The NCAC declared unanimously on Friday, Oct. 16, that there would not be any traditional conference play for the winter season. The news was a shock to many because Allegheny currently has zero total active cases and 29 students overall that tested positive out of nearly 5,000 tests conducted.
Since Allegheny has been following COVID-19 guidelines, athletes such as Batmunkh Munkhjargal, ’23, a freestyle and breaststroke swimmer were hopeful that a 2021 NCAC winter season could still be possible.
“(The Allegheny Swimming and Diving team) were all so excited to have conferences since we were following protocols but then everything just got cancelled,” Munkhjargal said.
Allegheny students received an email from Bill Ross, the Director of Athletics and Recreation the same day the NCAC cancelled the winter season. The email also mentioned that despite the cancellation of a regular NCAC season, teams still could play competitively.
“This decision allows for greater flexibility in choices around competition while adjusting to evolving safety considerations related to virus transmission,” Ross wrote. “As an institution, this decision means we will have the possibility to compete against NCAC or non-NCAC schools, always while strictly following the protocols set forth by the Allegheny College Health Agency.”
Allegheny’s coaches are currently in the process of speaking with fellow NCAC coaches about scheduling intercollegiate games. Max Niggel, Head Coach of the Men and Women’s Swimming and Diving team, remains optimistic that a swim meet could take place during the school year.
“I really hope that we’re able to do dual meets, intrasquad meets and smaller invites as well as virtual (meets),” Niggel said. “We are already allowed to do virtual meets. We are hoping to get two intrasquad dual meets and smaller invites.”
Unlike many other collegiate sports, swimming and diving can compete against other schools virtually. The competitors would swim in their school pool, and racing times would be compared online. Facing off against other schools electronically would be a different type of experience that swimmers and divers are used to. Nevertheless, Munkhjargal also believes that swimming asynchronously could provide a unique experience.
“It will be a different experience,” Munkhjargal said. “You just don’t know who you are competing with. You are competing yourself. I got to get faster.”
However, Munkhjargal added that there could be significant drawbacks during virtual races.
“It’s way harder (virtually),” Munkhjargal said. “When you are on the deck and then right before you jump in the pool, there is this feeling that ‘okay, (I’ve) got to go faster.’ Then you look at the people around you; your team is cheering for you and the other teams are screaming. The whole atmosphere is way better.”
Having matchups in a safe environment was crucial to the NCAC swimming and diving coaches’ meetings. The coaches knew there was a possibility of the winter season not coming to fruition after the 2020 spring semester became remote. Thus, Niggel as well as his fellow coaches have been carefully planning how to conduct collegiate events for quite some time.
“The NCAC swimming and diving coaches have been meeting biweekly since July,” Niggel said. “We decided collectively as coaches in the conference even though we are competitors that we wanted to put our brains together to give our students athletes the best ideas as far as to keep them in shape, how to motivate them and how to meet them in shape.”
Likewise, Men’s Basketball Head Coach Bob Simmons took similar steps in ensuring a successful athletic school year with or without regular conference matchups.
“The coaching community is very close, tight and we work together well,” Simmons said. “I have no doubt that there will be more brainstorming (sessions), more ways to pull off more games. They won’t be conference games, but it won’t be scrimmages. There will be non-conference games … with teams in our conference.”
The NCAC announcement still complicates the ability to schedule head-to-head matchups. Nonetheless, the announcement did not affect the way the team practices nor deter their work ethic. Simmons planned out a fall practice schedule ahead of time, and since Allegheny athletics are currently in Phase Two, teams are allowed to practice in larger pods. Simmons has confidence that Allegheny can reach Phase Three, where he would be able to coach intrasquad games.
Simmons continues to focus on the positives with his team during the 2020-21 school year. Simmons understands that while his team was placed in an unfortunate situation, it could have been worse.
“There’s so much bad going on in the world, why not look at the positives?” Simmons said. “We could have had our season cancelled and not play a game and be done. We get to work together, play the game we love with our brothers, and represent Allegheny College and our alumni. Those are a lot of positives, so let’s embrace those.”