First-year athletes confront semester of unknowns as they await first week of practice

Fans+fill+the+bleachers+of+Patrick+Gym+to+watch+the+ceremony+and+men%E2%80%99s+basketball+exhibition+game+against+Brown+University.+UVM+won+the+game+70-59.

LUKAS DRAUGELIS/Vermont Cynic

Fans fill the bleachers of Patrick Gym to watch the ceremony and men’s basketball exhibition game against Brown University. UVM won the game 70-59.

Under normal circumstances, first-year soccer player Jake Vitale and his team would have been practicing and conditioning for weeks, and have already played at least a few games. 

But, Vitale said he hasn’t even met all his team members yet and workouts, for a season already supposed to be in full swing, have yet to start. 

“I haven’t met everyone on the team yet. I have only met the freshmen because they are living in my dorm,” Vitale said. 

Vitale, along with other student-athletes from the class of 2024 have had a very different experience than the average incoming athletes due to COVID-19 related restrictions put in place by both the University and the NCAA. 

Specifically, the America-East Conference, which UVM plays in, announced in July that all fall sports would be postponed. Then in August, the NCAA announced all DI fall sports would have championships in the Spring of 2021. 

Vitale also said it has been hard to meet people on campus in general since people cannot gather in big groups to hang out in dining halls and students cannot even go in each others’ dorm rooms. 

On the Women’s Basketball team, first-year Leiya Stuart said her move to UVM has been different from what she expected, but that her experience has been worthwhile. 

“[The transition to UVM] has definitely been different because of all of the COVID restrictions,” Stuart said. “However, I do not feel that my experience has been minimized by these changes.” 

Due to NCAA guidance, both the men’s and women’s basketball teams have been permitted to practice, which has allowed Stuart to get to know her team a little more than Vitale, she explained. 

“I’ve met all of them and they’re amazing,” she said. “We’ve already all built great chemistry off the court so I’m excited to see how that translates on the court.” 

Workouts for soccer are scheduled to begin around September 14th according to Vitale.   

When the team does get to practice, however, it won’t be like it was in past years. 

“For the first two weeks the team will be split up into four groups,” Vitale said. “So it will be eight-player pods and it will be non-contact for at least these first two weeks.” 

Matt Beck, a senior on the men’s hockey team reflected on how his first-year experience was different from what the class of 2024 will have. 

“As a hockey player my first year, I was able to come to UVM for six weeks in the summer to train and work out and meet my team,” he said. “Now I think it’s very difficult as a freshman coming in because you can’t just go around and meet people like that.” 

For Beck’s workouts, he said this upcoming season will be more distant. 

“This year is a lot different, we’re in small groups for workouts and skates and we have a lot of strict protocols as to what we can do outside of the rink,” Beck said. “We can’t be together as a whole team yet. The process is different but the goal still remains the same.” 

UVM’s Athletic Department said in a statement to the Cynic that the department is using a pod system to keep players safe.

“In Phase 1, coaches will divide teams into small groups or pods of less than 10,” the statement reads. “All student-athletes, coaches and staff must wear masks when not engaged in strenuous activity.”

According to a COVID-19 FAQ page on the UVM Athletics website, no decision has been made thus far regarding the status of winter and spring sports seasons.