Almost all of the fall sports at Fort Lewis College have been put on hold for the 2020 season due to the circumstances surrounding COVID-19.
Golf and cross-country are the only two sports competing in regular season meets and tournaments for the fall season. Both are considered as low-threat sports by the NCAA.
Coaches are focused on making sure that athletes stay academically strong and healthy, Darius Smith, head coach for the football team, said.
“I’m as hopeful as COVID will allow me to be,” Smith said.
Some of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference teams are trying to see if they can play a couple of football games in the fall, but FLC is not one of them, Smith said.
The conference and Presidents Council made the decision for the football team not to play this fall, he said.
Brandon Leimbach, Athletic Director, is excited about the RMAC conference allowing cross country and golf to continue with their season into the fall.
"It’s been 178 days since FLC has been able to compete in a game,” Leimbach said.
Leimbach’s main focus is the health and safety of the athletes, which includes making sure that they have the proper medical care through Mercy Sports Medicine.
Leimbach is still waiting on the status of basketball but is hoping that it’ll be able to start in January, he said.
The NCAA Division II Championships committee have been meeting to discuss when they will set the date for championships in men's and women’s basketball, but nothing has been officially set in place, he said.
A date for the championships would provide insight as to when a season is allowed as well as permitting a schedule towards playoffs, he said.
The students who started voluntary strength and conditioning workouts in July had to get tested before they were eligible to come onto campus, as well as daily symptom screenings for every athlete, he said.
Athletes also had to complete base-line testing one week before school started, Leimbach said.
David Wilson, Assistant Athletic Director-Communication, said that the base-line testing included a scheduled drive-thru COVID-19 test and questionnaire towards regulating the health and status of all FLC students onto campus.
Per NCAA ruling, in-season athletes must get tested every week, whereas the out of season athletes will participate in random tests every two weeks, Leimbach said.
These protocols apply to coaches, athletic trainers, any administrators who might be traveling, he said.
Giedre Tarnauskaite, first-year head coach, says that the volleyball team is using the fall to build up the team’s standards and expectations so that her team doesn’t lose the culture of FLC Volleyball.
The team is only allowed up to four hours of practice a week until Oct., these practices include some aspects of competition within the team, but her main focus is to work on team bonding and technique as the year progresses towards a season, Tarnauskaite said.
New edition’s to the team include three freshmen and five transfer students, Tarnauskaite said.
RMAC has kept in contact with Tarnauskaite as far as scheduling for the volleyball season and is hopeful that the team will be able to compete in the Spring, Tarnauskaite said.
“There has been a lot of collaboration among the departments, and I think people are happy to have students back,” she said. “At the same time, there are some concerns, but I think that everybody is doing the best they can at making adjustments, and so we’re excited to do what we can on our end.”
Alexa Treguboff, Senior outside-hitter, said that at first the team was practicing in individual positions groups.
Breaking down into small groups helps the team focus on techniques such as middle hitters blocking and connecting with setters on different sets, Tarnauskaite said.
Liberos, outside hitters and outside hitters spend time breaking down their serve receives, Tarnauskaite said.
With there being no seasonal games, her players’ mental health was a concern, she said.
Chailyn Swenson, Freshman outside-hitter, said it is harder to meet people on campus with all the safe-distance protocols taking effect at FLC orientation.
She’s appreciative of the time being spent with her teammates, Swenson said.
Tarnauskaite has offered her players resources for mental health as well as counselors if they ever need to talk to someone, Swenson said.
“I think if there was someone to maximize our individual and team potential, it would be our current coach now,” Swenson said. "She’s focusing on us and our technique which really allows us to feel like we can succeed in such a positive environment.”
Tarnauskaite is pushing to implement the opportunity for players to sit down with her and have some one-on-one down time to check in on the player’s mental health, Swenson said.
“Coach wasn’t able to start previously because of the pandemic, but she’s wanting to start doing socially distanced lunches or coffee dates to check up on players and make sure everyone is on the same page,” Swenson said.
The team gets along with each other since they are still able to spend time hiking together, Swenson said.
“Our social life maybe isn’t as broad as it could be, but with each other, we’re able to have 14 other people who we can hang out and watch a basketball game with,” Swenson said.
Women’s Cross Country
Brett Sublett, Head coach of women's cross-country, said that there was disappointment when the track team found out that their very first meet was canceled due to the pandemic.
Makiah Salzano, Senior runner, said that the team was in really good shape after putting in a lot of miles and enduring those hard workouts.
“So many people improved drastically and that was going to be our year to send our best runners to the bigger meets,” Salzano said.
It is necessary to go through the daily nasal tests and masks wearing so that a team as closely connected as hers can assure that they are all safe and healthy, Salzano said.
