mental toll … They need that outlet, to do something they love to do and get back to some sense of normalcy.”
By NICK LEWIS
Featured photo: Brad Boardman image.