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Dartmouth athletes, coaches happy to spring back to action

  • Apr. 24, 2021; Amherst, Massachusetts, USA; during Game 2 of a non conference doubleheader between Dartmouth College and UMass held at Sortino Field. The Minutewomen won Game 2 by a score of 15-13 over the Big Green. Credit Foley-Photography.

  • Dartmouth freshman Henry Bonnie (20) brings the ball up the field against a Tufts defender during the teams’ men’s lacrosse game at Scully-Fahey Field in Hanover on April 25. The contest was the Big Green’s first after more than a year of pandemic-forced inaction.

  • Dartmouth senior midfielder Veta Mayer avoids a check from a Tufts player a game at Scully-Fahey Field in Hanover on April 25.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/30/2021 10:57:52 PM
Modified: 4/30/2021 10:57:50 PM

HANOVER — As COVID-19 quickly turned into society’s main concern in March 2020, the Ivy League was the first college conference in the country to cancel athletic events. As other leagues brought college sports back in the fall, the Ivy League remained firm and stuck by its cancellation of the fall schedule, and later winter and spring 2021.

Dartmouth athletes lost four straight seasons of competition to the pandemic. But in April, the Big Green finally returned to action.

The school informed coaches that teams could begin practicing on April 6. Softball, track and field, men’s and women’s tennis, men’s and women’s lacrosse, and women’s rowing brought their rosters together. Contact sports teams had to move through four stages of COVID-19 protocols to have any sort of season. Early on, everyone involved at practice had to stay 10 feet apart. Head men’s lacrosse coach Brendan Callahan’s team had squares painted on the field properly spaced for everyone to stand.

But regardless of restrictions, athletes and coaches alike were elated to simply be practicing together again.

“A team is definitely an experience that we’ve been missing out on for the last 14 months,” said Madie Augusto, a junior pitcher for Dartmouth softball. “Everyone’s just so stoked and energized to be there that I almost felt like we never had any time off. We just picked up where we left off.”

Even getting to that point was a turbulent process.

Rosters are limited because of campus restrictions, so anyone who was living at home for spring term would be unable to return. Men’s lacrosse has only 26 players from its 46-player roster. Softball is down to 12 out of 21 athletes, which creates a problem if anyone gets hurt. Augusto and her teammates had to take reps in practice at positions they don’t usually play just in case an injury forced a move.

Coaches had a tight timeline between the school’s decision to allow play and the start date for practices. Callahan said it turned into a scramble to call up his players and to start finding opponents within 100 miles of campus.

The timeline between starting practice and the first games was also tight. Because of non-COVID-19-related NCAA rules on building up toward full practices, Callahan said his team had only six or seven full workouts before it played its first game against Tufts on Sunday. Augusto said softball practiced for only about a week before its doubleheader at UMass on April 24.

However, not every team had those issues.

While playing lacrosse and softball during quarantine can be difficult, tennis is naturally pandemic-friendly. The sport requires very few people, and social distancing is built into the game.

Head men’s tennis coach Xander Centenari said his team didn’t have to shake off a lot of rust upon returning. His squad still faced challenges, like training individually during late fall and winter, but overall had an advantage in mid-pandemic practice compared to other sports.

“People had done a pretty good job of keeping up with their tennis,” Centenari said. “We have a group of really motivated guys, and tennis is a sport happily where, if you’re motivated, it’s pretty reasonable to do a good job when you’re away from campus. So we came back and, from a tennis standpoint, we were in a pretty good spot.”

Playing games at all is a positive development, but this is different than a typical season.

Dartmouth teams aren’t competing for anything in the big picture as they would in a normal Ivy League campaign.

As such, while the teams want to win, the result of the game isn’t as important as various other goals. Many of those objectives are the same across different teams: Giving seniors one last chance to put on the Big Green uniform, getting freshmen their first real experiences of practices and games at the collegiate level, and just enjoying being together as a team again.

Senior women’s lacrosse defender Emma Lesko didn’t know if she’d get to wear a Dartmouth uniform again before this return to play came together, so she said she was grateful to have that opportunity. She appreciated having a senior day experience, even if it was abnormal.

She and her classmates are also relishing the chance to help their younger teammates develop as players.

“We’re not playing for any championships, but we’re playing right now for the underclassmen to get championships in the future. That’s our motivation right now,” Lesko said. “Even if it’s waking up at 7 a.m. for practice, we’re doing it to pass forward all of the team traditions, all of the knowledge that we have, because that makes it all worth it.”

Losing, essentially, two competitive spring seasons will have major ramifications on Dartmouth’s programs. Given the massive roster turnover from 2019 to now, Callahan said some aspects of the program will have to be rebuilt.

“The cultural things, which we talk about as our actions and attitudes, have to all be reset. The teaching components have to be reset,” Callahan said. “We’re gonna have, basically, two classes of freshmen, because these kids haven’t been through a full year of training, next year. It’s almost like, ‘Wipe the slate clean, let’s start from zero, and make sure the fundamentals are there for us first.’ ”

Seth Tow can be contacted at stow@vnews.com.




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