In a year marked by so many changes, PSU Athletics has just concluded its own unique form of “March Madness.” Fall athletes were able to practice and play games this month that normally would have taken place last semester, and these events were held at the same time that the winter season was wrapping up and spring sports were underway. For the first time ever, athletics administrators had to simultaneously juggle scheduling soccer, skiing, and baseball, among other sports, all at once.
With winter competition now barely complete, fall and spring sports will both be running to finish out the school year. PSU Athletics has been managing practice times, livestreaming as many competitions as possible, and keeping student athletes safe through COVID-19 protocols.
Thanks to increased testing, and more experience in mitigating the spread of the virus, fall sports were welcomed to compete along with winter and spring sports this semester. While the football team is only practicing, other fall sports are competing in Little East Conference matchups but not in interleague play. Fall teams will have to forego postseason competitions and end their seasons by April 30, but each fall sport hopes to get five to seven games in. Spring sports will have a similar regular season schedule but will have more opportunity to compete as conference finals and NCAA championships are still taking place as normally scheduled.
While these restrictions aren’t ideal compared to normal play, there is great appreciation to just be out playing. As Women’s Lacrosse Coach Sandra Bridgeman stressed, “When we have that opportunity to be out there and practice together, I’m excited for it… it’s such a crucial thing, that team camaraderie. Likewise, Men’s Soccer Coach Robert Wright explains, “Players are so motivated to play because it just kept getting taken away from them. So now there’s some light at the end of the tunnel, and they’re grateful for anything. They just want to get out and get these games going.” His players agree. “I feel very excited to play this spring. Since we barely had a season in the fall, this is a good opportunity to end my Plymouth State Men’s Soccer career on a good note,” says Captain Linus Lindeberg ’21.
To give the coaches and athletes this opportunity, PSU Athletics has been rising to the twin challenges of the pandemic and the overload of sports teams. In addition to monitoring testing procedures at PSU’s competitors, testing PSU student athletes three times a week, and creating livestreams for fans, Athletics has also been strategically coordinating facility use between all of the teams. “I can’t say enough about how the whole administration is really making a point that it is important for us to get our seasons in,” says Bridgman. “Not just for spring sports but for fall sports to have that same opportunity.”
To facilitate giving each team its opportunity, the Active Living, Learning, and Wellness (ALLWell) North Field House and new turf field see constant use. Each sport has a one-and-a-half- to two-hour block of practice time every weekday between 3 and 11 p.m., with many sports using the weekends as well. Spring sports have been given priority practice time, with the fall sports accepting the late evening hours. This careful arrangement of field time has students like Sydney Dubois ’21, a captain of the Women’s Lacrosse Team, getting in practice time seamlessly. “I haven’t noticed any difficulties when it comes to scheduling involving the fall teams,” she says. “The schedule has been made to minimize conflict.”
A huge help to the cause of the multisport season has been the addition of the new turf field. With the artificial turf immune to mud season, two sets of practices can be run: indoor and outdoor. As Courtney O’Clair, associate director of athletics celebrated, “The turf field has afforded us so many more opportunities. If we didn’t have the turf, I don’t know that we’d be able to pull this dual season off.” The student athletes rave about it, as well. “I love playing on the new turf,” says Women’s Lacrosse Captain Meaghan Allard ’21. “With the new field, we no longer have to go off-campus for practices and games. Also, we are better acclimated to the weather compared to practicing in ALLWell.”
Another one of the many adaptations this season has been grappling with empty bleachers. “We miss the fans,” says O’Clair. “They’re a big part of any sporting event, and it’s definitely been bizarre not having them.” While this spring will remain a spectator-free semester, O’Clair is hopeful that fans can be welcomed back by the fall. In the meantime, games are being livestreamed and can be accessed on the Little East Conference Network website.