On Aug. 11, the Pac-12 conference unanimously voted to postpone all sports competitions through the end of the calendar year, posing a delay for Oregon State University’s fall sports: men’s soccer, women’s soccer, cross country, volleyball, and football.
Many of OSU’s student-athletes including Miles Sanchez – a redshirt senior on the men’s soccer team, Maddy Ellsworth – a redshirt sophomore on the women’s soccer team, and Grace Fetherstonhaugh – a redshirt sophomore on the cross country and track and field teams have spent the summer in Corvallis training for the upcoming season. With their conference competition delayed, the student-athletes are now adjusting to a fall without a season.
Prior to the Pac-12 announcement, approximately 80 percent of the men’s soccer team was in Corvallis, conditioning and lifting during the week and completing technical, individual work away from team-regulated activities, according to Sanchez.
Since the spring soccer season was canceled due to rising COVID-19 cases, Sanchez said the team was hopeful about playing in the fall.
“I could feel some doubt within the team like a month before the announcement, which is pretty early—like early July,” Sanchez said. “They’re passionate guys. They’re hopeful every single day. They show up, they work hard.”
Sanchez serves as OSU’s Student-Athlete Leadership Team (SALT) representative, and was involved in several conference webinars and meetings throughout the summer. Training is optional moving forward, but most of the team — including freshmen and the squad’s large number of international players — are already back in Corvallis. Sanchez said the biggest challenge so far is being unable to compete against each other on a daily basis.
“I think that’s such a vital part of our team culture. It brings us closer, and we’re able to get to know each other more by competing,” Sanchez said. “I think losing that kind of camaraderie aspect — not that we’re not close, it’s just more on-the-field-growth — I’d say that’s the most challenging. Guys are passionate, and guys train every single day to do the individual work, but it’s just completely different from being able to go at each other every day in a healthy environment.”
Sanchez said he is looking forward to contact playing with his teammates, along with eventually interacting with the Corvallis community.
The entirety of the women’s soccer team, including first-year student-athletes, are training in Corvallis, according to Ellsworth. She was looking forward to the season, but was pessimistic prior to the Pac-12 postponement announcement.
“I felt the only reason people were pushing for a season was for money, and that was really frustrating for me,” Ellsworth said. “At Oregon State, I feel like we were doing a really good job of testing and making sure we were doing the right things.”
According to Ellsworth, one of the most difficult aspects of the postponement is fitness: getting in shape for the season, then being unable to play.
“Kenzie [Weinert] is in the best shape ever right now. Sydney [Studer] is in the best shape ever. I had passed the fitness test, so many people had passed it. So for that to be like, ‘you’re still going to have to re-pass the test when the next season comes around’ — that was super discouraging,” Ellsworth said.
Practices remain voluntary, and Ellsworth said players have the option to return home if they are concerned about COVID-19.
“Honestly, it’s probably better and safer for people to stay here, and I think that’s kind of the mentality of everyone,” Ellsworth said. “I think people are just excited to even start practicing.”
Ellsworth noted the biggest challenge she sees moving forward is ensuring student-athletes continue to adhere to COVID-19 protocols.
“We were really trying to follow the rules—not be in places with more than ten people, wearing your mask, social distancing,” Ellsworth said. “And for that to be pushed off—I think people really have to remember that if we do want to have a season in the spring, we have to start now to prevent more COVID cases.”
Ellsworth said she is excited to start training with the team, and is looking forward to the opportunity to build a foundation and relationship with her teammates on the field in a way that is impossible during a traditional season.
Since Fetherstonhaugh’s track and field season was canceled in March due to COVID-19, the team has continued to train, even with an uncertain season ahead. She said the response among her team to the recent postponement was mixed.
“[In spring], I’d say everybody was quite disappointed. Obviously this is what we want to do. For fall, I think we’ve already kind of processed those things, and we knew this was going to probably be the case,” Fetherstonhaugh said. “I feel like we’ve just been able to be more positive about this fall. We do have quite a young team, as our coach Louie [Quintana] always says. So we’re definitely getting to that level now where we’re excited to race, and we’re going to be ready to go whenever we can get to go.”
More than half the team is currently in Corvallis, and will be practicing together in the fall. Yet, similar to OSU’s soccer teams, cross country’s training is optional, and Fetherstonhaugh said around 10 percent of her team has opted to stay home during the pandemic.
“With something like running, it’s very individual to some extent... especially since classes are mostly remote anyway,” Fetherstonhaugh said. “But I think a lot of us like it here in Corvallis, and want to be able to train together, so a lot of us are back anyway.”
Fetherstonhaugh said the time away from competition has allowed her team to build a strong aerobic base, shift mindsets, and focus on the mental toughness of the sport.
“We’re having fun with it, really just figuring out what we like about training and still working really hard at it. So right now, in my head, even if we were going to do cross country all along, we’d still be training, because running is year-round,” Fetherstonhaugh said. “We’re just training for whenever we go to race, regardless.”
By Jada Krening