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Student-athletes react to fall sports seasons cancellations

As the coronavirus continues to affect millions of people across the globe, many collegiate athletes in the United States have had to cope with the fact that there will be an extremely limited, if any, fall season for their sport. 

As of July 27, intercollegiate varsity athletics at Brandeis have been suspended until Dec. 31, which includes all fall sports (men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s cross country, volleyball and men’s and women’s tennis) and some winter sports that start during first semester (men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s fencing, men’s and women’s swimming and diving and men’s and women’s track and field), according to a Brandeis Judges article. Brandeis Athletics promises to update athletes when it has new information. 

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) announced on Aug. 5 that all Division III championships for fall sports during the 2020-2021 season would be canceled because of the “COVID-19 pandemic and related administrative and financial challenges,” according to a press release. The Division III Administrative Committee within the NCAA also recommended that member schools not compete during the fall season, reads another press release. For the 2020-2021 academic year, full-time enrolled student athletes that opt-out of participating in athletics for the season would get a two-semester/three-quarter extension of their eligibility.

The Brandeis Hoot spoke with players, captains and seniors on fall sport teams about their reactions to the cancellation of their seasons, how they are coping with the unexpected circumstances and to discover what they are doing to both stay in shape and stay connected to their teammates, both on and off campus.

Daria Bakhtiari ’21, Women’s Soccer

After her semester studying abroad in Copenhagen this past spring was cut short, Daria Bakhtiari headed back to Massachusetts with only one thing on her mind: getting back on the soccer field and chasing after a national championship title for one last season. 

“I had everything to look forward to,” she commented in a message to The Hoot, also noting that, “I was training like crazy when I got home from abroad: running, lifting, and touching a soccer ball every day. I was so excited to come back to Brandeis after being away and playing again with some of my favorite people.”

She spent her summer with this mentality, knowing that she had nothing to lose once she got back to campus this fall, while also wanting to make the most of her cherished senior season. At the same time, Bakhtiari understood the reality of the situation early. As cases of COVID-19 began to rise, she watched as school after school began to release dreaded news, preparing herself for a statement from Brandeis to be released come July. 

“When we received the email about the season being cancelled, I was ready for the news,” said Bakhtiari, “[I] got the initial shock reaction out earlier than most others.”

Though unsurprised and thoroughly disappointed, Bakhtiari has kept her head held high and is committed to helping her teammates, as well as herself, prepare to take the field next season, as she plans on using her remaining year of eligibility to return in the fall of 2021.

That said, Bakhtiari advises other athletes undergoing similar challenges to continue training as if a normal season were on the horizon, saying that, “This cancellation has really shown me to be grateful for what you have, because sometimes you don’t realize how important something is until it’s gone. I feel so lucky to have the choice of coming back next fall… and I am using that as motivation for training to be the best player and person I can be.”

Ruby Siegel ’23, Women’s Soccer

Before hearing the official announcement from the Department of Athletics, rising sophomore Ruby Siegel received a text message from a teammate while at work, alerting her that the fall soccer season she had been waiting for all summer had finally been canceled. Like her other teammates, she was rather unsurprised by the news, saying in a message to The Hoot, “I was definitely sad and disappointed, but ultimately I understood that sports needed to take a back seat with what is happening.”

While the coveted University Athletic Association (UAA) competition will not take place like usual in 2020, Siegel knows that not all hope is lost and is looking forward to reuniting with her teammates both on and off the field. Despite the fact that training will be restricted in terms of health and safety protocols, Siegel commented, “ I’m glad we can still come together and train in different ways,” explaining that she and fellow teammates will train in small groups, will receive workouts from strength and conditioning coach Jay Mendoza and will either be at Gosman or on Gordon Field with any chance they get. 

In addition to these chances to come together in terms of athletics, Siegel expressed that she and her teammates have also been able to connect socially over the summer, participating in many Zoom calls, group chats and movie nights. As training groups will be small during the fall semester, they plan to continue with virtual weekly meetings that will bring the whole team together in a safe, meaningful way.

As she is still an underclassman, Siegel will have more opportunities to compete in her Brandeis uniform during future years. Staying motivated for next fall, she commented that this season’s cancellation “is a good reminder that nothing is guaranteed. The time that we have on the field and with our teammates is really special.”

Michael Burch ’22, Men’s Soccer

With everyone apart and at home for the summer, Brandeis Men’s Soccer resorted immediately to their team group chat after the press release broke, revealing their emotional reactions to the news of a canceled fall season. Since then, Michael Burch has been quite busy as one of the team’s captains, planning for what workouts might look like during the upcoming year, as well as searching for ways to keep his teammates engaged and maintain a constant flow of communication during these unique circumstances.

In addition to being stripped of all opportunities to compete in 2020, Burch is also disappointed in the fact that practices will not resemble their usual form, as only small groups of less than ten players will be permitted at one time, and no contact will be allowed. In his opinion, practice is the best time for teams to push each other and ultimately get closer, so missing out on these opportunities is not ideal. 

