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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

With first-years on campus, Grinnell College athletics slowly resume

First-year+athletes+are+finding+new+ways+to+practice+this+spring.+Photo+contributed+by+Ted+Schultz.
First-year athletes are finding new ways to practice this spring. Photo contributed by Ted Schultz.

After months of waiting, first-year students at Grinnell College are finally getting the chance to participate in athletics with the return of on-campus sport practices.

Practices began approximately two weeks ago after on-campus students had received two negative COVID-19 test results from the College testing program. Some fourth-year students that are also involved in the testing program and are approved to live off-campus or in residence halls have been able to partake in practice alongside first-years too.

Once approved, athletes are required to wear both face masks and goggles while at practice, with a slight exception for members of the swim and diving team, who are permitted to remove face masks while in the water. Physical contact with other players is discouraged.

“It’s been pretty isolating,” said Aiyana Rockwell `24, a player on the women’s basketball team, said of her experience practicing. “We go into the gym and you don’t really see another team. It’s just you in there and then you have to get out before they come in so you’re not really interacting with that many other people.”

Student-athletes were encouraged to stay in shape while away from campus, and many teams have started practices in full force.

“[Our] first practice, which was about two weeks ago, was probably the most intense one we’ve had,” said Caleb Hoereth `24, a player on the men’s soccer team. “I had never seen anything like it before, so it was kind of like an introduction to the college speed and skill level.”

Currently, eight players attend men’s soccer practices hosted in the Darby Gymnasium located at the Bear Recreation and Athletic Center. Practices are two hours long and occur four days a week.

Brian Jaworski, head coach of the men’s soccer team, says the team has become very close in a short amount of time. Jaworski says the team felt “pure joy” when they were able to meet for the first time. “We missed our season and we hung in there together as a team and now we get a chance, even though it’s just the freshman and not all of our first years, but it was really, really exciting.”

The women’s basketball team has been operating at a particularly low capacity, with only four first-year student-athletes on campus participating in team practices. Practices are held daily with the exception of Tuesdays and Thursdays which are dedicated to lifting exercises. As of yet, Grinnell College trainers have not approved basketball players to compete in one-on-one matchups, and instead, practices typically consist of shooting and rebounding drills.

“It’s so quiet in the gym with only four people, it’s kind of hard to get the energy going,” said Rockwell.

Women’s volleyball has faced similar challenges.

“As of right now we only have six players, which is typically the only people on one side of the court,” said Malaina Miles `24, a player on the women’s volleyball team. “It’s odd not having a whole team there and not being able to play a full six-on-six game.”

New technology has allowed the swimming and diving team to have increased ease of communication between coaches and swimmers. Coaches have been using a special headset and microphone that allows them to transmit messages and speak with swimmers on individualized channels in real-time, bypassing the muffled voices that are characteristic of the face mask and shield combination.

“I can be 50 yards from them and they can hear me in their head,” said Erin Hurley, head coach of the men and women’s swimming and diving teams at Grinnell. “It’s also an opportunity for me to communicate with them and give them positive feedback.”

Hurley says players feel like practice is “hands down” the best part of their day. “It’s something they look forward to. It helps keep them grounded. But it’s also … being within a community where you belong.”

For Hurley, ensuring that swimming and diving teams feel supported and are looking out for one another is incredibly important. “We’re talking about how we support each other virtually, physically, mentally, emotionally,” explained Hurley. The team also hosts a virtual “chalk talk” on Wednesdays for the entire team.

Many first-year athletes have also sought out a sense of team community and general student-athlete camaraderie through their living arrangements. At Clark Hall, several members of the men’s soccer team requested to live on the same floor, and the women’s basketball team is living right down the hall as well. Coaches on the women’s volleyball and women’s soccer team have organized a sledding and hot-cocoa-themed meet-up that will allow athletes to connect with players from other teams.

“Once you lose something, you really realize the value of it and how much and why you missed it,” said Hurley. “Having a greater appreciation for the community we build is something I’m definitely looking forward to.”

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