Fall Athletes Return to Practice after Months of Anticipation

Katherine+Mersiotis+The+Bates+Student

Katherine Mersiotis The Bates Student

When students were sent home in March, few thought the pandemic would last through the summer, much fewer impact athletics in the fall. Now, after six uneasy months and the cancellation of competition during the fall sports season, student-athletes are back with their teams. 

Due to the pandemic, Bates has instituted a three-stage approach to resume athletic activities. Currently, in Phase 1, athletes may gather in groups no larger than ten and must wear masks when within 14 feet of each other; the capacity of some indoor facilities, such as Alumni Gymnasium and the golf simulator, are limited even further. 

In order to meet these limitations, coaches are meeting with small sections of their teams and holding multiple practices throughout the day. Generally, student-athletes remain in the same group day after day.

All practices are currently limited to one hour each day, and teams may not travel off-campus to practice.

While these restrictions severely limit how practices can be held, most coaches and athletes said that they are just happy to be able to practice at all. 

VOLLEYBALL

Volleyball is one of the teams with the most challenging restrictions. Only five people may be in Alumni Gymnasium at a time due to the poor ventilation, making it incredibly challenging for athletes to practice with the net. 

In a typical year, we have to move so quickly and push so hard early on because our pre-season is short and we play very shortly after arriving to campus,” Head Volleyball Coach Melissa Dean said. “Now, we get to take our time and focus on technical details that we don’t typically get to work on.”

She plans to host practice four times a week, making use of Alumni, but also sports fields on campus. Practices will focus on conditioning and skill development, she said.

Working around schedules to plan practices has been one challenge, she said, noting that academics, testing, and lunchtimes take precedent.

ROWING

In a normal fall, members of the Men’s and Women’s Rowing teams would be out at the boathouse practicing on the Androscoggin. However, Bates restrictions only allow for rowers to practice on individual boats ‒ unless two athletes are roommates ‒ and vans are not available for transportation, limiting the majority of athletes to land workouts, Captain Emma York ‘21 said.  

According to York, 24 athletes are able to practice at once: eight in the erg room in Merrill, eight in the physical education room on the second floor, and eight in the parking lot. With more than 100 athletes on the rowing teams, the increased capacity is necessary for daily practices. 

This is difficult from a logistics point of view because we have to stagger practices throughout the day and week, but it’s also difficult because we’re a very close-knit team,” she said. “We understand it has to be this way, but we’re all a little sad that we don’t get to see each other every day anymore.”

Our team has always prided itself on flexibility whether it’s in regards to demanding practices and early mornings, weather changes that make it hard to row, or scheduling conflicts,” she continued. “So, we’re doing our best to be flexible and make the most of what we have.” 

As in previous years, the rowing teams will fundraise for the Dempsey Challenge later in September. This event fundraises money for the Dempsey Center, a Lewiston-based organization that supports cancer patients and their families. 

Additionally, York said the women’s team will participate in Womxn Run the Vote, erging a combined 680 miles ‒ the distance from Atlanta to Washington D.C. ‒ to “encourage women everywhere to vote, promote intersectional feminism, and raise money for Black Voters Matter.”  

SOCCER

The Women’s Soccer team is running two practice sessions for four for groups of ten each day, Head Women’s Soccer Coach Joseph Vari reported. Athletes are able to do some soccer-specific exercise but are unable to get too close to other athletes. Because of this, Vari said the coaching staff has encouraged defenders to steal passes, rather than tackle teammates.

Soccer is such a fluid sport that it can feel artificial with a lot of constraints added to the exercises. We have to remind our players about staying in a designated box, and not so much on more soccer realistic coaching points,” Vari said, noting that they are very limited with the kinds of exercises they can do.

The team is working to partner with an after school soccer program for middle school students in Lewiston. “We are still working with those constraints and are finding a way to make sure that we can do it safely,” he said.

Once in Phase 3, Vari said he would like to see weekend scrimmages within the team.

Head Men’s Soccer Coach Tyler Sheikh said his team is beginning with simple, technical exercises as per a normal season, modified to meet current guidelines. 

“We all came in with different experiences with soccer over the long break, so these sessions will keep guys moving and return us to basics which is a good thing,” Sheikh said.

The team will take part in a pilot program with Rosati Leadership Academy to build on the normal volunteering athletes would do in a normal season, he said. Additionally, some members of the team exchange messages with members of the Special Olympics as pen pals. 

“I’ve been impressed with the Bates mentality of making the most of a tough situation,” Sheikh said. “I’ve never been more proud to work with our student-athletes and we are extremely grateful to all the admins and support staff that have made it possible to get back out there, so to speak. From faculty to non-varsity students, everyone has been tremendous.” 

TENNIS

Head Men’s and Women’s Tennis Coach Paul Gastonguay said he holds two practice sessions a day, one for the men’s and one for the women’s team, alternating between individual and team play. Within each practice, he works with two athletes at a time. 

It has been amazing to be out on the courts with our athletes again!” he wrote. “Most of our athletes were able to play and train throughout the spring and summer so they are in great shape.”

He plans to have competitions within the team this season so athletes may still develop through competition.

CROSS COUNTRY

The cross country teams have been able to adapt to the new restrictions with little difficulty. Although the teams are unable to train off-campus and must run with masks, athletes are able to run together each day similar to previous seasons. 

The runners on the Men’s Cross Country team have been practicing in four groups each day, Head Men’s Cross Country Coach Albert “Fresh” Fereshetian said. Most of the hour-long practice time is used for running in small groups. 

He noted that the biggest challenge for cross country runners will be wearing masks when they begin doing workouts.

As we all work through this unique and challenging time, the energy and enthusiasm of our students, my team members, has been inspiring,” he said. “[It reminds] me why Bates College is so special.

Similar to other teams, he hopes for the team to compete in some intra-team competitions and virtual events this season. 

Head Women’s Cross Country Coach Jennifer “Jay” Hartshorn said that she feels lucky to be able to take a long term approach to training as cross country athletes normally train and compete all year long during the indoor and outdoor track seasons.

She started the first day of practice with a team bonding activity. Each of the three practice groups chose a theme and took turns adding to the drawing while other teammates did strength and core exercises. 

I am just happy to finally take a step towards practicing together (in groups of 10) for the first time since March,” she wrote. “Practice looks a lot different than it did before, but it is 1000% better than nothing.”

Track athletes have also begun practicing on the outdoor track in preparation for the winter and spring seasons.  

FOOTBALL

According to Head Football Coach Malik Hall, Football has yet to hold a practice. He said practices could potentially begin in October. 

Bates will remain in Phase 1 until the following criteria are met: No resulting outbreaks for a minimum of 14 days; athletic facilities remain open; Bates allows groups greater than 10; surveillance testing is maintained, and permission is received from the administration.

During Phase 2, teams will be able to gather in groups up to 20 outside and may leave campus for training if it can be done in compliance with Bates’ guidelines for off-campus travel. Select indoor facilities will receive modest capacity increases and practice sessions may increase in duration up to 90 minutes.

 Coaches from Bates Golf and Field Hockey teams did not respond to requests for comment.