Teams hold practices with seasons on pause

By Dylan Manfre

The week of Sept. 14 was important in the NCAA’s guidelines for resocializing college sports.

Practices and training sessions are now bound by strict protocols limiting the number of players in the gym at a time, among other things, to ensure the safety of student-athletes, coaches and trainers to make the most of the fall and winter seasons.

The defending MAAC champions

For the women’s basketball team, players walk in using the front entrance of Alumni Gym and head to the locker room where only four are allowed in at a time. Players use hand sanitizer when they take a break and exit the building through a door next to the locker room.

As of Sept. 14, coaches could be involved in running the practices as opposed to “monitoring” from the sidelines. Before that date, the women’s basketball players had to reserve a time slot for a 30-minute voluntary shooting session which consisted of two players on each end of the court. As for basketball, the programs now have three players in a “pod” and are working out for an hour on the court doing drills.

“Right now we’re kind of getting that practice feel again so it feels honestly amazing to just be around my teammates and coaches and get criticism, it feels great,” sophomore guard Sophia DeMauro said. “Before that, it was just individual workouts, like we were just working on our own skills and trying to get better individually. Now we’re just putting it all together in our small group workouts. So we’re one step closer.”

DeMauro is in a group with fellow sophomores Lauren Saa and Victoria Toomey and said they are focusing on transition drills and defense among other things.

Sofie “Soof ” Bruintjes came to Rider from the Netherlands. Unlike her teammates in the U.S., Bruintjes was participating in live 5-on-5 competitions with her team Orange Lions Academy, until two weeks before she left for New Jersey. She does not mind the restrictions that the NCAA is placing.

“The protocols over here are way stricter than they are back home … the protocols here they are keeping us safe for sure,” Bruintjes said. “It’s really strict but it’s good and everybody is following. Like on our team everybody is keeping the protocols so that’s nice too.”

The NCAA announced on Sept. 16 that the first date of competition is Nov. 25, giving teams 63 days to prepare.

Milligan said that while the team is not practicing at 100% intensity yet, the team is trying to fit a lot into an eight-hour practice week. Per NCAA regulations, practice increases to 12 hours a week beginning Sept. 21 and full official practices can begin on Oct. 14.

“Yeah, we’re trying to squeeze a lot in,” Milligan said. “Coach [Maritta Gilcrease] and Coach Steve [Harney] are running. So it’s been challenging. We’re on the court four hours a day so it’s challenging but it’s been five months since we’ve been on the court so we’ll be on the floor eight hours a day if that’s what it takes. So whatever we’re allowed to do with our kids and make sure they’re learning and getting their bodies back to the speed it needs to be at for the long grind of the season is probably the challenging part.”

Even after practice time increased to 12 hours a week, Milligan said her team is not ready to take that yet.

“We won’t use 12 [hours] yet,” Milligan said. “It’s not necessary for us yet. We’re kind of easing our way into things. We will get to that point sooner than later but we’re not doing that right now.”

Volleyball’s regrouping

Unlike the women’s basketball team, volleyball does not have a start date for its season since the fall sports have been moved to the spring because of the pandemic.

“We keep reminding them our test isn’t until four or five months away,” head coach Jeff Rotondo said. “So right now we’re just studying and preparing and getting a little bit better and drilling in technique a lot.”

Players walk into the gym with masks on and get ready for practice near the away basketball locker room.

The volleyball team currently does not have access to its locker room, according to Rotondo.

On Sept. 18, players began warming up by throwing tennis balls over the net simulating what a spike would look like. They can only take their mask off when they set foot on the court.

“Basically what we’re looking to do is a lot of technique work,” Rotondo said. “The focuses are, depending on the position, one or two things per practice. We’re going probably like a rep in or two reps in every 30 to 45 seconds to keep an eye on capacity and make sure we’re not overtraining. And then from there, it’s really just drilling in technique.”

Sophomore middle hitter Morgan Koch said she is happy to be back playing because in her home in Illinois, all gyms were still shut down.

“I was so excited. Even when I found out that the gym, the [Student Recreation Center], we’re able to workout outside I was so excited. I would have taken anything at that point just because all the gyms are closed and I’m just so happy to be back with my team.”

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