Spring teams getting another chance at collegiate sports

The+Loyola+women%E2%80%99s+lacrosse+team+after+their+second+game+of+the+2021+season+

Courtesy of Sarah Engle

The Loyola women’s lacrosse team after their second game of the 2021 season

As it seems like all things COVID-19 are dying down with the start of the vaccine, college sports are a little different this year, especially for spring athletes. As their seasons were cut short due to the start of the virus in 2020, they are coming back out this season better than ever. Athletes known as “fifth years” and hungry freshman who are eager to get back to the game at a new level are the driving forces for this 2021 spring season.

Since spring sports were cut short into the start of the regular season last year, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, also known as the NCAA, granted these student athletes another year of eligibility. This means they can come back and essentially get another full year of play. Athletes have since adapted the name “fifth years” for players who would have graduated last season, but have decided to take advantage of this opportunity and play another year. This creates a whole new level of competition for hungry freshman coming into college sports, as they now have to compete with more high level players for playing time.

Decatur graduate, Sarah Engle took her talents to Loyola University to play Division I lacrosse this past fall. After losing her senior season in high school, she was ready to work hard and compete for the Greyhounds. As multiple inside sources evaluated collegiate women’s lacrosse teams, Loyola earned a preseason rank of third in the country.

Dealing with imitation, Engle stated, “…it is more intimidating to join a team that is close to the same as last year because we have three fifth years, and jumping into a team without having fall can be overwhelming at times.”

When discussing the effects of COVID-19, she expressed concern with not having a fall practice season, as well as, “…still having to wear masks during practice and on the bus. We also have not been using our locker room as a team, instead we have groups that go in at a time on game days.” Engle went on to state, “…we have team rules to follow to ensure we are safe and COVID-19 free throughout the season.”

Strict rules have been enforced since the NCAA has announced college sports were back. Players take weekly COVID-19 tests, but even with these regulations, there are still lasting effects of this virus. With taking COVID-19 tests every week, obviously it is necessary for all players to test negative. If a player tests positive, teams are forced to quarantine and cancel select games.

Some players have opted to play in masks, while others do not. In addition, some leagues have chosen to only play in conference games. For example, the University of Maryland men’s and women’s lacrosse teams are both only scheduled to play teams within the Big Ten conference, while teams in other conferences are forced to change their schedules every day, pending cancellation of games.

As teams and conferences have different regulations for the season, Temple University coach, Bonnie Rosen, commented on season scheduling. Explaining why scheduling is so hard this year, she stated, “…we are spreading them out, they are all local games. We are not spending the night.” While Rosen feels this way, in conference competition, Boston College coach Acacia Walker-Weinstein shared her opinion on this season, stating, “I am fired up to be playing. It is something we will never take for granted again. As of right now, I have a really good take on everything and I am really optimistic. Everyone is working really hard to find ways to make this work for us. I am just grateful.”

Having sports coming back creates a sense of normalcy for not just the players, but also fans of the game. They are excited to watch their teams play because they missed out on college spring sports last season.

There is no way to tell if these schedules will change or if they are set in stone. The real question is how post season play will go. As the Ivy League teams have again opted out of this season, will other conferences follow and drop spring sports again? Will teams be forced to sit out of playoffs due to positive COVID-19 tests? There are many questions to be answered in the upcoming months, but the opportunity to play again is something these players, teams, and coaches will not only take for granted again, but cherish forever.