How Teams Are Training During a Fall Season Without Sports

Conferences around the country have postponed the fall sports season in 2020, including the North Coast Athletic Conference. Thus, Allegheny will have no outside competition during the fall season. Although there is no intercollegiate competition this fall, teams will still practice and work out but are obligated to follow COVID-19 guidelines. As a result, coaches are put in a difficult position to find the most effective way to practice during the pandemic.

Since March, coaches have been checking up on their athletes and making sure they were training in the extended offseason. Even though the coaches checked in on the players, the players held themselves accountable. The softball team created a buddy system to make sure everyone was training and practicing.

“Our upperclassmen in particular split the group up into accountability groups,” Head Coach Beth Curtiss explained. “They all just tried to keep in touch with each other to make sure everyone was staying in shape, and being optimistic that everyone will be back this fall and work together.”

Curtiss also noticed the difference in morale for the players since returning to campus.

“I do feel like there is a lot more excitement,” Curtiss said. “They are happy to be back on campus. They are excited by the fact that we get to work out and get back to the game that we all really enjoy, appreciate and love.”

While the coaches and players are happy to reunite with each other, it will still be a long time before normal practices can occur. Kelly Barzak, head coach of the women’s volleyball team, explained the three phases of the athletics plan. Phases one and two will be two weeks long, while phase three will be in effect unless a spring season begins.

“In phase one, it will just be workouts,” Barzak said. “In phase two, we will start to do some practices. I believe that we still have to keep our social distance and we still have to keep our pods. I cannot intermingle our two groups of 10. For those first four weeks, there will be two groups of 10 that will not intermingle at all. Phase three is more of our regular practices.”

The three-phase plan is the current plan for all Allegheny teams. Teams can begin practice starting on Sept. 14. Teams will section their players off into pods, which splits the team into smaller groups so that there can be fewer in-person interactions. Teams had to take other precautions such as restricting which players can go into each pod because roommates cannot be in separate groups to lessen the spread of the virus. Teams also have to ensure that practices are socially distanced, coordinate class schedules and ensure everyone is wearing masks unless players’ heart rate is up. Additionally, the three-phase plan is subject to change as coaches must closely watchupdates to COVID-19 guidelines.

“Every single day something new changes, so we just have to be on the up-and-up on regulations coming from the NCAA, coming from the governor and coming from our own health agency at Allegheny,” Barzak said. “Every single day we are reevaluating how that is going to look.”

Barzak also mentioned other new NCAA rules for this year that have changed because of COVID-19. Instead of the traditional 15 practice days in the fall, teams will have 114 days worth of practices, competitions, mandatory meetings and mandatory workouts throughout the entire school year.

Many Allegheny coaches are planning on having around two days of workouts and three days of practices starting on Sept. 14. Ashley Hughes, head coach of the women’s lacrosse team acknowledged that because there was an extended hiatus as a team, the workout routine might be a little different.

“We have to start a little bit slower in terms of our conditioning and training,” Hughes said. “I’m not anticipating them being in as good of shape as they typically are.”

Although it might take teams a little longer to get back into midseason form, the coaches are excited that teams are training as a group again. Angelo Panzetta, head coach of the men’s soccer team, indicated that workouts and practices will provide crucial information to evaluate his team.

“I am so excited to see how the (first-years) compete with the current players and start to develop a depth chart,” Panzetta said.

Fall sports such as volleyball and soccer have a chance to be played in the spring. Although a spring season could happen for all sports, Allegheny’s coaches are erring on the side of caution. Panzetta describes what a potential spring season could entail.

“In my mind, I am thinking there is a legitimate probability that we can get three to four matches in,” Panzetta said. “As for us playing a full conference schedule in the spring, I know that would be very difficult at Division III schools because of facilities and personnel.”

There are few guarantees for athletics during the pandemic. Coaches and athletes are hoping that a spring season can happen, but that may not be decided until 2021. For now, Allegheny’s coaches are looking forward to reuniting with their respective teams and beginning to practice.