With Monday, Sept. 14 being the first day of varsity athletics at Wellesley, coaches and athletes are taking a different approach thanks to COVID-19. The Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASAC) announced on 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.
Under new athletic policy, all varsity athletes currently living on campus are able to practice with their teams three times per week, but will not be participating in any competitions. This is quite different from a usual year, when athletes and teams typically practice six times per week during their competitive season. Wellesley varsity teams also normally compete in the NEWMAC conference, which consists of 10 collegiate institutions within Massachusetts and Connecticut. Extensive health and safety precautions have been put into place by the College to ensure a safe training atmosphere.
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 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.”
In addition, after one week of practice, it is clear that older students are pitching in to help make sure First-year students feel welcome on their teams, through team bonding via Zoom calls and upperclassmen pairings. The Crew team has even assigned rising sophomores with similar career plans to mentor 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.”
After one week of practice, most athletes have positive reactions to the new program.
Liz Sugg ’23, who is beginning her second season on the Lacrosse team, is hopeful about her growth as an athlete, despite not being able to compete this year. As a sophomore, as far as she knows, she will not be allowed to live on campus. Therefore, she assumes that she will not be allowed to practice during the spring semester, which is Lacrosse’s competitive season.
“Not being able to experience a full length season in the spring [of 2020] was certainly a let down. It was heartbreaking to see the seniors’ season get cut short as well, and not having an understanding for what Wellesley Lacrosse would look like in the seasons to come certainly put us all at unrest,” Liz says regarding her first season, last spring, which was almost entirely cut short due to the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic in Massachusetts. “As the summer started approaching, it was clear that the fall, and potentially the spring, would not be the same. That being said, I feel fortunate to be back on campus and on the field this fall. The athletics department is certainly taking initiative to provide a safe environment for athletes to continue play in some capacity. I’m excited for what this season holds.”
This year at Wellesley, in terms of athletics, is very different for incoming First-year athletes, who have not yet experienced a “normal” year at Wellesley.
“It has been an odd adjustment because of the masks and social distancing but one of the pluses of this season and the circumstances is that we have a lot of time to work on skills and fundamentals,” Caitlin Papagelis ’24, a First-year on Field Hockey, describes. “As a First-year I feel super welcomed by all my upperclass teammates and since we had a later start to the season the freshman class has also had the chance to become really close! I’m really looking forward to the rest of the season, and the new turf has been great!”
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 future 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. Coach Charlton confirmed this by saying, “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.”