Salzano also mentioned her team’s respect for social distancing and being in their specific pod whenever they are on campus and training.
“It was a little weird warming up for the races in a mask, but none of us complained” Salzano said. “It's the reality now. We just did what we had to do, and I’m just thankful we were able to put on the jersey.”
At the start of any race there’s usually a crowd of runners lined up at the starting line but for the 13th annual Rust Buster 5K, they were divided up into sections to abide with social distancing, Salzano said.
“It’s my last year here, and it's my fifth year of cross-country and track, and I would’ve been so devastated if we weren’t able to do this,” Salzano said.
The team had trained all winter for a full track season only for it to be completely canceled, Sublett said. Now the team is ecstatic to be able to be one of the sports allowed to participate in a fall season this year, he said.
The women's team acquired six new freshmen and three transfer students, which almost doubles the amount compared to last season's roster of 13 runners, Sublett said.
Sublett said he was able to consider the runners times from past races as a resourceful tool in scouting.
Head coach of the women's soccer team, Damien Clarke, believes that the group he has now is one of the fittest teams he’s ever coached.
Twenty-six of 32 players passed all the fitness tests the first week, Clarke said.
The team is able to do four hours of skilled instruction which includes team training with a ball as well as four hours of weight lifting and conditioning, Clarke said.
The team is allowed up to eight players in their pods, Clarke said.
One goal Clark has for the team is to be a top four team that's competing in the RMAC for a place in the national tournament, he said.
Last year was the first time the team finished above 50% of games won since 2015, and ended the 2019 season in sixth place, Clarke said.
The kids do not lose a year of eligibility, Clarke said.
The women’s soccer team acquired nine new freshmen on the team as well as two walk-on students from FLC, Clarke said.
“At the end of the day, finding a way to create the right mindset out of this is how we're gonna keep the kids healthy and motivated,” Clarke said.
Head coach of the men's soccer team, David Oberholtzer, sees this as an opportunity for his team to prepare and use these months in the fall to build up the team for the spring season.
The team does have a schedule that has been approved and it does have fewer games, but there will be a conference tournament which gives the team something to compete for, Oberholtzer said.
“They’re being flexible and adapting and trying to do everything they can to keep their teammates and everybody in the school safe,” Oberholtzer said.
Goalkeeper and captain, Peter Byrne, said that because they will not have a season doesn’t mean they can slack off. They can still focus on the details that can help them improve as student athletes, he said.
“Obviously there was a bigger picture and it was the correct decision in the end for the health of everyone around us,” Byrne said.
Passing squares is an activity the team participates in and helps their individual technical work as well as engage the team in soccer workouts, combined with a scrimmage they participate in once a week to help with social distancing during practice, Byrne said.
“A few of us from my pod go to the lake just to hang out while keeping a safe distance and wearing masks,” Byrne said.
“I know the guys like to hike and fly fish, and so it’s nice to be able to go out and do those kinds of things,” he said.
Men and Women’s Golf
Head coach of the Mens and Womens Golf team, Jim Foltz, said that he prefers that the team participate only within the RMAC conference, being that other states outside of Colorado have a different set of rules and regulations when traveling.
Foltz plans for his team to stay in hotels and requires that they keep three in a room where each golfer has a bed of their own to keep a safe-social distance, he said.
Other schools, such as Colorado State University-Pueblo, have backed out of tournaments due to being put on a 14-day quarantine, meaning they were not able to participate at Colorado Christian’s Fall Mile High Shootout Golf Tournament on Sept. 15, Foltz said.
A golf tournament in Arizona has been cancelled because not enough teams were able to sustain the minimum number that the tournament wanted participating, Foltz said.
Travel restrictions prevent teams such as FLC from participating in other states, Foltz said.
This was the first tournament of the season, which included other Colorado teams that compete in the RMAC, Foltz said.
Head coach of the men's cross-country team, Joshua Coon, said that his team feels a lot of gratitude and joy because they know it can be taken away, especially with everything that happened in March surrounding the cancelation of their season.
“This is out of our control,” Coon said. “We’ve got to follow the expectations provided by the school and the NCAA, but that's a small price to pay because we’re here”.
FLC couldn’t have done anything more to prevent runners from catching COVID-19, Coon said.
There are 11 new players for this season, which allows for a stable roster in case the mandatory seven-man roster were to be put in jeopardy, Coon said.
Despite the uncertainty, the runners were able to consistently stay in shape from Mar. until Aug., and were able to adjust to running in masks, Coon said.
“They’re adjusting to their temporary norm,” Coon said.
Coon said he sees at least 14 of his runners that can potentially run for the seven-man at RMAC Championships and be able to finish within the top five.