Courtesy of Rachel Bienstock '21
Fall sports have finally wrapped up after a strange start to school athletics, and it has not gotten any easier for athletes preparing to play. RE’s football, golf, cross country, and swimming teams were able to finish their seasons with players free to take off their masks while competing, but the school’s basketball and soccer teams have been competing with masks, and as the number of COVID-19 cases rises again, it seems unlikely that players of spring sports will be able to compete without them. Many gyms and fields are closing their doors again to slow the rise of a second wave of the virus, leaving players with fewer options for offseason training. High school athletes are starting to ask themselves: will I be ready when our first practice comes around?
“The places out in the middle of nowhere that care less about regulations are open,” said 2020 Carrollton graduate Caroline Carlson, who is getting ready to participate in her first season of track at Villanova. “But it’s scary to think that I have to put myself at risk of infection just to train for something that is so important to me.”
Longer drives and risks have already held back some athletes for months. Others are now seeing the struggle ahead: since COVID-19 has eliminated the opportunity for preseason team play, it is up to the individual to get creative (and sometimes bother their siblings) to get to work and improve.
“I was expecting things to be fine by now,” said Lenny Miller ‘21. “And just as I started thinking about getting back in lacrosse shape, numbers are skyrocketing. I don’t want to endanger my family to get in shape. All I can do is run and find walls around my house to play catch with myself. I’ve also started doing that with a mask on just in case that has to happen during the season.”
“My senior season of lacrosse is coming up and I refuse to be rusty when that first game comes,” said Rachel Bienstock ‘21, expressing her desire to persevere through the adversity COVID-19 presents. “I have a goal in my yard and I just force my brother to play defense on me because I can’t just play with my friends like I would in any other preseason.”
For some, however, practicing alone is especially difficult, if not impossible.
“I’m a goalie,” explained Elliot Sable ‘21, a member of the RE Varsity Lacrosse Team. “So it’s hard to train alone because it’s literally impossible to simulate someone shooting a ball at you. What I have been able to do is focus on the mental side. I’ve been watching videos about using nerves and energy and turning them into focus and execution.”
Goalies face yet another problem, according to Sable. “I do not like the idea (of wearing masks during games) at all,” Sable said. “Because, as a goalie, I have to communicate with every guy on defense which is already hard enough and will only get harder with a mask muffling my voice. I’m also scared that the mask will affect my vision, which would be really bad for the team. Maybe there will be a rule that will exempt goalies.”
Only time will tell how goalies and other athletes will overcome the many challenges that COVID-19 will continue to bring.
There are some who see these challenges as a net positive, however. “I ultimately believe this is a challenge that will end up making us better coaches and players…much faster,” said Dr. Brandon King, a member of the coaching staff on RE’s varsity baseball team. “This situation will structurally force us to maximize our creativity on every level of planning possible. For me, these conditions make for a very exciting time to be a coach.”
For now, spring athletes in search of insight can only look to the experience of winter athletes like Elanah Arnold ‘21, who has experienced the beginning of her masked-up basketball season. So far, the most notable change has been “the number of games we have had to or are going to have to cancel because of other schools’ incompliance with our request for them to wear masks.” Though this will mean there are fewer games in her season, Elanah sees this as better than the alternative.
“I’m totally on board with wearing a mask,” she said. “It could be the difference between a senior season or no season at all.”