What it’s like to be a Whatcom athlete in the time of COVID-19

Being a college athlete is hard as it is but being a student athlete in college might just be harder. During a regular season, the Whatcom volleyball team has a packed schedule, but who knew that during a worldwide pandemic, we are still working just as hard.

I’m a returning player for Whatcom’s volleyball team. I played last year as the starting Libero, which is a defensive specialist, for the team, where we placed first in the Northern Region of the Northwestern Athletic Conference and placed in the top eight at the NWAC Championship. We worked hard every day, sometimes practicing up to four hours a day. A lot of people have asked what we are doing to practice as a team while being safe and conscious of COVID-19 guidelines.

Fall would normally be our regular season, but because of the virus and pandemic, our season was moved to spring. The Whatcom athletic staff found a way for us to work together by adhering to the safety guidelines and developing a new routine for our teams.

I can’t speak for the other teams, but I can speak for the volleyball team: We are strict.

When first walking into the Whatcom gym, we sanitize our hands. We then walk directly to a thermometer, where our temperatures are taken and recorded by the coaching staff. If we have a temperature, we are immediately sent home. Thankfully, we haven’t had one person on the team with a temperature above 99 degrees.

Usually, we would have two 2-hour practices every weekday in preseason, and then change it to workouts in the morning and practices at night. This preseason, however, we still have practice every day, but our three workouts a week changed to two, and our normal 2-hour practices changed to an hour and a half.

During practice, we all keep our masks on and stay 6 feet apart when not playing. We must limit some of our old tendencies like huddling in rally and high-fiving. Usually after winning or losing a point, we’ll come into a huddle and scream, yell, high-five, anything you can think of in an act of excitement. Now, we barely touch elbows and use our voices more than our bodies to cheer each other on.

(Photo credit: Cody Luthy – Lexi Carpenter getting ready for practice Nov. 12, 2020)

Masks are difficult. When you’re sweating, running around, and panting, the masks make it all 10 times more noticeable. The only time we take off our masks is when we are taking a water break or if we lose a drill or don’t perform the way we want to perform. Usually the consequence is running sprints or jumping burpees together, but now we’re far away from each other. If we do take off our masks, we make sure to not just be 6 feet away, but 10 or more.

Another thing that has really changed is simple things like team bonding. Although a lot of people might not realize, team bonding is a huge part of a team’s culture and chemistry. Last season, we would often leave practice and meet at one person’s apartment to pick a restaurant to eat at together. This season, we aren’t allowed to do that unless we are all masked, and even if we are masked, it’s not supported by the athletic department. Better safe than sorry.

Recently, we received news that this season will not count as a year of eligibility. That means that although I will play, and it’s my sophomore year, I will have three years of eligibility after this season. Usually, I would have two. This is great for me because when I transfer, I will have an extra year to play at the university level.

Hopefully going into the spring season, things will be different. Maybe by then we won’t need to wear masks while playing and we won’t need to check our temperatures. For it to be like that we all need to be responsible and disciplined now, not just athletes, but everyone.

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