Students have begun getting back to the normal college experience with on-campus housing and in-person classes. That also includes athletes being able to participate in competitive sports.
In the fall, Castleton athletics did not have any competitive games due to the Coronavirus pandemic but as the spring semester begins, teams are starting to see more normalcy and are competing against opponents.
“As an athletic director, I want our student athletes to be able to participate in sports,” said Deanna Tyson, Castleton University’s athletic director.
Winter sports teams began practicing in October to start preparing for a season or abbreviated season of games.
“We got onto the ice in October and were good through Thanksgiving. Once everyone started coming back, people had to quarantine, and we ended up getting a positive test result…luckily it did not spread and we’ve been lucky to not have to deal with COVID as much as other teams have,” says Tim McAuliffe, the women’s ice hockey coach.
All the winter sports teams have had to deal with some team member of a respective team having to go into quarantine due to a positive test or close contact to someone who has tested positive.
“If an athlete or coach tests positive, they have to go into quarantine…and then we contact trace and the health department gets involved,” Tyson said in regards to who has to go into quarantine if a member of a team tests positive for COVID-19.
Practice looked different at first for the women’s ice hockey team as social distancing was promoted. Drills and skill work were focused on and there were with changes before practice too.
“As athlete’s know the locker room is a special place and we cannot have everyone in the locker room at the same time which is something the team is adapting and dealing with,” McAuliffe said when talking about other challenges faced this season.
Now, practices are looking more normal with more whole-team drills and situational type drills as games are ready to start soon.
“I feel more comfortable now that our players are being tested three times a week in order to compete in games,” McAuliffe said.
The State of Vermont made it mandatory to test athletes three times a week if competing against out of state schools.
“Alpine and Nordic Skiing I kept in-state, so they only get tested once a week,” said Tyson.
Students had to sign the Spartan Pledge, agreeing to rules put into place on campus to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Athletes competing this winter had to sign an additional pledge that the state government made a requirement to allow for competitive sports this winter.
“The biggest challenge is other teams shutting down (due to possible positive cases) … We have teams on pause all the time, so the challenge is trying to get games,” Tyson said.
The women’s ice hockey team was supposed to play Norwich home and away the weekend of February 5th, but the game was cancelled due to Norwich not being able to practice yet.
“If someone shuts down, I’m telling the coaches to pick somebody else up,” said Tyson explaining the effort to get the most amount of games in possible for student athletes.
McAuliffe picked up Utica for a home and away series for the next weekend after Norwich cancelled.
“There is a good chain of communication amongst coaches in the area trying to help everyone out when a team has to cancel so teams can play the most amount of games possible,” McAuliffe said.
Unfortunately, the men’s Basketball team and winter track are not competing this winter due to COVID-19 complications.
“It’s obviously disappointing … We got to the point that was the decision that was made, and I get it,” head coach Paul Culpo said.
Culpo was a part of the decision with Tyson and agreed that it was best for the team to not compete.
Since athletes on the basketball team are in close contact for a long period of time, everyone had to go into quarantine when someone tested positive.
“The kids were on their third quarantine which was over 21 days and at that point I’m like this is crazy, this is not a good experience…so at this point we are just going to shut it down and that way our kids aren’t spending two months in quarantine,” Tyson said.
Culpo said the team is still going to hold practices this semester once they get the whole team back, which will be valuable because his team is young, and the extra practice will be an opportunity to develop for the future.
Culpo pointed to mental health as part of the reason for cancelling the season.
He believed that continuously having his players going back into quarantine would not be good mentally for his players.
“I think that is a part of it that’s being overlooked in this whole thing is that it’s not just about the physical health but also the mental health aspect to this pandemic,” Culpo added.
All other sports are competing with no fans, but you can stream the games online at castletonsports.com to support Spartan athletes.