sports are back

Matthew Monts and Anna O'Reilly practice in anticipation of a sailing regatta in Charleston, South Carolina in which the team placed third overall. 

2020 put athletics and the world on pause. Eckerd students helped out their own way, and as of September 10, 2021, 90% of the campus is vaccinated to prevent the spread of COVID-19. With more of the campus vaccinated, this opens up the opportunity for campus life to return to normal and includes the reintroduction of NCAA Division II sports.

Women’s soccer, sailing, men’s soccer and volleyball are the teams working hard to make their fall season worth the year-long wait. Tentative plans have continued into this school year but students, like the athletes of Head Sailing Coach Kellen Bernard, have remained hopeful.

“I’ve kind of gotten used to the constant changing schedule and things being on the fly, but I think the students are handling it really well,” Bernard said.

After having a gameless year in 2020, the current fall season is looking much more hopeful for fall sports teams. The women’s soccer team is particularly motivated, with their season started and first game held on September 2 against St. Leo University here on Eckerd’s turf.

Although that game ended in a tie, the Eckerd Women’s Soccer team won their following games against Barry University (1-0) and Tusculum University (4-0).

Women’s Soccer Head Coach Danielle Fotopoulos is ready for a long season since masks are now only required indoors and no longer on the field.

“The hard part has just been cancelling and rescheduling games because of the protocol that Eckerd has, some schools can’t afford it or just won’t comply so we aren’t able to play them,” Fotopoulos said. “We haven’t been able to play a game since 2019.”

Even the coaching staff voluntarily submitted their vaccination cards, before it was required, to help with a maskless season. The women’s team has a masked seating arrangement they use on buses for away games and have personal goal charts to fill out daily, weekly or with large achievements. The chart goals vary from reaching a certain amount of points during season, goals for workouts or/and winning the NCAA Finals.

“We want to earn 15 points during the regular season when we’re playing these teams here, so that gets us into the postseason. We want to win, we want to be champs, we want to make it into the NCAA (finals),” Fotopoulos said.

Women’s soccer isn’t the only fall sport that has been hard at work preparing to finally compete. With many conferences in Florida having similar mask ordinances as Eckerd, the opportunity to play other universities opens.

Indoor volleyball recently began their season, already in two tournaments. Junior volleyball player Anna Jungjohann shared enforced protocols such as wearing masks when not actively playing. She discussed the impact of interactions with other teams, and how that changed for the worse with new policies, for example; the freshly eliminated tradition of high-fiving or shaking hands with opponents.

“I think it was nice because it expressed respect, before the game, like, a little high five before and after [to say], ‘have fun competing with us.’” 

Additionally, having the competitive year off and cutting interactions with other schools puts the Tritons at a disadvantage. Jungjohann explained that sophomores at competing schools may be “secret weapons” and Eckerd’s volleyball team would never know.

“They have so many new people and every team looks completely new,” Jungjohann said.

While the protocols and policies are fairly similar across Eckerd’s court and field sports, what about those on the water? Junior sailing skipper Cameron Robinson said that because sailing is already a distanced sport, the majority of changes revolve around when they wear a mask.

For sailing, the most challenging mandates to follow were within the team’s relationships. The pandemic placed a hiatus on their bonding such as team dinners, mini golf and ice cream.

“We've definitely done that less. Right now, we're definitely able to do it [again] but we still haven't caught back up,” Robinson said.

Anna Jungjohann touched on missing team bonding as well. The volleyball team tried to overcome this by reading a book as a team and checking in with each other online.

“Those physical contacts like having dinner with each other or something like that, that was definitely missing,” Jungjohann said.

The lack of bonding carried over to this year as protocols are just now relaxing. Due to strict policies within games, teammates cannot physically support their teammates, and instead had to react from their spots.

“Oh man, I wish I could just give that person a high five or something like that but it wasn't allowed,” Jungjohann said.

With a large number of seniors graduating last year and pandemic-related retirements from the Triton Sailing team, only few are left who ever experienced a regular season. Thus, juniors and seniors must demonstrate what it’s like for those who haven’t yet participated.

“This year, it's definitely helped mentally. Just because we're able to go to competitions now,” Robinson said, “So it's not just putting in the effort, and getting nothing out of it, which I feel like some people have taken for granted.”

Robinson stuck it out through the thick of the pandemic and left some advice for first-years going into sports with the unknown possibilities of Delta on its way;

“For freshmen athletes, Delta will probably become a concern at some point. But if you can get through COVID, you’ll still have plenty left of your season, even if it becomes an issue,” said Robinson.

As one of the few sports that could easily socially distance last year, sailing has spent time preparing to make waves. Head Sailing Coach Kellen Bernard is new to Eckerd’s coaching staff and has worked extensively with his new group of first-years during Autumn Term.

“I think there is a sense of community, but it's different than it was, say, five years ago. We’ve been lucky enough to be able to sail, it was very restricted and very limited but it was a great outlet for a lot of people who were learning from home,” Bernard said.

For the coed sailing team, unity in and out of the water is important for the athletes. As one of the only sports at Eckerd that has year-round competitions and training, they have to make sure they are prepared for the upcoming season.

The team is made of predominantly seniors and first years, but Bernard is confident in their potential for the future.

“My goal coming in as a new coach is to make Eckerd a top 20 sailing team in the country. A big part of that goal is getting us to Nationals...I think we’re fully capable of it, I think we have a great group of 15, [with] tons of potential,” Bernard said.

The sailing team will be hosting meets in September and October with dates to be announced. Like other fall sports, they will have their schedule updated online, and emails will be sent before events.

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