Spartans preparing for fall seasons during pandemic

Athletes tend to complete their respective goals for upcoming seasons when they are able to train in a routine.

The COVID-19 global pandemic has thrown a gigantic wrench in those plans for Castleton University student-athletes.

At this point, the button for sports around the world is still pressed on pause, meaning millions of athletes of all ages are forced to sit at home and try to figure out ways to ready themselves for tough and grueling competition.

Tom Donovan, a sophomore offensive lineman for the football team from Schuylerville, New York, was distraught when the news broke on March 24 for classes at Castleton University to transition to virtual learning, and on-campus students to return to their homes.

Tom Donovan posing for his football photo

Donovan quickly realized his preparation for his junior season would be tricky.

“Not being able to train and practice, and even see my teammates face-to-face before summer, is a challenge,” he said. “We were all busting our backsides in the weight room and conditioning, trying to get right for this upcoming season. It’s a challenge, but we are all getting through it the best we can.”

Donovan played in all nine games in the 2019-2020 season, with several appearances as a starter for the Spartans.

Castleton women’s soccer star forward from Clarendon, Vermont, Rylee Nichols, is entering her senior season in the most unlikely of scenarios. Nichols said via email she has transitioned well to the new learning format, has been training for her final campaign and is missing her friends and teammates greatly.

“I have been staying positive by reminding myself that this will all come to an end soon and that things will be back to normal,” Nichols said. “I feel for those spring sport athletes who didn’t get to play this year. I remind myself every day to work hard and trust the process and that really helps me stay positive.”

Drastic times call for creative measures for these two athletes, as Nichols and Donovan look to prepare with limited equipment.

Rylee Nichols on the field

“To get ready for next season I have been following the workouts that coach Wes (Landon) has been giving the team,” Nichols said. “Along with those I have come up with my own workouts to do as well to help with my progress of getting ready. I set up a space to workout in my basement that I use every day, and I also use an app on my phone for specific soccer workouts that allows me to get touches on the ball.”

Donovan brought up being grateful for strength and conditioning coach Wes Landon’s efforts to provide scripted workouts for Spartans in all sports during this hectic situation, while also improvising with the resources at hand.

“Fortunately, coach Wes has given us bodyweight home workouts to do and conditioning to do during this difficult time,” Donovan said. “Personally, I’ve been trying to make equipment

out of anything I can. Whether it’s loading up a duffle bag with bricks or using spare tires and metal beams like barbells, in a time like this, you have to get creative with what you have.”

Players aren’t the only ones affected by the recent changes. Coaches for all sports have had to adjust to recruiting and communicating with their players virtually.

The Spartans’ offensive coordinator for the football team, Casey McDonnell, admitted this has been a learning experience for everyone, but continues to find ways to stay positive.

“It’s been a bit of a culture shock, but technologically speaking, it’s getting easier handling the transition now that there’s a sense of pattern and routine about it. The first few days were of course a little hard just in trying to figure out how to make do with the current situation,” McDonnell said. “Human interaction can be a little challenging too. I’m lucky to have two other roommates and my dog, Norm, in quarantine with me, but Face-Timing your family and friends can only make do so much.”

McDonnell is set to begin his fifth season on the coaching staff for the football team. Creating an enticing digital package for prospects to view and appreciate in such a short time was a complete group effort.

“I think all of us have done a great job in just being able to take the situation and adjust as needed. We hustled to create recruiting materials and videos that would aid in a more digital approach to recruiting, which we think have done wonders to this point,” McDonnell said. “At the end of the day, a recruit wants to see the place that they hope to call home and providing these videos has done a great job in finding alternative ways of painting the picture of Castleton during this pandemic.”

Donovan is trying to stay calm like he would when 300-pound defensive linemen charge at him on the line of scrimmage, keeping a simple mindset for the time being.

“I’m trying to stay positive by simply controlling what I can control. I know that I can control my work ethic and my attitude toward getting better and being healthy,” Donovan added. “Taking it one day at a time and staying the course toward my goals is what’s keeping me going. As a team, we hold each other accountable, we communicate daily shooting videos back and forth of the creative ways we are working at home and keeping each other positive, knowing that there is a bigger picture and we’ll get through this.”

Nichols chimed in with advice for people struggling emotionally and mentally through the confusing process.

“Don’t be afraid to reach out to coaches, teammates and friends for help or advice because so many people are going through this and having people to talk to is helpful,” she said.

McDonnell is excited to see what his players can do under duress, as it serves as a real-life example of adversity.

“The main thing that we just try to communicate is that this is obviously unlike anything we’ve ever experienced, but it’s just another piece of adversity that we must learn to overcome TOGETHER in order to achieve our ultimate goal,” McDonnell said passionately. “We had some good momentum going into the off-season and it feels like our guys are motivated to not lose sight of that.”

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