Men’s basketball and softball share their strategic efforts to keep players safe when they are away from the court and field.
For student-athletes at Marist College, COVID-19 poses a constant risk of an abrupt end to their season, and in some cases, their collegiate careers. And that is if their team is even fortunate enough to be in the exclusive group that can even attempt to play this year. The men’s and women’s soccer programs are the most recent victims who have unfortunately lost their membership to this group as time ran out on their seasons. Men’s basketball made the most of their chance and completed their campaign, and softball hopes to have similar success.
While it is fortunate that basketball had the opportunity to play this season, that is about where the luck ends. The rest had to do with hard work, sacrifice, diligence, and teamwork. The basketball program has a lot of resources, and they utilized their disposal to protect the program from COVID-19. Early in the fall, it was still uncertain if there would be a MAAC Basketball season. However, the coaching staff emphasized following the school guidelines with extreme diligence.
“There was more at stake for us to lose than the general student if there was one positive… you have to think about not just yourself but your team,” said men’s head basketball coach John Dunne.
Dunne was very proud of his team’s ability to do the right thing during the first semester. But there was more they could do as a program to lessen the chance of someone contracting the virus.
“You can do everything right, and still catch this virus,” said Dunne. “As a group, they showed a lot of maturity and a lot of desire to put themselves in the best position to stay healthy… we knew the semester was gonna end early and that we just had to get to Thanksgiving.”
Thanksgiving. A time when people and families come together. But that is not why Dunne and his staff were so eager for it. They were looking forward to it for the exact opposite reasons. In addition to the start of the MAAC season, it would take a proverbial weight off their shoulders. With fewer students around, the less chance there was of the players being exposed to COVID. It also opened up the campus for the team to put their full isolation plan in motion.
“My director of basketball operations, Dorian Long, wore many different hats this year,” Dunne said. “He took care of the guys and made sure their meal deliveries were taken care of. Sometimes that included running out and getting things they needed for their everyday living”.
Another phase of Dunne’s isolation plan involved catering to underclassmen. Once Thanksgiving began and, the campus was nearly empty, the freshmen team members moved to Ward Hall.
“They got freshmen their own space and rooms in Ward and put them together. It gave our underclassmen an opportunity to have a kitchen, a refrigerator, and things to store food in so they wouldn’t feel the need to go off-campus,” said Dunne.
The ability to relocate the younger members of the team worked logistically but was hard on them. No one on the team went home for the holidays, and for first-year students, that is an extra tough task. Reduced social interaction for freshmen this year was difficult in general, but it was even worse for the young members of the basketball team. While it was great they had the ability to consolidate the players once campus cleared, the sacrifice from them did not get easier.
Leading up to the MAAC tournament in Atlantic City, the team took advantage of newly occupied Conklin Hall.
“We went for four of five days prior to the MAAC tournament. When students started to come back to campus, we went over to Conklin to isolate ourselves during the overlap period,” Dunne said.
All of this sacrifice and maneuvering came with the knowledge that the season could end at any moment. Every member of the organization did everything in their control to try to get through the season. The reward: zero positive tests and the most successful campaign in a decade and a half.
Marist Softball has the same goal this spring that basketball had last fall: to complete a season, whatever it takes. But their situation appears to be an even bigger uphill battle than basketball. The expectation was that by spring, the worst of COVID’s effect on the Marist community would be over. Unfortunately, the school encountered its largest outbreak yet and in turn, responded with stricter protocols. This created an even greater conflict for spring sports, which have been suspended since March 17. Unlike basketball, softball has some added obstacles and reduced resources. Head coach Joe Ausanio discussed the challenges his squad has faced in the early stages of the season.
“Our kids are scattered throughout the campus at Marist”, said Ausanio. “I have kids in Champagnat, Lower West, Upper West; they’re all over the campus”.
The softball team has taken to a distancing method during practice to counter the fact that the entire team is not bubbled together.
“We practice in pods. We broke up the pods separately to make sure that if something were to happen to one of the pods and it got quarantined that we would still have a catcher, infielders, and outfielders in each pod so that we would still be able to play and be competitive”, said Ausanio.
The pod schedule also had to take class schedules into account, and the coaching staff had to form the pods based on when certain team members had class and when others did not.
Much like Dunne and his team, Ausanio said he trusted his team “100%” to self-monitor and the captains to demonstrate leadership by iterating the significance of following protocol. He harkened back to the heartbreak of having last season abruptly stolen from them when the pandemic began as the driving motivation to make the sacrifices necessary to play in 2021. Coach Ausanio also believes that if they can get on the field soon, his club has a legitimate chance to contend for a MAAC championship.
Due to the lingering pause, the softball team’s first series of games were postponed and they could not practice. They can only continue to do the right things and hope the pause ends soon. On April 12, Marist Athletics released a statement that athletics will not resume yet, and they will continue to evaluate the situation.
“The College has outlined a strategy we need to utilize to give us the best opportunity to practice and play, which has been the goal every one of us has strived for over the past year. The strategy is vaccinations. The more athletes that are vaccinated, the greater the opportunity each team will have to resume athletic activity,” the athletic department stated in an e-mail.
Marist has begun making vaccines available to the student body, so hopefully, athletes will have minimal issues receiving theirs. Similar to what Dunne said, you can do everything right and still have problems. The softball team can only hope that all their hard work pays off and they can still have the season they very much deserve.
Edited by Jonathan Kinane and Nicholas Stanziale
Photo Credit: Marist College Athletics