Fall sports coaches adapt to postponed fall season

The+soccer+scoreboard+will+remain+blank+for+the+fall%2C+after+the+Horizon+League+announced+they+were+suspending+compeition+until+spring.+Soccer%2C+cross+country+and+volleyball+will+all+have+their+seasons+pushed+to+the+spring.

Emily Morris

The soccer scoreboard will remain blank for the fall, after the Horizon League announced they were suspending compeition until spring. Soccer, cross country and volleyball will all have their seasons pushed to the spring.

Michael Pearce, Editor-in-Chief

Almost a month after initially announcing the fall season would not start until at least Oct. 1, the Horizon League announced on Aug. 13 that fall sports would be pushed to the spring.

“Guided by its core value of student-athlete well-being and considering further developments in the outbreak of COVID-19, the Horizon League Board of Directors, acting on a recommendation from the League’s Council, has decided to postpone fall competition for the fall season,” the official press release said.

Soccer, cross country and volleyball will all be shifted to the spring season. The pandemic has now canceled two seasons for cross country athletes, after the outdoor track season in spring 2020 was canceled when the virus first shut down schools.

“Everybody understands the background of what’s going on, I just think it’s extra frustrating for our cross country athletes because they lost their outdoor track season,” Cross Country Head Coach Paul Rice said. “We all know there’s no way to run cross country in the spring because of the outdoor track season.”

Rice is also the director for the track and field program. Many cross country athletes will take part in the outdoor track season and the cross country season, which is now not an option. 

“This is really painful for our cross country athletes — I feel really bad for all of them and our entire coaching staff,” Rice said. “We’ve worked really hard to not only prepare them for this fall, but also get them through some very challenging times in their lives.”

For the coaches, the last five months have been a challenge. A silver lining is the youth of the cross country teams. 

“It’s wearing us out — it’s wearing the coaches out — me in particular,” Rice said. “Trying to keep everything on the right path is a challenge. We’re bummed, but at the same time we have a really great group of athletes that are going to be around for several years.”

Juan Pablo Favero, head coach of the women’s soccer team, sees a silver lining with his squad as well. His athletes and staff have maintained their perspective on the situation.

“We are disappointed with the news … but both the staff and our players understand that this is bigger than soccer and bigger than us,” Favero said. “It is something we have no control over and have to accept.”

According to Favero, the fall sports all have the “burden” of doing summer preparation on their own. This gives them more time than usual to prepare, which Favero feels is a silver lining.

“When we show up in early August, we have a very short window of time to do a preseason — it’s really not enough time,” he said. “If we get to play in the spring and we get to train in the fall, it will give us more time to get our new players acclimated to our culture and way of playing.”

Following the announcement, coaches are unsure about what practices and training will look like. 

Coaches and athletes are awaiting direction from the Horizon League and the athletics administration at OU. 

“I know our athletic director, Steve Waterfield, and the rest of the administration are committed to trying to find a way to allow all of our sports to at least continue training,” Favero said. “There is so much unknown.”

Both Favero and Rice prioritized the health and safety of their athletes above all else, especially considering the long-term cardiovascular damage that COVID-19 can give those who survive it. 

Favero said the soccer team might have to train in small groups instead of the whole team at once. Precautions he envisioned might include masks or other mitigating shields. 

“The last thing we would want to do is to jeopardize anybody’s health and anybody’s future playing opportunities,” Favero said.

Despite the need for testing, Rice echoed Favero’s statements about the situation being more than sports. 

“The reality is, we’re athletes,” Rice said. “We’re not frontline workers. We aren’t number one on the list to get tested, and we shouldn’t be. So, we can’t expect all these tests to be made available for us when there’s a lot more important things that need to be done with all the tests.

Favero and Rice both expressed pride in their students for the way they have handled the pandemic thus far.

“Our kids all know and understand,” Rice said. “They’re smart enough to realize what’s going on.” 

The women’s soccer team wrote a statement after the Horizon League announcement was public. Neither Favero nor his staff encouraged the statement, the team crafted it on their own.

“There are people who are losing their loved ones and losing their livelihoods,” Favero said. “For us to complain about not playing a sport would be tonedeaf. I’m really proud of our young women and their appropriate response to these challenging times.”