By Joseph Quirk ’22
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected millions of people worldwide and has made competing in sporting events especially difficult. At Providence College, fall sports managed to complete a full season in 2019 prior to the onset of the pandemic. However, with the pandemic continuing throughout the summer and into the fall of 2020, having a new season start on time was nearly impossible. This led sports like volleyball and field hockey to switch their seasons to the spring, beginning their games in the snowy month of February.
For Margot Royer-Johnson, the head coach of the PC Women’s Volleyball Team, the biggest challenge was making sure her team was in the right condition for the start of the abridged season. In an interview with The Cowl, coach Royer-Johnson said, “Not having access to outside gyms, that kind of thing because of COVID, our bodies just aren’t in competitive shape just yet. That’s been a challenge because we have had to slow practices down a little bit to avoid injuries, and not cover as much as we would normally because we have to stay healthy.”
Royer-Johnson also noted that starting the season in late winter as opposed to mid-fall is “surreal,” and that other unusual issues have come up, such as scheduling conflicts with the men’s and women’s basketball teams. These are just some of the challenges many teams are now facing as a result of the pandemic.
Much like coaches from other teams at PC, Royer-Johnson had to get creative over the past year, especially when her team was studying remotely last spring semester and was unable to have formal practices this fall. “Our strength and conditioning coaches gave them workouts that they tried to modify as best as they could to support them or use the equipment that they have at home,” said Royer-Johnson. “We did a lot of Zoom calls where we did a lot of ‘get to know you’ sort of things. We also did a lot of diversity and inclusion work that I think we all truly needed and continue to need.”
Royer-Johnson also noted that while this whole experience has been difficult, she does try to find the silver linings. She mentioned that the team was given time to “reflect” and to “get in touch with reality,” in addition to feeling a deeper appreciation for the way things were pre-pandemic.
All of this hard work seems to have paid off, however, as the Friars started their season off right with a 3-1 victory over Bryant University on Feb. 14 before posting another 3-1 victory over the University of Rhode Island on Feb. 22. When asked about how confident she is in her team heading into the rest of the season, coach Royer-Johnson said, “I feel really confident with the process and where we are right now.” She emphasized that the team is pleased with their progress this season, especially considering the significantly lesser amount of practice time than usual.
While volleyball deals with its challenges as an indoor sport, head field hockey coach Diane Madl expressed her concerns as an outdoor fall sport starting in what has been a very snowy winter. “I think there’s definitely that component of things that is out of our control, and we tried to acknowledge that from the get-go,” Madl said. “We knew there was going to be a need for adjustment, and we did our best to prepare the team.”
That sentiment of adjustment was something coach Madl mentioned several times in her interview, saying that one of the biggest challenges to a delayed start is adjusting the routine that she previously used during a normal season. Much like Royer-Johnson, Madl got creative to help her players during the offseason.
One of the ways she did so was by doing team building exercises over Zoom. “We do the best we can to have good video opportunities over Zoom, not just showing some hockey but also doing some team building stuff,” said Madl. “Everything from family feud to Jeopardy, to whatever we could come up with.”
In terms of any potential positives of a delayed season, coach Madl expressed the increased time frame to incorporate new additions into the team. “As a fall sport, a lot of times you’re coming in and you have a very short preseason for the newcomers to blend into the team in a way that takes time,” she said. “So, I think having that extended period of time, albeit very different and very unique, I think it did afford the opportunity for those newcomers to blend into the culture of our program and get to know everyone a little bit better.”
The field hockey team has their first game of the season on Feb. 28 against the University of Connecticut. Coach Madl feels confident heading into their season opener. “We feel good,” she said. “Again, it’s a unique year, and the one thing we learned is that we can accomplish a lot by sticking together and fighting for each other.” She believes her team has what it takes to push through any challenges the start of the season may throw at them.
For coach Hoyer-Johnson and coach Madl, the start of their respective seasons is a relief after a long and difficult wait. Despite the adversity caused by the pandemic, each has gotten creative, and their teams look ready to beat the odds in a very unique year.