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The COVID-19 effect: A college experience like no other for incoming freshmen athletes

For any incoming student athlete, the thought of acclimating to a brand new college environment can be daunting. This year’s crop of freshmen, however, face an extra challenge on their way to becoming integral members of their respective sports teams. 

COVID-19 has thrown a wrench into the prospect of collegiate athletics across the nation for the foreseeable future.Rising cases across Bradley’s general population led to a two-week, campus-wide quarantine that ceased sports teams’ ability to practice.

So how are these athletes trying to find normalcy in such an environment?

Bradley softball freshman teammates Jordy van der Werf and Addison Pettit found themselves in a situation that altered how they thought their first few weeks of college sports would transpire.

van der Werf explained that not being able to interact in-person makes building chemistry a little bit tougher.

“It’s hard because you can’t really see [them] face-to-face and hear their voice,” van der Werf said. “We couldn’t do high fives and stuff like that [at the limited practices before the quarantine].” 

Pettit, a freshman from West Richland, Washington said that since the softball freshmen reside in the same dorm hall, not all in-person communication is cut off.

“I don’t really get to connect with the other [members of the] team which is hard, so it’s not fun,” Pettit said. “But you kind of just got to go with what’s going on right now and try to make the best of it and try to get to know people as much as possible.”

Bradley softball head coach Amy Hayes recognizes the difficulty of the situation, but she remains focused on the big picture. 

“That will come around as soon as we can get back together and start working as a team, but that’s definitely been one of the hardest things for us to try to juggle,” Hayes said. “I just want them to stay with their schoolwork and get that done and be on time, and this time allows you to make sure that you’ve got your academics under control. That’s gonna be important as we go through this semester.”

Similarly, the college experience for soccer freshmen Camden Kowalski and Jackson Fyda has been put on hold during the quarantine, but the two student athletes were able to identify some positives.

Kowalski, a Mundelein, Illinois native, views the quarantine as an adjustment period to adapt to college life.

“If we were to be playing soccer right now, we’d probably be studying and [playing] soccer, eating and sleeping,” Kowalski said. “That’s all we’d be doing. Now, we get to kind of relax and ease into it.” 

Fyda, from Reno, Nevada, agrees that while added free time has been a positive, team bonding has proved to be a tall task. 

“We have team Zoom calls, Google Meet calls, stuff like that,” Fyda said. “We’ve seen [each other] in person three times, but it’s very distant and it’s not the same thing as what it should be right now.”

Despite the nearly strictly virtual interaction, the players have been able to form a connection with their older teammates.

“We’ve seen them in practice and we’ve been able to talk, so far we’ve been able to bond pretty well when we get to see them,” Fyda said. “We are slowly starting to get to know some of the older guys.”

All of the collegiate sports teams spanning the nation are facing similar degrees of uncertainty. Postponed seasons, delayed games and additional quarantine orders may be in the cards for these freshmen. However, positive attitudes seemed to be the theme among the athletes and coaches.

“I just feel grateful for it because I’d say that we’re lucky to even be on campus,” van der Werf said. “Really, just be grateful and take advantage of what you have now, instead of worrying about if we will have a season.”

Meanwhile, Pettit prefers to deal with the uncertainty “one day at a time.”

“If a new problem comes up tomorrow, we will worry about it tomorrow instead of worrying about it today,” Pettit said.

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