Spartan athletes gear up for non-traditional fall

While there likely won’t be any intercollegiate competition happening for fall athletes in 2020 at Castleton University, teams are still practicing and preparing for when the bell rings and they are called back to take on other schools in competition.

The coronavirus pandemic has stripped away competitive sports from nearly all universities this fall, Castleton being one of them.

But it’s not slowing down the preparation or breaking the spirit of athletes here.

Dustin Rock, a senior defensive lineman for the Spartan football team from North Hero Vermont, usually spends his Saturday afternoons during the fall months terrorizing quarterbacks and offensive lineman.

Dustin Rock.
Rock on the field during a game.

In 2019 big number 99 tallied 55 tackles and 2.5 quarterback sacks for the rugged Spartan defense.

This year, however, that isn’t the case, with practices not even starting for the men on the gridiron yet. Rock has geared his focus toward another aspect of the game; development.

When asked about his expectations for the season he commented, “I really want young guys to take advantage of this time to become familiar with the playbook and be mentally ready for a season… there’s no excuses.”

As a senior captain, the hourglass may feel like it is running out, but for Rock it seems to be merely paused.

“I’m coming back for a fifth year, and I expect nothing less than our best in everything we do from now to the end of next season,” he said.

When it comes to preparing for a season, a global pandemic is something that isn’t usually accounted for. We saw this pandemic shut down almost everything, including public fields and gyms.

These closures and adjustments didn’t hinder the work ethic of Kaitlin Bardellini, a sophomore from Northfield, New Hampshire.

Kaitlin Bardellini.
Bardellini on the field.

“My high school’s turf was shut down most of the spring and summer months, which caused me to improvise,” Bardellini said.

She created a mini field hockey field in her back yard to continue to improve her skills. Last fall, Bardellini cut through defenses with dominating speed, netting 12 goals, and tallying eight assists for the Spartans, as a freshman. Losing speed was something she was worried about given she didn’t have the equipment or resources that she had before the pandemic.

“I could not do any of the conditioning drills on turf, so I had to do them in my backyard. I was doing all of my sprints up a huge hill for time,” she said Luckily the old school approach wasn’t as awful as she may have anticipated.

“By the end of the summer, I noticed that my times were just as good as doing sprints on flat land,” she added.

This pandemic has brought new aspects to sports that many have never even thought about, like wearing a mask and maintaining social distance. It is difficult to anticipate how athletes are going to respond to such changes.

Rylee Nichols, a senior from North Clarendon, Vermont who plays on the woman’s soccer team at Castleton, chatted after having just begun fall practices this week.

Rylee Nichols.
Nichols on the field.

“I think my team is adjusting to the Covid restrictions pretty well, although it has not been easy,” Nichols said.

The senior forward who netted 10 goals and six assists last year, had concerns about this fall.

“I wasn’t sure what this season was going to consist of, but I keep telling myself to stay positive… be grateful for what I get,” she said.

Even though there are no competitions happening this year, Casey McDonnell, offensive coordinator for the Spartan football team sees a silver lining for the fall.

“I think that for new players to the program, this gives them more of an opportunity to embrace the schemes and playbook while transitioning to college student athlete life at a slower pace,” McDonell said.

He said he expects to face some adversity, however.

“The non-traditional season is definitely a challenge, both logistically making sure what we do is sound to proper protocols and guidelines, while remaining efficient and getting something out of it,” he said. “It helps to think of it as a learning experience in how to handle adversity.”

When thinking about sports, more than just the athletes and sports themselves are impacted by change. There are many parts behind the scenes impacted as well, including the sports medicine staff.

Certain precautions are being taken this fall that haven’t been thought of before.

Ed Wozniakewicz, a certified athletic trainer at Castleton, said it’s a whole new world.

“We are utilizing PPE (personal protective equipment). We are practicing stricter cleaning protocols to clean all surfaces and equipment after each use,” Wozniakewicz said.

With restrictions on the number of people allowed in the Athletic Training Room, Wozniakewicz has been facing some challenges.

“All AT’s are working on an appointment-based schedule…Having people walk in as if we are an open clinic has been a difficult adjustment,” he added.

Regarding adjusting to the “new normal,” Wozniakewicz said, “It has been great. I am able to focus more time and attention with each patient I work with… I also have more control over my schedule and stay more organized.”

Wozniakewicz sees one challenge as being crucial to a good fall for the Spartans.

“The main challenge is trusting that student-athletes are following the Spartan Pledge when no one is watching,” he said.

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