After five long months spent at home during the pandemic, Worcester State University student-athletes made their highly-anticipated return to campus on Tuesday, September 1. The student-athletes moved in knowing they would have challenges to face, except this time off of the field and court, and outside of the classroom. Adjusting to a campus life where most classes would be held remotely and athletic competitions were suspended was sure to be a daunting adjustment, but the resilience the Worcester State student-athletes had gained from years of athletic competition would help them make the most of this unique time.
Of course, being a student-athlete, the student aspect always comes first. Although the remote learning format is somewhat new, Worcester State students participated in remote learning back in March, when the pandemic first broke out. At this point however, some student-athletes expect the process to be much more seamless. “There will not be as much trial and error,” said Worcester State field hockey senior Kaleigh Cole (North Attleboro, Mass.). She also is confident in her ability to better prioritize her time now that she is more familiar with the remote learning setup.
Professors have taken note of students’ experience with remote learning, too. “(They) will be expecting more from their students this semester,” said men’s ice hockey’s Tim Drevitch (Oxford, N.J.).
Some student-athletes are fortunate to be able to attend classes in person this semester. For example, junior Sam Magee (Salem, Mass.), of the men’s cross country and track & field teams, meets in person for his anatomy and physiology lab once a week. Despite the pandemic, he explained that he feels comfortable going to class with other students and professors. “I think that Worcester State has done all of the right things to ensure that their campus population can return to some sense of normalcy while de-escalating any possible risks that could arise throughout the pandemic,” he said.
With a new education system that will take time to get used to, student-athletes will need to stay on their toes just as they do in competition. Part of this is adapting to new protocols in the classroom, such as wearing masks and wiping down the desks. Women’s track & field senior Rachel Jorge (Dartmouth, Mass.) is staying especially alert this semester. “We will never know what to expect and what challenges will come,” she said in regards to the new situation.
As of September, all fall semester competition has been suspended. In efforts to keep some sense of normalcy, fall sports are allowed to practice a few times a week, following specific guidelines set forth by the State of Massachusetts and modified by the athletic administration at Worcester State.
Student-athletes across campus are thankful they are able to practice, each for their own unique reasons. “I am glad I can spend my senior year with all my friends on the team and have the ability to step out on the field for one final season,” said Cole. Her thoughts are undoubtedly the consensus for seniors of every sport.
Additionally, the ability to practice together after months of being apart is extremely important for student-athletes’ well-being, says Magee. “The time we spend together while out on the track, roads, or trails while training is obviously a big part of our team chemistry, so it will be great to revisit all of it regardless of what precautions we need to take.”
As for winter sports, the athletic department recently announced that teams will be able to practice in the fall semester, and potentially compete starting in January. This news was followed by a sigh of relief from winter sport athletes who had been waiting anxiously for the verdict on their season. Drevitch said he and the rest of his team are keeping their skills sharp in the meantime by spending some time on the ice together for voluntary captains' practices. “Our practices start Monday and will be twice a week until the preseason officially gets started.”
Jorge is committed to staying in shape as well to ensure she gets the most out of her senior season once January comes. “The only way to keep our hopes up for winter is to really just focus on our lifts and skills to be prepared both mentally and physically for the season,” she said. Luckily, Worcester State is allowing access to the DeFeudis Fitness Center, located in the Wellness Center, giving the opportunity for winter sport athletes to keep up with their conditioning.
Due to the circumstances, many precautions are being taken which leads to tighter rules on campus. Residents are expected to remain socially distanced from those who live off campus, not gather in large groups, and be tested for COVID-19 weekly. Between these new expectations and the fact most classes are remote, many students chose to live at home this semester, leaving about half of the usual amount of resident students on campus. Magee is among the student-athletes who decided to return to campus. “It will allow many of us to be grateful for the resources we have that will always be here, and realize that the campus is still full of life despite the physical presence being a little lower.”
As a student-athlete, Jorge was keeping her teammates in mind when deciding if she wanted to live on campus or not. “Being able to have easy access to the Wellness Center as well as my teammates to get lifts in together helped me make my decision to live on campus.”
Most student-athletes end up residing with their teammates, not only because it is convenient to have a roommate with a similar schedule, but because teammates end up forming a strong bond. Student-athletes who live off campus still felt it was important to be with their teammates, as a big part of Cole's decision to get an off-campus apartment was because her teammates who she lived with in the past were doing so.
Worcester State’s main dining hall, located in Sheehan Hall, is operating slightly differently this semester. The usual buffet-style setup has been changed over to pre-made dinners in to-go containers, which allows for quicker turnover in the dining area and the option for students to eat socially distanced in their dorms. Trying to balance a busy schedule, Jorge said she prefers the new system in the Sheehan Hall Dining Hall. “I definitely like the new system because it allows you the option to take anything to go when you do not have time to sit down, whereas before you could only take sandwiches to go,” she said.
Certain locations such as the Student Center Food Court have not re-opened yet, but the University made sure to offer food from all of the fan-favorite stations elsewhere. “I’m really happy they are able to keep the sushi station open by moving it to the Lancer’s Loft,” said Magee. The Lancer’s Loft is another dining option for resident students, and is now operating through a mobile app, so residents can order online and pick up their food when it is ready.
The best thing student-athletes can do during this trying time is to keep a sense of normalcy as best they can. Even after just a few weeks, Cole has already figured out how to maintain the perfect balance between her schoolwork, social life, and part-time job. “I do homework during each school day, hang out with my friends at night, and work over the weekends.”
Magee is trying to keep a similar balance by regularly communicating with his friends, teammates, professors, and coaches. He is keeping his peace of mind by looking forward to next semester, and all the positives that will hopefully come with it. “I hope next semester we'll be able to accomodate more in-person classes and that I’ll be able to see some of my close friends more often once they are living on campus again,” he specified.
For now, student-athletes will continue to be studious, follow the newly set guidelines, and practice and bond with their teammates as much as possible. With high hopes and positive attitudes, Magee and the rest of Worcester State’s student-athletes must continue to take it all one day at a time. “I think the lessons we will learn over the coming months will carry us very, very far as we surpass these times and one day return to competing.”
Story written by sports information intern and women's cross country and track & field student-athlete Kyra Siano '21.