Diocesan News

Athletes Come to Grips With Fall Plans

WINDSOR TERRACE — Across the country, colleges and universities are figuring out how to safely play sports, or whether to play them at all, amidst the pandemic.

The Northeast Conference Council of Presidents, for example, voted on July 29 to postpone all fall sports competitions and championships, and the NCAA Division I Board of Directors announced on Aug. 21 that fall sports championships would be hosted in the spring.

The athletic departments at the three local Catholic colleges have informed their athletes of what to expect so far this fall. Most student-athletes are disappointed but understand the given circumstances.

St. John’s volleyball player Tiziana Baumrukova.

ST. JOHN’S UNIVERSITY

Usually, fall is filled with soccer, volleyball, cross country competitions, and even offseason baseball. This fall, those Division I athletes will not take part in competitions but will be practicing in modified ways, in hopes they will have the opportunity to compete this spring.

Two of the 17 team sports not affected to date are men’s and women’s basketball. According to Director of Athletics Mike Cragg, the Big East Conference has not made any decision about whether games will be played in November, when the season begins.

“The men’s and women’s basketball teams will be practicing, working out, and preparing for their [winter] season, but honestly … we don’t know if we’ll start on time, be delayed, or go into the next year,” Cragg told The Tablet.

Senior volleyball players Tiziana Baumrukova and Klara Mikelova, both from the Czech Republic, returned to Queens on Aug. 1 to self-quarantine for the required two-week period. Over the summer, both women kept their own regimented training schedules. They also recently completed their COVID-19 screenings and have been cleared to start practicing with their teammates in early September.

“When we got back, we still had to do our individual workouts. I think we’re ready to jump right in,” Baumrukova said. “We’re just so excited to start again and we will be ready to defend our title and to have a great season ahead,” Mikelova added. “The
most important thing is that everybody stays healthy during this time.”

In the same vein, Cragg emphasized that athletes, like the rest of the St. John’s community, need to remain diligent in taking health and safety measures seriously. “I think we’re in a very unique area that’s seen a wild roller coaster ride during this
pandemic, unlike many other places. Right now, we’re at a really great place and we want to keep it that way,” Cragg said, referencing the state’s current, low infection rate.

St. Joseph’s soccer co-captain Rachel Rocha.

ST. JOSEPH’S COLLEGE

Student-athletes make up about 20 percent of St. Joseph’s undergraduate, full-time student body, according to Anthony Macapugay, assistant director of athletics for communications and operations at the Brooklyn campus.

For Rachel Rocha, senior co-captain of the women’s soccer team and president of the Student-Athletic Committee, her summer went from feeling hope to disappointment. She ended her junior-year season with eight goals and 18 points, both career highs, and was looking forward to returning this fall. She continued to train over the summer, running on the tread-
mill in her garage every day and doing foot drills in the backyard with her youngest sister.

“I was excited for my senior year, and I thought our team was going to do really well this year, but when we got the news in July
that this season would be canceled, it was heartbreaking,” Rocha said.

“There’s an understanding and acceptance among our team about what’s going on because of COVID-19, but there’s still that hurt and sadness, especially because we would’ve been in preseason camp right now,” she added. “We’re just trying to stay positive because we’re all going through this together.”

Rocha, who has been playing soccer for 15 years, said the five-month-long quarantine was particularly difficult at times because she thrives on having a routine.

“Through the help of my family and loved ones, I overcame that anxiety I was feeling,” she said. “I’m a firm believer that things happen for a reason and that God has a plan for all of us. We’re just living that plan, day-by-day, and trusting in Him.”

Although Rocha won’t be practicing with her 17 teammates, including four other seniors — “one of the biggest senior classes St. Joseph’s has had in the last five years,” according to Macapugay — she and the two other co-captains will continue to mentor
and motivate the underclassmen.

“It’s not always about competing; it’s just about doing what makes you happy,” she explained. “Maybe in the spring or if things ease up earlier amid the pandemic, I can join a small women’s or co-ed league to continue playing. That’s the benefit of being in Brooklyn — usually, there are small leagues all over.”

St. Francis soccer player Ridwan Hannan is one of many local senior athletes affected by the pandemic.

ST. FRANCIS COLLEGE

In early May, St. Francis formed an athletics COVID-19 task force made up of senior staff members within the athletic department. “We want to make sure the safety and well-being of our student-athletes and staff are taken care of when we come back to campus and beyond,” said Deputy Director of Athletics Chase Licata, who leads the task force.

The college has decided to bring back men’s and women’s soccer, women’s volleyball, and men’s and women’s cross country when school begins Sept. 9.

“We’ve created what we call a pod system so that each team is divided into small groups to practice and train,” Licata said, explaining the three-phase system for holding practices. Phase One allows for less than 10 players at a single practice, Phase Two entails increasing the number of players allowed to practice together, while Phase Three will bring together the whole team “if we feel everything is going according to plan and meets the health and safety guidelines,” according to Licata.

Senior soccer player Ridwan Hannan left New York mid-March and went back home to= Melbourne, Australia. He said he was lucky enough to train with a local soccer team for almost two months before his country went into lockdown. Hannan and his brother then set up a gym in their garage to keep training.

Now that Hannan is back in Brooklyn, he and the rest of the men’s soccer team will begin practicing in September through the modified practice sessions.

“Personally, it was a little frustrating to not know what was happening because, for a lot of us, we haven’t played a competitive game since November,” Hannan said. “The situation is what it is and we can’t really control that.”

Hannan noted that no matter what happens with athletics, he will continue to make the best of his situation: “COVID-19 is not going to affect how I enjoy my time here as a St. Francis student and as a senior.”

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