Senior Student Athletes Grateful To Play In The Era Of COVID-19
HARWICH/EASTHAM – Tyler Potter has been looking forward to his senior year with the Monomoy football team since he was in eighth grade. But like so many seniors locally and across the state, Potter has had to adapt to a completely new way of doing sports and a changed senior season.
For Potter, a team captain, the change means he and his fellow Sharks are no longer the “Boys of Fall” but are now the Boys of Fall II, an additional season for high-risk sports that couldn’t safely be played under current pandemic trends. Instead of Friday night football on crisp autumn evenings, Potter will suit up for Monomoy starting at the beginning of March, which he said he’s honestly grateful for.
“I’m thankful and happy because we are still playing, regardless of when,” Potter said.
Even so, Potter is concerned about the late-winter weather and what impact it and the myriad COVID-19 protocols each player must adhere to will have.
“It will clearly be a lot colder, which may have effects on players,” Potter said. “I was also informed that players have to wear masks under their helmets. I’m anxious to see how that plays out. I feel that it’s already hard to breathe while training with a mask.”
In order to take place, each sport has to follow a lengthy list of protocols, some of which are general, such as limiting spectators to home fans only, and others that are sport-specific, such as a new field hockey rule that games are no longer 11 vs. 11, but 7-on-7.
Nauset senior Sophie Christopher, a captain of the field hockey team, said the changes to the season and the game have been challenging.
“The fact that this season is drastically different from what it has been in the past is pretty upsetting,” Christopher said, adding that the new 7-on-7 rule “changes the game completely.”
Head coach Cheryl Poore agreed.
“I feel like a rookie coach,” Poore said. “I’m preparing for a totally different game. You’ve got six field players covering all of that territory.”
Poore said her players are up to it, but that the new rules also make coaching difficult because she’s having to help players acclimate to the new system while at the same time impart the skills necessary to be a strong team.
“Field hockey is a sport that has all of these skills,” Poore said. “But in 7v7, you’ve got about seven skills that you’ve got to execute perfectly. I’m teaching them a game I don’t want to play next year. Next year I want them passing.”
Poore said that the new rule actually pushed several seniors to quit the team since the likelihood of much playing time would be diminished under the 7-on-7 rule. That puts a lot of pressure on coaches looking to balance out teams with underclassmen to ensure a strong future.
Nonetheless, Poore said her team is excited for the season they do have, uncertain until it began that it truly would.
“They’re excited,” she said. “They’re just excited to be playing. They’re tired of being in their homes. Motivation is not an issue. The issue is to keep them smart so we can stay healthy and keep playing.”
Christopher echoed Poore’s words in her own sentiments.
“Despite the anger I might feel at times, I am just overwhelmingly excited to be able to play and be around the girls on this team,” Christopher said. “Our team is a family, and I’m just happy to…spend time with them.”
Nauset boys soccer senior captain Ben LaBranche said he’s struggling with the contrast between what he wanted for his senior season and what is transpiring due to the pandemic.
“It is definitely a disappointing end to my high school career,” LaBranche said. “As it has been for many other seniors. I would have loved to have a normal season with normal school and team traditions, but just like everyone else we are living in a new normal and have to adjust.”
LaBranche said one of the more substantial concerns regarding a shortened schedule was the ability for college coaches to see him and his fellow seniors in action.
“It has been difficult trying to have college coaches watch us play, for sure,” LaBranche said. “Having club soccer canceled last spring was more of a hiccup in the recruiting process than this season being modified, for a lot of kids.”
LaBranche hopes that since there will be a season, regardless of length, he’ll get seen by coaches at some point.
Monomoy girls soccer captain Maggie Dever comes at being able to play this season from a different perspective. Unlike many of her fellow seniors, Dever didn’t have a junior season due to being sidelined by an injury that kept her out of sports until late winter. For Dever, the opportunity to play is a gift.
“I’m grateful especially because I missed last season,” Dever said. “This is my chance to prove myself for both seasons.”
Dever said she’s also glad that fellow captains Leah Nash and Josie Ganshaw are getting to play, as well.
“Our spring seasons were cut short,” Dever said. “Everyone here loves sports. We all just want to get back on the field as soon as possible.”
Dever said that while the shortened season isn’t ideal, she and her teammates are happy to have games to play.
“It’s obviously not ideal, but our main goal for each game is to keep playing as hard as you can,” Dever said. “A lot of teams that we play we’re evenly matched with. It’s always great for us to get some competitive games in because it teaches us to be better.”
Potter, meanwhile, is doing his best to encourage his football teammates to take advantage of the gift of time.
“I have explained to the team that maybe this is a blessing in disguise,” he said of the delayed season. “As players we have never had the opportunity to have more time to be prepared for a season. This is just more time to learn, train, and study film.”
But the main reason Potter is content to wait is likely shared in some way by countless other student athletes, happy just to play.
“Football is bigger than just a game to me,” Potter said. “It’s something that’s always been there for me no matter what. No matter what happens this year, I will be the best football player I can be. I’m so thankful to be able to play this game.”