E. Claiborne Robins Stadium, where thousands of University of Richmond students once gathered to cheer on their home team during the Capital Cup against rival school the College of William & Mary, remains fanless four weeks into the fall semester. But despite the postponement of the football season, the Spiders find themselves looking to make a comeback against their biggest rival yet: COVID-19.
What was once home to the UR football team is now used as a testing site for UR students, faculty and staff.
Fall athletes also face another obstacle: strict limitations on practice.
Senior forward and midfielder TJ Anderson broke down what a "new normal" practice consists of for the women's soccer team.
"Just like the university is in stages, so is the athletic department," she said. “In Phase One, we were strictly in individual training, so we were restricted to our designated area on the field that was six to 10 feet away from the player next to us, and we could not share equipment. We have just moved into Phase Two, which includes pod training of about 10 to 15 girls doing passing patterns, shooting drills and getting in extra touches."
Football players have also struggled with adjusting to a new normal. First-year wide receiver Ulises Sarria shared several of the restrictions in place for the football team.
"Right now only 50 people can be on the field,” Sarria said. “We are broken up into six different workout groups based on class times, and in the weight rooms, we are required to wear masks at all times. Being unable to practice with the full team puts us at a disadvantage because we are only able to build chemistry with the players we practice with and against.”
Although COVID-19 has put seasons on hold for Richmond's fall athletes, several first years remain optimistic for a season at some point this year.
"Since our season has already been postponed until spring, I am still hopeful that we'll have the chance to play some form of our season,” Sarria said, “even if it is delayed several months and it looks a little different than what it normally would.”
Ella Hayes, a first-year midfielder on the women's field hockey team, had a similar response.
"I hope we have a season sometime this spring, even if it does look a little different,” she said. “But I don't know yet if that's on the table right now.”
For the many fall sport seniors who have devoted the last three years of their lives to the game, such as Anderson, the possibility of a final season might be their last chance to take the field wearing a Spiders uniform.
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"I am optimistic that we will have a spring season," Anderson said. “I am hoping that as a senior my last season will not be canceled completely, even if it is just playing conference games. It has been a major change because by now in a normal season we would have two to three games under our belt in the full swing of the season."
Alongside hopes for a season at some point during the school year come certain levels of anxiety.
Some athletes, such as first-year Stuart Terrill of the cross country team, are concerned about the possibility of testing positive for COVID-19 at any point throughout the school year, he said.
"I'm obviously very anxious [about getting the virus] since it can severely limit your lung capacity which would make running so much harder,” Terril said. “But we are being very safe, so I am comfortable with how we have been practicing."
For other student-athletes, the greatest concern is entering a game situation months after being unable to play in a competitive setting.
Hayes worried about eventually being able to suit up for a field hockey game.
"I'm probably most anxious about next year if I'm honest,” she said. “I haven't gone through a normal preseason, and I feel like next year it will be like I have to start all over again because I won't know what to expect."
Sarria agreed. "I'm nervous about the potential start of the season because it has been a long time since we've played in a real game," he said.
Fall sports such as football, field hockey, cross country and soccer are just some of the sports affected by the pandemic
As the Big 10 prepares to kick off Oct. 23 and the Atlantic Coast Conference’s cross country athletes are already several weeks into their season, it is unclear where the start of a season for some conferences leaves other universities like UR. For many Division One athletes, questions about their possible spring season remain unanswered.
Contact contributor Anabella Pelaez at email@example.com.
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