Burch’s sense of motivation is still ablaze, however, commenting in a message to The Hoot that, “I think that this is some of the best motivation anyone could have. Something we all love has been taken away from us, so we will not take it for granted. It will make us work that much harder so that in future seasons, we can make the most of them and play as well as possible.”

As he takes the field in a different fashion this year, Burch shared some advice he continues to give to his fellow teammates, hoping that they remain focused on their long withstanding goals. He strives to remind them that, “The goal does not change, it is just delayed. Take it one day at a time and just remember that every new day is one day closer to doing the thing you love and competing with your teammates.” He looks forward to taking advantage of opportunities that come his way in 2021, spending this year pushing his teammates to never lose sight of the light at the end of the tunnel.

Josh Lombardo ’21, Men’s Cross Country

Like many other senior collegiate athletes across the country, Josh Lombardo had hoped to finish his final collegiate year strongly but figured “it would be better for me to expect the worst, so I would not be so disappointed, or crushed when the [cross country] season was cancelled,” he wrote to The Hoot in an email. 

After finishing first for the men’s cross country team during the New England regional championships his junior year season after missing the first half of the season to injury, Lombardo was looking forward to running with his teammates, as well as trying to help the team earn a bid to the national championships. 

As one of the cross country and track and field captains of the men’s team, Lombardo and the other captains on both the men’s and women’s teams are working to make sure the team stays connected, especially for their teammates staying home, through weekly trivia nights, office hours and other group activities over Zoom. “I’m really just trying to be there for my fellow teammates to talk with, whether it be over Zoom or on the phone,” he explained. “Also, by being allowed to still train with teammates this semester—keeping in mind the safety protocols—we can still continue to better each other during each run and training session.” 

As a three-sport athlete, Lombardo is continuing to hold out hope for the possibility of an indoor or outdoor track season later in the year. “In terms of motivation, I enjoy training with my teammates, and at this point in my career I can confidently say I truly love running,” he wrote to The Hoot. “Just lacing up my running shoes everyday is something I need at this point, as it is a stress reliever during the school year.” 

Lombardo asks non-senior athletes to think about the importance of one’s respective sport in their life. “Without a competitive season, do you still enjoy training with your teammates?” he asked. “Although this year will be different and challenging, I hope so, because I feel the main reason we become collegiate athletes is because we truly love our sports, considering we still balance, academics, extracurriculars, and a social life.” 

Bridget Pickard ’23, Women’s Cross Country

After her rookie season was cut short in the spring because of COVID-19, Bridget Pickard felt a strange sense of relief after her fall cross country season was also cut because she knew having a season was not feasible, she wrote to The Hoot. 

“I’d rather hear earlier as opposed to later about this, and being able to adjust my mindset early on helped me to accept the reality of athletics this fall,” she wrote.

Though not able to compete, Pickard has continued to train throughout the summer and was excited to see if she had improved her times after training for months due to the cancellation of her outdoor track season in spring 2020. With her return to campus, she is looking forward to training with her teammates again in a format modified from that in previous years. “I am going to make sure I stay consistent in my training so I can come out of this lull in competition even stronger than before,” she wrote to The Hoot. “I suspect racing will feel especially cathartic when we get back to business.” 

Pickard also sees this time as a chance to mentally rest and hopes other athletes are doing the same. “Competing is important, but having a break has proven to be beneficial,” she wrote. “I’ve focused a lot on my training and how my body feels, and I think any athlete is capable of putting in some time for their mental health while we take a break from competing.” 

Hannah Saadon ’21, Women’s Volleyball

There are few things that athletes look forward to more than their senior season, with Hannah Saadon being no exception. Knowing that she and her teammates had put in so much hard work during the spring and summer offseasons, Saadon was excited to see those efforts come out on the court this fall, but at the same time knew the reality of the situation at hand. Even more than that, Saadon was eager to come back to campus and spend time with her friends and teammates for one last hurrah. 

“I was really just looking forward to having one last season with my team that I love so much, and to be able to have all of the fun moments and memories that have truly made my college experience what it is,” she wrote in a message to The Hoot.

Despite not having a conventional season on the horizon, Saadon has spent time emphasizing to her team the importance of pushing through, continuing to train and supporting each other throughout this time. Along with another teammate, she organized a fitness competition to engage with over the summer, making quarantine workouts a little more enjoyable for Brandeis Volleyball, while also using these as a means to hold everyone accountable and stay prepared for next year.

While they may not be able to be together physically, Saadon recognizes the importance of maintaining team culture and values, especially during these unprecedented times. 

“As a senior, I think it’s really easy to disconnect from the team after the news of the season being canceled, but I think now more than ever is the most important time to really be present and to make sure you are staying connected with everyone,” she mentioned in a message to the Hoot. 

For Saadon, her senior season will look quite different on the court, but her stance on leadership remains undeterred. She adds, “The season may be canceled, but we are still a part of the team, and playing doesn’t change that.” Saadon looks to set an example and leave her mark on the team before she graduates, doing so with a sense of optimism, hope and encouragement for both herself and her other teammates.

Editor’s Note: Josh Lombardo is a member of the men’s cross country team and a staff writer for The Hoot. He did not contribute to the writing or editing of this article.

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