COVID-19 Took One Season and Gave Me Another: Story from a VT Lax 5th Year
A day that vividly sticks out in my mind is March 11, 2020. We had arrived in Providence, Rhode Island a few days earlier to prepare for our game against Brown after going through a few airports to get there. We were living it up on our spring break as a lacrosse team. One thing I cherish about our team is we truly are a family. People say this a lot when referring to their teams but I believe the bond we have is different. We’re the kind of team that goes and has game night or Bachelor viewing parties after a four-hour practice, two-hour study hall, and a one-hour team dinner. This rings especially true on our spring breaks. Any athlete, former athlete, or coach knows that the time that you actually develop relationships with your teammates is on those prolonged trips such as spring break or winter break. Most collegiate lacrosse players have not had a spring break since high school (and that’s if they were lucky) so your team quickly becomes your family.
At this point, the severity of the coronavirus had just been starting to become acknowledged in the United States. When we had traveled through airports, the majority of people were not wearing masks. As I type this, it seems bizarre to imagine that there was even a time that masks in airports were not as common as having a suitcase in an airport. I can honestly say that it was one of those things that I was going to try to shrug off. My ignorance told me that this kind of thing was going to pass like the Swine Flu that I contracted back in elementary school. Things seemed fairly normal before March 11th. That day was the day I realized that my college athletics experience was going to change drastically.
The danger of coronavirus was increasing so there was a fan limit making the stadium eerily quiet as only direct family members or people put on a list were allowed to come. When our coach pulled our team in during the middle of warmups, he said something that none of us were prepared for.
“The Ivy League just canceled their season. This will be Brown’s last game.”
Everything seemed to crash down around us on that day. It was almost symbolic of what was going on in the world. We came in with such happiness and would leave with immense sadness and confusion. We ended up losing the game. Things seemed to be going in a negative direction fast. Our best player tore her ACL in that game. I had not suffered any injuries leading up to that game and I pulled my hamstring doing a routine sprint. It almost seemed like the universe was trying to tell us that this was it.
The days following that game are a blur. Conferences were dropping out one-by-one. First, it was the Ivy League, then it was the Patriot League, the A-10, the CAA; I mean it seemed like a new one was dropping every hour. Our coaches tried to remain positive. We had traveled to Boston after Brown as we were set to play Boston College for ACC play. We were still reviewing film up until the day before our season was canceled.
Boston College canceled their game against us because they were a hotspot for the virus at the time and didn’t think it was smart so we were sent home two days early. In a week, we had gone from leaving Blacksburg with smiles on our faces where everything seemed fine to potentially canceling our season. We couldn’t even fly back home because of how bad the virus had seemingly gotten overnight so we rented a bus and drove eight hours home. At this point, we knew what to expect but didn’t want to believe it until we heard it ourselves. It was a few hours into our ride that I noticed our coaches had gone quiet. I had heard the whispers of our coach talking to people on the phone for the first few hours. Then I saw it.
It had been tweeted. The fate of our season had been tweeted by the ACC.
“Following further consultation with the league’s member institutions, and after previously suspending all athletic activities indefinitely, the ACC has made the decision to cancel all athletic related activities including all competition and practice through the end of the 2019-20 academic year. The unanimous decision was made to mitigate the further spread of COVID-19…”
Gut punching is how I would describe it. You’re at a loss for words. Even though we were expecting this, I will never be able to fully describe the feeling of actually having to read it and come to terms with it. For people like the freshman, their very first season, before it even really started was cut short. For players like me, the seniors, you had to accept that your career was over. There would be no senior day walking arm in arm with your parents down the field that you had dedicated your life to for the past four years. For the coaches, countless hours beyond practice hours to ensure success for their team had gone to waste. It just ended in the blink of an eye. It’s something that you look at from the outside and could think, “You should have seen this coming and prepared for it.” That kind of feeling is something that 100 hours of thinking would not prepare you for.
As I slumped in my seat, I began to think about all of the things I would be leaving behind. I started to realize that my passion for this sport was just as strong as it was when I thought I had hit my peak. I thought about those 6:00 AM practices; how in the winter, I would trudge through the snow in my pajamas at 4:30 AM to walk into the training room where my trainer would be waiting to treat my injured hamstring with no complaints. I thought about the time we played Duke and our game kept getting delayed due to lightning. The game went until midnight the next day. While I remember the game, I also remember my teammates and I breakdancing in the locker room until we were allowed to play again. I thought about riding in a packed car up to the practice field blasting, “Go To Town” while everyone in the car sang at the top of their lungs. I realized that there were so many things that I would miss. Then a few weeks later we got the news.
We were all given a fifth year of eligibility. I had never considered graduate school and had always assumed I would have a job after I graduated. However, as I said in my return post, “When given the opportunity to return to your favorite place, wouldn’t you?”
So I decided to return for one final season. The challenges we have already faced are like nothing I have ever experienced before. In the world of Zoom classes, shutdown gyms, and limited person-to-person contact, one may wonder how any team could expect success to come from the summer of COVID-19. While no one has the perfect answers on how to handle this pandemic, Virginia Tech lacrosse has been putting in work on and off the field to best prepare for their hopeful return in the spring of 2021.
Zoom became our team’s best friend over the summer. We had many, many calls where we would talk about what was going on and what was to be expected. For a long time, gyms and even school fields were shut down in most of our areas. We had to improvise. Our coaches have always provided us with anything we needed so we were all sent a few resistance bands, some jump ropes, cones, and foam rollers. We were instructed to do variations of our normal hang cleans, front squats, and benching with these bands. Our strength and conditioning coach would put out weekly training exercises through an app where we could access those plans whenever we needed it. The coaches and training staff understood that the expectations of our fitness and stick skills would have to drop a bit as we had very limited resources. The incoming freshman had all also had their high school lacrosse seasons canceled. We came back to campus in late August which is when it came to light just how different this year would be.
Before we were able to practice, every person on and involved with the team was required to get a COVID test. Once those were cleared, we were able to “phase” into playing again. This would mean that we would get put into pods of 10 people or less. These pods consist of people who live together and/or see each other frequently. When we go anywhere on campus we must wear a mask. Before we go to train we have to go get screened for a fever at the entrance of the facilities. Assuming everything is okay, we are given a wristband which we must wear if we want to enter any practice field or facility. Upon reaching the field with your mask on, you must walk to your designated pod area, and only then can you take your mask off to practice with your pod. These are only skill sessions as we have not reached contact practice yet. It's interesting to see girls that you have been playing with for three years be 20 feet away from you because they are not in your pod. When we condition, we are a minimum of six feet away from each other.
We all have individual water bottles with our names and numbers on them as well; that’s right, 48 water bottles. These bottles plus our sticks and balls are sanitized after practice and between drills. Lifting is a little different in that you can only lift with two other people and they must also be in your pod. You must sanitize your hands before entering the weight room and masks stay on the entire time to avoid contamination.
We are still in the early weeks of returning so there is still much to learn. This is something that no coach, no player, no trainer, has ever gone through so for what it’s worth, I think VT Athletics is doing a great job considering the hand they’ve been dealt. While I’m unsure of what the future holds for our season, I’m just lucky to have one more year with the people I love doing what I love. I’m sure things will change eventually, but regardless, I know that everyone is just grateful to be back together as a team; even if it is six feet apart.