In-person activities for University of La Verne athletics are currently on hold due to the pandemic, but student-athletes are staying prepared for the possible return of their sports in the spring.
The established NCAA guidelines for Division III athletic programs allow for 114 days of sport-related activities for fall, winter, and spring sports, according to the NCAA’s Division III Alternative Playing Seasons for the 2020-21 Academic Year. In-person or virtual team meetings, required workouts and conditioning sessions each count toward the 114-day total. Athletic Director Scott Winterburn said that all athletic facilities and buildings at the university are closed.
“The pandemic is in favor of the Leos. We are going to be the most prepared,” Adam Santa Cruz, catcher on the ULV baseball team, said.
Santa Cruz, a graduate student working on a master’s in teaching, is going into his last year as a member of the baseball team. Baseball, along with all the other spring sports, already had their season canceled last year when the pandemic began. Last season abruptly ended 18 games into the scheduled 40 games.
“It’s a little upsetting, but I’m grateful for a second chance to play,” Santa Cruz said. “It sucks to maybe not be able to play, but I’ll do what I have to do in order to be ready.”
This year brings the possibility that Santa Cruz could lose a second season of playing baseball, and his last chance to play before he calls it quits. He has already delayed taking courses in order to preserve his eligibility. Next season he wouldn’t have any courses left to take, so he could not even play if he wanted to.
“If next season gets canceled, it’ll be time for me to move on,” Santa Cruz said.
Santa Cruz said he does not believe staying prepared for this season as a challenge because of the culture that resides in the Leopard clubhouse. Every player knows what they have to do in order for the team to be successful, he said. Winterburn, who is also the baseball head coach, keeps the team organized and instills accountability into each of his players, said Santa Cruz.
“It is a program that is built upon hard work,” said Santa Cruz.
He said that the team’s Zoom meetings are used for the players to check in with each other and ask what is going on in their lives because everyone is doing their own work independently. He believes that the team’s work ethic will allow them to separate themselves from the rest of the teams they play.
“We like adversity,” said Santa Cruz.
As for conditioning and staying in playing shape, Santa Cruz created a program based on input from strength and conditioning coach Matt Durant. Santa Cruz shared this at-home strength and conditioning program with the rest of his teammates so that they will all be on the same page whenever they return to in-person practice.
Baseball is not the only sport finding its way through the pandemic.
“This is my 21st season as a college coach, and this is first for me,” Chris Krich, football head coach, said.
He said that the team is not practicing in person currently. However, he said that the football program has a strategic plan of return in mind that will follow state, county and NCAA guidelines. Everything right now is fluid and there is no specific date in mind for return. Krich said that the team will not be coming back to campus until it is safe to do so.
“The safety of the coaches and players is the No. 1 thing,” Krich said.
He said that formulating a practice plan is more difficult to do this year because of all the unknowns. He explained that he doesn’t know “how many players can be allowed on the field at once or what kind of social distancing will be required in certain situations.”
Because of the new 114-day season format put in place by the NCAA, Krich has focused on online meetings rather than in-person activities. Called “Leos After Ball,” he said the program is the ultimate goal of the coaching staff and focuses on teaching players how to navigate college and beyond. It also connects alumni to current players and allows for networking. Krich plans to devote 35-40 days in the fall to Leos After Ball.
Krich believes that Leos After Ball is a valuable experience for his players, which is why he has not scheduled any mandatory field or weight training because they would count as days toward the 114-day total. In addition to Leos After Ball, one team meeting is held per week on Wednesdays.
Krich said that with no team workouts, conditioning is the responsibility of the players. He said that some players are taking the online conditioning classes from the University and some have access to a gym, depending on where they live. He encourages his players to condition in order to be prepared for the season.
“Use what you got,” Krich said.
The women’s soccer team is focusing on conditioning as well.
Rebecca Fischer, a University of La Verne soccer player, said the soccer team has two to three Zoom meetings with their coach every week. Fischer, a junior computer science major, said that the plan is for the team to resume official in-person practices sometime in January.
Fischer said that she believes the team will be ready for the season because everyone on the team is committed and no one is slacking. Although she believes that the team would be more prepared with their usual summer training with Durant. One way they have overcome this setback is by using at home workout videos on YouTube, Fischer said. She believes that the team has not focused as much on running shape, but that it will be easily rectified with the return to practices. Fischer said that it is much easier to condition for running than it is to condition for weight training.
“When the season comes, we can’t be unprepared,” Fischer said.
Fischer explained that there are four senior soccer players who will leave the team after this year, even if the season is canceled. They are forward Ivana Fatovic, midfielder/defender Vanessa Plascencia, defender Vivian Ramirez and goalkeeper/forward Toni Salazar.
“It’s pretty sad to think about,” Fisher said.
Fischer hopes that the season will be able to be played and that the seniors do not get cheated out of their last season with the Leopards.
Meanwhile, the athletic department is looking ahead to getting everyone back onto the field.
Winterburn said that the current plan is for all sports to return in the spring, including those that usually only compete in the fall. He said the scheduled games will only be against Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference opponents with no traveling out of state.
He also said that the weight room on campus will not be opened until the athletic department gets approval to do so.
“We are allowed by rule to practice, but we’re not in the right tier to practice,” said Winterburn.
He said a possible day for the return to practice could be sometime after Thanksgiving.
Sebastian Ibarra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.