SALISBURY, Md. – On July 21, the Capital Athletic Conference and Salisbury University announced the suspension of fall sports competitions. A week later, the New Jersey Athletic Conference released its suspension news which affected the football team. Instead of being defeated by the news, SU student-athletes, coaches, and support staff got creative in how to deliver a worthwhile athletic experience in the fall semester with a commitment to the health and safety in the COVID environment.
The NCAA allowed teams to practice and workout despite no competitions during the fall semester while continuing to follow CDC, state and local guidelines regarding COVID-19. The NCAA permitted 114 days of practices and games during the 2020-21 academic year.
When students returned to campus in August, the athletic training staff and the sports performance coaches implemented protocols to make sure that student-athletes are fit for practices and workouts during the fall.
"Everyone wanted to jump back out there when we came back," stated Matt Nein, SU's Director of Sports Performance. "We needed some time to make sure that everyone was fit and ready to stay healthy not only on the field but in the long term."
Despite a small setback with a spike in positive cases following the Labor Day holiday, that did not deter plans to get practices and workouts restarted when it was clear that the numbers were going down across campus.
"Testing is an important report card to see how we are doing not only as an athletic department but as an entire school," said SU's head athletic trainer Pat Lamboni. "We are doing a lot better for our grade but it takes everyone doing the right thing. We wouldn't be back to practice if we weren't doing well and committed to everyone being safe."
On Thursday, Oct. 1, the day came for the start of practices for fall sports. Volleyball got the day started with a 6 a.m. practice before football and field hockey took to the turf and men's and women's cross country started training in the afternoon. Men's and women's soccer began training on the field on Monday, Oct. 5.
"It was a testament to the hard work of our athletic training staff and sports performance coaches that we were able to even get to this point," said Justin Turco, head volleyball coach. "Those two staffs along with the university administration worked tirelessly to make sure that we were prepared to practice and do it safely. It is encouraging to be back at practice and be at our 'happy place' at our home on the court."
The practices looked and felt like business as usual but you can't miss the changes that were needed for the "new normal." All student-athletes, coaches and support staff wore masks, equipment is being disinfected after each practice, there were socially distanced huddles and celebrations but the positive energy was felt all across campus.
"The work ethic is strong and the comradery is as important as ever," stated Jim Jones, head cross country and track & field coach. I'm looking forward to seeing the improvement this fall through these opportunities to practice and get better day-by-day."
"We're going in the right direction," head field hockey coach Dawn Chamberlin said. "If we can continue down this path and stay focused, we will be fine. There is a sense of normalcy which is key for mental health."
"It was a lot of fun to be practicing," said men's soccer junior Cullen Myers. "My teammates and I have been waiting for this moment since we got back to campus. We are going to make the most of any chances we get to be on the field."
For newcomers, it was the first time to be in person with their teammates.
"It felt really great to come out and be able to play and compete with my teammates," said Jordan Scott, a freshman on the women's soccer team "We weren't sure that we were even going to have this opportunity in the summer but I'm grateful that we have this opportunity."
With the large squad size for football, practices were split into two sessions to follow the social distancing protocols.
"We had to be creative with our practices but we are making it work," stated head football coach Sherman Wood. "We are providing that individual attention which will be a big plus for development and teaching. The big key is to be ready for whenever that time comes to play games."
When the time comes for maroon and gold to take the field for games, matches, or meets, the training time in the fall will be valuable to continue the winning tradition at SU.