Athletes reflect on a season like no other

Amid COVID restrictions and added pressure, teams identify the positives

Megan Julian, Sports Editor

With only about a month left of practices for all sports teams here at RWU, teams are reflecting on how the season has been.

“I think the season has been a lot better than I was expecting it to be,” said Jillian Houle, senior midfielder on the women’s soccer team.

Houle said she had pretty low standards coming into this school year considering all the obstacles that university officials and athletic coordinators had never faced before.

“I didn’t think we’d be able to practice much, if at all. I’ve been pleasantly surprised that my team has been able to practice nearly four days every week since the start of the season. Even though we still aren’t doing contact, and even though we can’t play games yet, we are working on really valuable technical and tactical skills that I hope we can implement in competitions come the spring season,” Houle said.

Houle said one of the biggest challenges the women’s soccer team had to overcome was breathing with their masks on during practices.

“Wearing masks to practice has been extremely difficult, especially during the September practices when it was still 70-80 degrees out. I think we’re getting used to the limited air supply that the masks provide us with, and in turn, I feel like it’s got to be making our endurance just eons better, or at least I hope it is,” Houle said.

She said the no-contact rule has been a challenge, but distancing restrictions are not hard to follow since they do use the large turf field.

Many athletes said that they have felt a significant amount of pressure this entire season with COVID.

“I do feel a sense of extra pressure as an athlete during the tough times with COVID. I can sense the fear from the university that athletics is what could be the cause for a brief spike in cases or the reason we close campus. I always carry this fear in the back of my head, but in a way, it makes me more cautious. My teammates and I know the risk the school is taking in letting us play, and we do not take that for granted,” Mancinelli said.

Houle said she absolutely feels an extra amount of pressure as an athlete.

“If I catch the virus, God forbid, and I don’t know it, and I bring it with me to practice and infect all my other teammates, who then go back to their dorms, off-campus houses or even home to their families, I would feel horrible. There’s such a massive potential web that could be affected by me if I were to unknowingly bring the virus to practice — more so than if I were to go to a socially-distanced classroom, just by nature of breathing heavily around other people. Masks or no masks, distance or no distance: heavy breathing is dangerous nowadays.”

She also said she feels a lot of pressure to be a role model on campus to promote mask-wearing.

Tyler Marchioni, senior on the men’s cross country team, believes the team has made the most of this unique season.

“We just recently had a mile race against our own team for fun. That was the closest we have been to a real feel of the season and it was a blast,” Marchioni said.

Marchioni added that it has also been difficult.

“It feels like we have a spotlight on us, but we do feel that it is our responsibility to set a good example and be good role models for the university as a whole.”

As a result of the athletes being constantly watched, they all have been trying to be as cautious as possible.

“We are more careful about what we do on and off the field because we know how impactful even just one poor choice can be,” Houle said. “I’m always wearing RWU Soccer gear, so if my mask slipped below my nose and an administrator walks by me and sees it, it will 100% negatively impact their opinions and feelings toward not just my team, but athletics in general.”

Sam Mancinelli, senior captain of the women’s basketball team, said the team’s time together so far has also been different.

“With being in pods, having teammates be in quarantine and going through each phase has had its ups and downs. I think this season has been good. I get to be with my teammates and coaches. Although it is not the same, we get to be on campus and we get to practice together, a luxury that other schools and students may not have been given the opportunity to do.”

Mancinelli believes restrictions due to COVID guidelines have made the women’s team the strongest and most resilient team she has ever been a part of.

“We have overcome so many obstacles and uncertainties, which in a sense has brought us closer together,” Mancinelli said. “We have found different ways of coming together during times where we are instead encouraged to remain apart. This is resilience. It is strength, and I see it every day in the face of my teammates when we walk into the gym.”

With the positive does come the negative, however, with Mancinelli saying the experience has been tough.

“We must push through wearing our masks for the duration of a two hour practice. We have to remember to consistently sanitize our hands and the basketballs. We can’t play each other in the traditional 5 v. 5 format that brings out the peak of our competitiveness,” Mancinelli said.

Yet she is optimistic — she knows her team has found a way so far this season and that they will continue to do so.

“We will find a way to make it work with the circumstances that we are given,” Mancinelli said.