Along with the many drastic changes made in light of COVID-19, the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASAC) announced July 18 that it would suspend the Fall 2020 season. Wellesley College Athletics has since worked on adjusting practices, recruitment and student athlete support in order to maintain a safe yet productive environment for student athletes. According to Athletics Director Bethany Ellis, all practices will be held on campus as normally as possible. Each team has specific protocols in order to meet safety and social distancing guidelines.
For First-year recruits, the cancellation of competition hit especially hard; their introduction to Wellesley athletics is far from the normal initiation their older teammates had experienced both on and off the field. Athletes acknowledge that being able to practice on campus is a blessing that many other colleges may not have, but the lack of a “real” season is disappointing. Most are optimistic, however, and are grateful for the extra support their team provides them and for the chance to reconnect to their sport.
“Obviously it’s not ideal, but after a spring of training alone I am just glad to be part of a team again and be able to train with them, even if it’s only a few at a time,” said Kaylee Liu ’24, a member of the Crew team. “At the end of the day regardless of being able to practice at full capacity, I feel lucky as a First-year to already have a community on campus that I know I can rely on.”
Upperclassmen have been pitching in extra support to First-years through team bonding via Zoom calls and upperclassmen pairings. The Crew team has even assigned rising sophomores with similar career plans to incoming First-years.
“I was definitely sad that we won’t have an official season because last year as a First-year I really loved all of our meets and I think my team had a really good season, but given what’s happening in the world right now, I think it’s important to realize at least we get to go on campus and at least we get to train,” said Elizabeth Park ’23, a member of the Swim team. “So we are missing out on the competition aspect, but just being there as a team and going through this strange time together will make us closer and I think it’ll be fun.”
Seniors are also impacted heavily since their last year at Wellesley will not include the normal practices, events and competitions that their previous years had held. Although it is not a normal year nor a normal ending to their college sport careers, most of them are making the best out of the circumstances and hoping winter or spring seasons will be different.
“No one could’ve expected this to happen, so I was definitely very sad but I know that this is what we have to do in order to ensure everyone’s safety and if this is what has to happen for everything to return to normal, then I understand these are the circumstances we have to go through,” said Lauren Park ’20, a (former?) member of the Fencing team.
Coaches and current athletes, however, are more concerned about recruitment for the Class of 2025 than the incoming First-years or graduating seniors, as potential recruits will not be able to come to campus and get the experience of being with their potential teammates. A priority for many coaches is making sure that the Class of 2025 gets an admissions process as close to normal as possible by holding virtual tours and Zoom calls. Most student athletes agree that without that in-person experience, many of them would not have been as excited about applying to Wellesley and playing their sport at the College.
“I was kind of hesitant [about Wellesley], but then I got on campus and I saw how hard the [students] work in practice, what the dorms are like, what the environment is like and I sat in on a couple of classes,” Evangeline Bournias ’24 said. “It’s going to be a little challenging for the Class of 2025 and I feel sympathy for them.”
“I think Wellesley is doing a great job in trying to support recruits, but it’s really hard for them. They’re going to have to apply to colleges and maybe even make a decision on where they’re going without having visited,” Fencing Coach Rob Charlton said. “You can do things over Zoom, you can do a virtual tour … [and] all that. I think the College is doing a terrific job of that sort of thing and trying to make it a dynamic experience for the high school recruits. But it is still hard.”
Although this is certainly an unusual and difficult year for everyone, Wellesley students and administrators are making the best out of the situation.
“I have a lot of faith in the students at Wellesley [and] … the administration that we’re doing things the right way, which makes me feel a lot better,” Charlton said. “I think the people at Wellesley are made of slightly different stuff and are going to be responsible.”
These alterations to normal practices will continue to be tinkered with as the semester progresses, but coaches, students and the administration are confident they can foster an environment that gives athletes the best experience they could have in terms of both safety and athleticism.
“This pandemic has changed so many of our perspectives and norms. It’s devastating to our student-athletes and coaches to not have the opportunity to compete in the sport that they have given so much of their lives towards. But it would be a shame if we didn’t grow through this adversity, something that I am confident our student-athletes will do,” Director Ellis said. “Competitive sports will return. My hope is that when they do, we approach those opportunities with the strength that adversity affords, with a more astute lens towards equity and the value of holistic wellness and a rich sense of gratitude.”