Softball team discusses new training schedules, recruitment, team bonding
With the spring season of collegiate athletics canceled, teams and coaches have had to adjust their training strategies for a season where most players are scattered across the country — and the UC Davis Softball team is no exception. The team is currently unable to practice together in person due to mandatory restrictions on any physical activity that uses UC Davis facilities. In addition, most of the members of the team have left Davis since the season’s suspension.
While the cancellation of the season did not necessarily come as a surprise to many of the players, they still felt the loss of the season that they had been preparing for.
Junior outfielder Alyse Rojas said that because the team had been receiving regular updates from the coaching staff about other conferences and games being canceled, they were able to guess that this was the direction their season was heading.
“It was really upsetting when we first figured it out and everyone was crying and stuff — the seniors especially,” Rojas said. “[We felt] really sad, honestly, […] in that hard moment.”
According to Head Coach Erin Thorpe, the team has felt the loss of what would have been the last season for those senior athletes.
“To know that we have players on our team that were set to graduate this June and were not able to have their senior days and go out and finish their career the way that they wanted to, [that] really affected everybody,” Thorpe said.
Thorpe, along with UC Davis Athletics staff, has been working with the players over the past several weeks to grapple with the feelings that came with the loss of the season. And when the NCAA announced that it would be granting spring sport student athletes an extra year of eligibility, Thorpe worked through the options with each player to come to a decision.
“The first six weeks of this, we kind of worked through that process with each of the seniors,” Thorpe said. “I think that we’ve found a really good place where each of our seniors have made their decisions. They feel good about where they’re at and they feel good about what they’re going to be doing next year, but it was quite a process.”
Beyond losing their season, the athletes also lost out on spending time with their teammates. Prior to the switch to remote learning, many of the players saw each other every day. So with most of the team split up and no longer in Davis, they have turned to regular team Zoom calls to stay connected.
“It definitely is really nice to see your teammates,” junior catcher Riley Siegel said. “Me and Alyse [Rojas] probably spent 24 hours a day together, because we [were] teammates, roommates and we have some of the same classes. And now we don’t see each other at all. So it definitely is a huge adjustment for some people, because […] a lot of girls on the team lived together.”
As part of the team’s mandatory virtual training, Thorpe has arranged a variety of weekly coach-led — as well as student-led — team bonding activities through Zoom. These activities include leadership pep talks, weekly check-ins, Aggie EVO program meetings and alumni guest speaker talks.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to be able to utilize this time to grow in other aspects of the game that’s not just physical [such as] our leadership skills and our life skills,” Thorpe said. “And it’s mostly related around team bonding, the team just being together and doing some activities.”
In giving other examples of bonding activities, Thorpe mentioned that team members have written letters of gratitude to frontline workers, made face masks and baked banana bread together.
These bonding activities serve not only as a check in with the athletes, but also as a way to strengthen the bonds between players as they deal with the disappointment of a season cut short.
“I think, right now, too much time by ourselves to kind of sit in our own thoughts can sometimes be a little bit dangerous,” Thorpe said. “Especially during this time, just to be able to connect and communicate with each other and see each other and be able to provide that support, and just knowing that we’re there for each other, I think is really important for the girls to not only adjust to the shelter in place, but also for their own mental well-being.”
Adapting to online communications has also been important in preparing for the future of the team. During a typical season, the incoming freshman players might have been able to spend the summer on campus working with the coaches and athletics staff to train and get used to the new environment. But with the remote learning model and the halt on athletics activities, Thorpe and the coaching staff have had to get creative. They have been working with the new recruits through Zoom and phone calls to prepare them for the upcoming year.
“Our strength staff has gone virtual with some of our summer workouts,” Thorpe said. “Our strength staff has been utilizing [these platforms] that allow them to interact with our student athletes digitally, in terms of providing them workouts or providing them assistance with their workouts. So all of our incoming freshmen also have that as well. We’re trying to keep them connected that way.”
While the team is currently not allowed to meet in person, the NCAA recently announced that some voluntary, in-person practices would be allowed to resume for certain Division I sports starting June 1. The athletics department must now determine what activities will be allowed for this summer and, possibly, the upcoming year.
“Right now, we’re just kind of taking the lead from the NCAA as well as our local governing bodies as far as what’s safe to do moving forward,” Thorpe said. “Right now, we are not allowed to do anything with our teams through May 31 with regards to physical activity and face to face and that type of stuff. We just kind of have to wait to see how things go.”
Despite being unsure about what life will be like for the softball program in the coming months, Thorpe is planning for a typical start to training in September. From there, she will be able to wait and take cues from the fall and winter sports seasons.
“It’s definitely going to be different, our seasons are going to be different, maybe how the game is played is going to be a little bit different,” Thorpe said. “It’s going to be interesting. It’s gonna feel weird for a little while, and that’s okay, and we’re trying to prepare for that.”
Written by: Priya Reddy — firstname.lastname@example.org