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Bradley coaches gear up for a coronavirus-impacted fall season

The 2020 NCAA fall sports season is currently slated to proceed as scheduled across the country, though what it will look like is largely fluid as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve.

The overarching theme of the season-to-be? It will be far from what anybody is used to. 

“There will be a fall season,” Bradley cross country head coach Darren Gauson said. “We’re just waiting to hear on what it’s actually going to look like. Are we going to have a national championship? Who’s going to be there? What’s travel going to look like? Is our season going to be a little bit shorter? It’s not going to be a normal fall season.”

The four NCAA Division I-sponsored fall sports at Bradley are volleyball, soccer, cross country and golf. Each of these sports must navigate a unique set of challenges inherent to their respective environments. 

“We’re fortunate,” Gauson said. “We’re not like a volleyball or basketball [team] where you have to be indoors in a gym. We can practice the social distancing part … we might have to meet on location this fall.” 

Gauson noted that while the cross-country team lifts weights twice a week, it is unlikely to have between 40 and 50 runners in the weight room as they normally would. Instead, the team will have to break into smaller training groups to satisfy social distancing guidelines. 

Soccer head coach Jim DeRose indicated that teams will need time to ramp up prior to taking the pitch. 

“We’re preparing for a preseason,” DeRose said. “What that preseason looks like … it might not be up and going full practices day one. There may be some period of adjustment, like you’re seeing now where you work in small groups to get everybody up and ready before you can do a scrimmage.”

The different areas in which players live pose an additional challenge to coaches, domestically or internationally. With nearly every state or country taking a different reopening stance, players find themselves with varying resources at their disposal.

For DeRose and the soccer program, this means making sure that players from seven different time zones across multiple continents are on the same page in regard to a training plan. 

“We have players from Iowa, and that state just has simply never shut down,”  DeRose said. “So a lot of those players have been able to practice and go to gyms and work out, versus our Chicago-based players which are different from our Dallas players which are different than our Las Vegas players which are different than our San Diego players …”

With so much time spent away from campus, it would be easy for the teams to fall out of sync with each other. That won’t be the case on the Hilltop, however, as teams have continued to bond and gain insight through video calls. 

“We’ve just been doing stuff online,” volleyball head coach Carol Price-Torok said. “Trying to stay connected to the team, doing Zoom calls, guest speakers … we’ve had some former Olympians on our calls, S.W.A.T. team lieutenants, a colonel who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. A lot of good leadership people who can just connect with us and tell us what they had to go through.”

The volleyball team has also been keeping the mood light with game nights and other activities during the quarantine. 

“We have some fun stuff,” Price-Torok said. “We have game night, we kinda play Catchphrase, if you will, via Zoom, which has been pretty funny. It kinda brings out the competitive side of the kids, which is always fun to see.” 

All this in an effort to keep morale high. But as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to play out, the focus will soon return to the playing surface. 

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