Two years—it has been almost that long since the UChicago fall sports teams were able to compete.
When spring sports sadly had their seasons cut short in March 2020, many were optimistic that the spread of COVID-19 would eventually slow to a level at which it would be safe not only for students to return fully to campus but also for those athletes on the volleyball, football, soccer, and cross country teams to have a normal season. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Instead, fall athletes soon joined their spring counterparts in the pain and frustration of having their opportunities to participate in games and meets taken away from them.
However, fall sports teams were at least allowed to practice during what would have been their season, albeit with many guidelines and precautions, including but not limited to weekly COVID-19 testing and masking requirements.
Even though only being able to practice does not quite match the excitement of competing to the cheers from fans, players and coaches were just grateful for the opportunity to be together, playing the sports they love. And everyone made sure to make the most of those opportunities, whether through organizing intra-squad scrimmages or celebrating their fourth-years who were unable to compete in a normal setting one last time. Even though they had to sacrifice so much and take even greater care when it came to avoiding infection, they persevered and kept pushing through the tough practices all while staying positive and supporting each other.
But finally, after nearly 730 days, they’re back. And I dare say that the resiliency these athletes showed throughout the pandemic will continue into their respective seasons.
With the return of fall sports, new challenges will most definitely present themselves, experience being the main one. More specifically, third- and fourth-years are the only ones with any sort of experience playing in a college setting and the heightened level of competition that comes with doing so. As a result, coaches will have to come up with a plan to integrate young players as soon as possible and prepare them for what they will see throughout the year.
With challenges, however, come excitement and determination. “I’m excited to get back to competing one last time with this great group of women, both new and returning,” said fourth-year volleyball team member Temilade Adekoya. “We’ve been through a lot of changes in the last two years due to COVID and graduating seniors and even our coach [changing], but as preseason progresses, I can tell that those changes haven’t deterred us from our goals.”
The volleyball team, No. 9 for DIII in the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) preseason poll, looks to carry on with its historic success from 2019. The team started their season on Wednesday, September 1 at UW–Whitewater, dropping a close match 3-2. The team returned for the Gargoyle Classic held at Ratner Athletics Center on September 3 and 4 and swept through No. 18 Saint Benedict and St. Olaf without dropping a set.
Both the men’s and women’s soccer teams made their 2021 debut on that first Wednesday of September as well. The men, ranked No. 19, kicked off their season with a win at home against Kalamazoo, 1-0, and a 2-1 victory over Wabash with the hopes of returning to the late rounds of the NCAA tournament as they did in 2018 and 2019.
The women’s team, ranked No. 15, traveled to Augustana wanting to start strong and begin their season with a win. “We have been eager for this season for two years now and are more motivated than ever to make this the most memorable and successful season yet,” said fourth-year forward Adriana Shutler. She went on to add that the team will be embracing an “attitude of gratitude,” or “finding a reason to appreciate both the big and small things alike every day in order to find joy in the present because we don’t know what the future will hold for us.” In their opening games, the team has collected 13 goals without conceding a single one.
Also of note, the men’s and women’s cross-country teams hit the ground running, both literally and figuratively, at the St. Francis Invitational in Channahon, Illinois, on Friday, September 3. Both teams were ranked within the top 15 in the country at the start of the season. The women emerged as the meet’s winner while the men finished runner-up.
Finally, the first week of competition was capped off by the football team taking on Washington University in St. Louis on Saturday, September 4, at home on Stagg Field. Led by a dominant run game, the Maroons captured a thrilling 31-21 victory and re-captured the Founders Cup against their long-time rival.
By late September, the teams will be deep in the throes of their season, preparing for conference foes. It may feel like a return to normalcy, but the gratitude for having the opportunity to compete will be heightened for all involved.