The Collegian
Monday, November 29, 2021

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UR spring sports adapt to shortened seasons, COVID-19 regulations

<p>The swimming and diving team holds their practices in the pool located in the Weinstein Center for Recreation and Wellness.&nbsp;</p>

The swimming and diving team holds their practices in the pool located in the Weinstein Center for Recreation and Wellness. 

The University of Richmond athletic teams are enduring a season unlike any seen before.

The Spider football team, which plays in the Colonial Athletic Association, will face rivals Elon University, the College of William and Mary, and James Madison University twice apiece in the South division. The team with the best record will gain the conference’s automatic bid into the NCAA playoffs which start in late April.

The conference allowed teams to schedule up to two out-of-conference opponents, but UR decided to stick to conference matchups, according to its schedule release.

Other fall and winter sports, including field hockey, swimming and diving, and women’s soccer will play an abbreviated Atlantic-10 Conference schedule this spring.

The field hockey and soccer teams are both limited to in-conference opponents, according to their respective official schedules published on the Spiders’ official website. 

The men’s and women’s golf teams saw a large cut in their normal schedule as well.  Currently, the men’s team has only three matches before the conference tournament, while the women’s team has five, according to team schedules.  Both teams usually compete in close to 10 tournaments in a normal season.

A few teams are allowed to play a nearly regular schedule. Men’s and women’s lacrosse both began their seasons with non-conference opponents on Feb. 14. The men fell to perennial power Loyola 8-7 in overtime, while the women took care of Radford 19-10.

Both the men’s and women’s basketball teams played multiple non-conference opponents early in the season, although they did not play as many games as they typically have in past years.  The basketball teams are now entering the final stretch of the season, but the men’s program has endured up and down seasons, on the court and off, related to COVID-19 trouble, while the women’s team has seen positive cases as well.

Tracy Woodson, head coach of UR’s baseball team, described some of the peculiar circumstances surrounding this year’s season.

“It’s been crazy this year,” he said. “It is the latest we have ever got our schedule out, and things are still moving. We are in constant contact with schools in the area because you never know when a team will have to cancel a game.”

UR allowed baseball to schedule 44 games, fewer than the usual 60 games played in previous seasons, Woodson said. Regardless, the team is excited to play, junior pitcher Sam Senders said.

“Originally, we had a good chunk of our season cut back, but we got some games added back, as many as the school would allow for us I assume,” Senders said. “We are sitting around 44 games.”

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However, any COVID-19 cases on a UR team could result in the cancellation of games for weeks at a time, and teams with limited schedules could lose half of the season if COVID-19 cases arise. 

Senders and his coach share similar worries about how many games they will actually play this season. 

“We had like 14-15 games get cut, but that’s not including if someone goes down with the virus,” Senders said. “Then we would lose eight games or more.”

Woodson is constantly worrying about how COVID-19 could derail the season and encourages his team to do what they can to play. 

He summed up his message to his players all year:  “Be careful. Don’t get the virus; no one can play if we get the virus.”

The swimming and diving team began its season on Feb. 20, but only four swimmers competed in the first meet. The team will take part in only five meets, compared to the nine or so the team would normally participate in, before the scheduled A-10 Championships meet.

“Everyone is just kind of confused I would say, because it’s not guaranteed we are having A-10’s,” junior Jenna Carastro, on the women’s swimming and diving team, said. “[We’re] just trying to stay optimistic.”

Women’s swimming and diving coach Matt Barany usually creates the team’s schedule himself, but schedule-making required more collaboration with the Athletics Department this year. Since UR's pool is smaller and older than pools at other schools, it has been difficult to schedule and convince other teams to compete at UR under the proper COVID-19 guidelines, Barany said.

“We trained hard the first half of the semester without knowing when our conference championship was going to be,” Barany said. “In late October, [the conference] told us they are moving the championship from February to April.

“The delay gave us more time to train, which I think has been good for us.”

All of the swimming and diving team’s competitions are on the road this season with no overnight hotel stays, a procedure put in place by UR, Barany told The Collegian.

“We are going up to [George] Mason [March 19,] coming back that night, going back up for the second session Saturday morning, and then back to campus that night,” Barany said.

Some programs and conferences across the country, notably the Ivy League, have left student-athletes without a clear path to play at all this year. Despite the chaos involved with collegiate athletics in 2021, UR student-athletes are going to compete for championships this spring. Many spring sports had promising seasons cut short last year, including both the men’s and women’s lacrosse teams, which ranked in the top 20 nationally.

Contact sports writer T Ridgway at t.ridgway@richmond.edu.

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