Fall athletes reflect on changes caused by COVID-19

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Contributed by Mia Pujols Briceno

Senior, Mia Pujols Briceno, tried to focus on the positives of the season rather than dwell on the changes caused by COVID-19.

Every fall, sports start in full swing. Cypress Field is filled with cross country athletes warming up after school, busses are coming and going around the gym, ready to take field hockey, soccer and other fall teams to their games. But not this year.

COVID-19 drastically altered the fall season for athletes. From having to wear masks at practice to training in smaller groups and losing playoffs entirely, no sport remained unchanged in the wake of COVID-19. Reflecting on their season, fall athletes were left with a sense of bittersweetness. On one hand, they were grateful for the season they were able to have. On the other, they couldn’t help but recall what they missed.

Because of COVID-19, many teams were forced to have abbreviated seasons. For girls varsity soccer (GVS), this meant not having any playoffs after the regular season. Senior Mia Pujols Briceno said not having playoffs made it difficult to be motivated throughout the season.

“When you’re in the season, everything is so unexpected: someone gets injured, we have to put another person on the field,” Pujols Briceno said. “During season, didn’t have that pressure of postseason, the ‘we need to win something’ . It felt like the entire season we had our coach telling us we still need to be number one, but as a human being you want that trophy.”

The varsity field hockey season also did not have playoffs. Other changes to the season included shorter practices and a new game schedule, with the team playing the same team twice in a row to abide by COVID-19 guidelines.

Both Kelly and Pujols Briceno said that out of all of the teams they competed against, Wellesley had the strictest COVID-19 guidelines.

“Wellesley was the one place where they had a checklist of every player’s name, and they were making sure only one person was coming to watch them, which is the rule in Massachusetts,” Kelly said. “They were like, “Oh, you’re here for Jaida? Okay, you can go in but no one else can come in for Jaida.”

Not all towns abided as strictly to COVID-19 guidelines as Wellesley. Senior Nikola Radakovic said that at some of his cross country meets it was clear that other teams were handling COVID-19 differently. He said other runners and even coaches would for long stretches of time have their masks below their nose and mouth, a fact he found frustrating.

“I would prefer that they would wear masks all of the time, especially the coach, because he or she is the one leading the team. They need to lead by example and if you’re not wearing a mask as a coach, if you’re just standing around not even doing anything, that’s just irresponsible,” Radakovic said.

These differences were visible in s other sports as well. Pujols Briceno said there was a stark difference between the GVS team and those in the surrounding towns when it came to yearly traditions and team bonding.

“The iconic GVS ‘V’ picture was taken with masks on this year. If you look online at other towns for their group pictures, everyone has masks off. They’re close together; they’re all smiling,” Pujols Briceno said. “That made me sad, seeing all of these teams were doing all these traditions that we usually do in the fall, but at the end of the day we kept it safe as we should. We did the right thing.”

Teams did their best to facilitate team bonding despite the new restrictions. The boys cross country held regular Friday Zoom meetings, Radakovic said, and according to Kelly, the varsity field hockey team was able to hold a few socially distanced picnics after practices.

Looking back on her season, Kelly said she was ultimately happy with how it played out.

“Overall, it was a really good experience and it was nice to know that we were all going through it and learning together how to deal with it. We did the best we could to adapt and overcome our challenges,” Kelly said.

With her final season of soccer at the high school behind her, Pujols Briceno encourages all winter athletes to make the most out of their season and revel in the moment.

“Be grateful. Be grateful that you’re getting something. Maybe my season wasn’t all I expected it to be. Maybe I didn’t win a state championship my senior year, but I’m so grateful that I at least got to play my final year with my friends,” Pujols Briceno said. “ If it happens, just appreciate it. Enjoy every single moment because you don’t know if it could end.”