University of Mary Washington men’s soccer coach Jason Kilby doesn’t try to mask the reality. His team’s thrice-weekly workouts aren’t being held under ideal circumstances.
Players are split into “functional groups” numbering fewer than 10, and even then, they’re required to maintain eight feet of distance at all times while wearing face coverings. The three-time defending Capital Athletic Conference champions are currently relegated to individual juggling and passing drills.
Thirsty? Hope you brought your own water bottle.
And yet, as UMW athletic teams flock back to playing fields for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic sidelined play in March, the Eagles are choosing to adopt a positive outlook.
“We could be doing nothing right now, right?” Kilby said. “So let’s make the best of a challenging situation. We get to be outside, we get to be around our teammates.”
Similarly, UMW field hockey coach Jamie Tierney-Harris observed that her players appear grateful for any source of interaction, even if it entails an early wakeup call.
“A good majority of them have been with classes online and everything virtual,” Tierney-Harris said. “I think they’re even enjoying the 6 a.m. workouts with our strength and conditioning coaches.”
Kilby’s squad began conditioning on Sept. 21 and took to the practice field two weeks later. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, the Eagles hold strength training in the mornings and practice in the afternoons. UMW teams across all three seasons have resumed workouts in some form, a spokesperson confirmed.
UMW athletic director Patrick Catullo said the school has been developing its plan for a return to play for months under both conference and NCAA guidelines. Back in July, the CAC cancelled all fall sports, and winter sports remain suspended through Jan. 1.
“We are in near daily conversations with our conference, regional partners and University to determine the best path forward,” Catullo wrote in an email.
For Kilby, that path includes an emphasis of technical skills and prolonged evaluation period that will lead (hopefully) to a truncated spring season. A return to true competition is the carrot on the stick.
Until then, there’s “soccer tennis.” The one-on-one juggling game featuring a net is compliant with physical distancing requirements and serves to whet players’ competitive appetites.
“For us, it’s trying to keep our players motivated,” Kilby said. “Every day we’re trying to get a little bit better. We’re talking about our future consistently, about why we’re here and the importance of doing their best.”
Beyond the logistical challenge of drawing up drills around infectious disease protocols, coaches are being forced to get creative in regard to team bonding. Tierney-Harris said her team’s functional groups are organized by common housing, and more often than not, that means each class is working out separately. The Eagles’ freshmen have (so far) missed out on the weekly bonfires and bus rides to away games that initiated their predecessors.
“The one thing we keep reminding ourselves is that we’re not the only team going through it,” Tierney-Harris said. “It’s everybody.”
Joey LoMonaco: 540/368-5045
Concerned about COVID-19?
Sign up now to get the most recent coronavirus headlines and other important local and national news sent to your email inbox daily.