High school and college sports diverge on approach to seasons



Maya Leschly, who has played soccer both at the high school and the University of Pennsylvania, spent her fall semester completely remote, making in-person practice for her college team impossible.

If 2020 sports seasons were a track race, then the pandemic would be a hurdle, to say the least. Last spring, sports teams across the world were faced with the obstacle of a pandemic. High school teams debated whether or not their seasons would continue, and many sports seasons were canceled.

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, 14 U.S. states did not modify their high school fall seasons, seven cancelled all of their fall competitions, and 30 adjusted their fall seasons so that athletes could practice safely. In Massachusetts, fall high school seasons were modified, but athletes were permitted to play under certain conditions.

Fall sports at the high school remained active this school year, while most college sports have been postponed to the spring, depending on their budget and location. The pandemic has forced both high school and college sports teams to adapt to new circumstances, although in different ways.

Olivia Brown ‘18 currently plays women’s volleyball at Villanova University. Brown’s fall season was postponed to the spring.

Brown said she and a pod of three other girls from the team have been exercising for an hour and a half, a few times per week. While this was not ideal, Brown and her group were motivated to stay active throughout the fall season.

“We usually practice year round, so we still have practices, but instead of being with the whole team, we were divided into groups of four. It’s weird because you need six girls on a court for volleyball, so to be in a group of four felt unnatural,” Brown said.

Another high school alumni, Maya Leschly ‘20, plays soccer at the University of Pennsylvania. Her semester is completely virtual, making the fall season even more challenging. Leschly has been at home, with her family, but in a normal year, she would have arrived on campus in mid-August for pre-season and her regular season would have extended through the fall.

Instead, Leschly said she is practicing from home and bonding with teammates virtually.

“This year, they’ve adapted what we do, so I’m still involved with the soccer team. We have team zoom calls for an hour and a half twice per week, and that’s fun because we get to connect with our teammates. I also talk with my teammates a lot using FaceTime, so I still feel like we’re in touch,” Leschly said. “We can’t practice in person, because none of the students are in Philadelphia, so we have an online fitness packet for the fall.”

Colleges aren’t the only place where sports teams are facing new challenges.

Junior and member of the girls swim and dive team, Taylor Whitley said that social distancing and other complications make it harder to bond with her teammates than in years past.

Before the pandemic, her team would bond before and after practice, but Whitley said that there were more regulations which limit the number of people who can be in the same space.

“It was really difficult to bond as a team because we would go to practice, wear our masks and get into the water in intervals. We would swim for about two hours without a real break because we want to make sure we don’t congregate too much,” Whitley said. “In a normal year, we would use the locker rooms and catch up as a team before practice and then go swim. In between sets, we’d all huddle and talk, and then we’d go back to the locker room and debrief.”

While Brookline didn’t provide COVID-19 tests for student athletes, Villanova University and many other colleges did. Brown said that her team had strict COVID-19 protocols to prevent outbreaks amongst her team.

“We practiced in groups of four, with masks on. We also had surveillance testing, so random people would get selected to get tested. If one of the girls in my pod tested positive, we all had to quarantine. Our team never had any positive COVID-19tests, but some other teams did,” Brown said.

Practicing with a smaller group also meant that they would meet less often. Instead of practicing for two and a half hours, Brown’s team met for one and a half hours. Instead of lifting three to four times per week, they only lifted twice. This was similar to high school sports, as athletes were also limited by the amount of time they were allowed to congregate for.

Whitley said that her team had a limit on the number of people they could have on the team, due to COVID-19 regulations.

“Our team grew a little bit this year because we had a lot of freshmen join. However, we were limited to four people per lane, and there are six lanes, so we couldn’t have more than 30 swimmers on the team,” Whitley said.

At Villanova, the rules for social gatherings varied, and therefore affected certain athletes in different ways. Brown said that the athletes who played indoor sports had more regulations and found it harder to bond.

“Every sports team had to practice in smaller groups, but it depended on whether the sport was indoors or outdoors. Outside sports were allowed to congregate in bigger groups, but since volleyball is an indoor sport, we had to be a little bit more cautious,” Brown said.

Although this season has been more difficult to uphold team traditions and keep the same connection between teammates, Whitley said that she is hopeful for seasons to come.

“We definitely stopped practicing normal team traditions, like secret psych, where we exchange snacks and gifts,” Whitley said. “Bonding was harder, and we had more strict guidelines during practices, but our coach tried her best, and I am excited to see what the next sports seasons are like.”