xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Fall sports teams at Navy prepare for new Patriot League guidelines with resiliency, understanding

Navy's fall sports coaches are taking the Patriot League's new coronavirus-related mandates in stride.
Navy's fall sports coaches are taking the Patriot League's new coronavirus-related mandates in stride. (Joshua McKerrow/Capital Gazette)

Navy’s fall sports coaches are taking new Patriot League guidelines and restrictions in stride.

After all, nothing in the plan, handed down from the league council on Monday, spells doom for the sports’ prospective seasons. In fact, it’s just the opposite.

Advertisement

All Navy athletes that play men’s and women’s soccer, volleyball, or run cross country will return to campus at the same time as the rest of the Brigade of Midshipmen. Football players are exempt from these rules, as coach Ken Niumatalolo’s program competes in the American Athletic Conference. Football training can begin July 21, whereas all other Navy sports will begin preseason practices Aug. 6. First games may be scheduled no earlier than Sept. 4.

Naval Academy athletic director Chet Gladchuk said the administration has remained in constant contact with its coaches since March, when the Patriot League shut down all spring athletics activities.

Advertisement

“We have a very resilient coaching staff with a high level of professionalism. They’re all seasoned veterans and understand there will always be a deviation from the norm. They know how to make the necessary adjustments,” Gladchuk said. “Obviously, this upcoming fall season will not be business as usual. We all need to look at things from a broader aperture than we normally would.”

Navy women’s soccer coach Carin Gabarra felt comforted by the leadership shown by her athletic director, as well as the steps taken by the Naval Academy to control the virus on campus. Players will mostly stay confined to the school campus and will only interact with other midshipmen in Bancroft Hall dormitory and King Hall dining facility.

Some plebes, or first-year midshipmen, will arrive on the Naval Academy grounds in July and will be permitted to join preseason practice in mid-August. All students will be required to submit to a 14-day quarantine upon arrival.

Per Patriot League rules, all member schools must stick to “comparable health and safety protocols in the advance of any contest,” and no teams will be permitted to stay overnight or fly, with some rare exemptions.

Navy men's soccer coach Tim O'Donohue.
Navy men's soccer coach Tim O'Donohue. (HANDOUT)

Navy men’s soccer coach Tim O’Donohue imagines there may be small contingencies in his sport, such as subbing players earlier in the contest.

But he’s not trying to get bogged down in uncertainties.

“As a coach, you can get so caught up in what’s happening that you forget you’re a coach and your players are players, and we know how to coach and how to play,” O’Donohue said. “Sure, the season may look a little different, but the players here [are] very resilient.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines currently suggest the risk of spreading the coronavirus is greater indoors as compared to outdoors, which would put volleyball — the only indoor sport of the fall season — at a considerable disadvantage.

As such, coach Paco Labrador and his staff — always masked — will be not be permitted within six feet of their athletes and may work with only 20 percent of the roster at a time. That equates to three players and means there will be five practices a day. Labrador believes small groups will help re-acclimate his players who will have not practiced true volleyball in at least four months.

“I think that’s [small groups] going to make it less likely to spread among the pods, and I think it will be easier to clean the courts, [equipment] — all the processes we can do to make it as safe as possible in these small groups,” Labrador said. “Now, it will be harder on coaching staffs ... we’ll be there all day. It’s fine; we’re happy to do that.”

Gabarra believes her soccer players have never had so much time to prepare for the season. In a year unencumbered because of a worldwide pandemic, mandatory training aboard ships, inside helicopters and such would consume a midshipman’s summer. This year, stay-at-home allowed the players to relax.

The coaching staff regularly checked in with the team over FaceTime, and with one another on Zoom. As a treat, Gabarra invited three members of the U.S. Women’s National Team — Julie Foudy, Abby Wambach and Alyssa Naeher — to speak to the players.

Advertisement

Gabarra eased her athletes into workouts plans. She knew the kind of online course-load they were already dealing with and didn’t want to overburden them physically early on.

“Our players always have to come back ready,” Gabarra said. “I gave them a detailed summer workout plan that was broken into three phases. We started off slow in phase one, then ramped up in the middle phase with more anaerobic activity. We added more in the third phase.”

O’Donohue reckons a lack of overnight travel will encourage more regional play, which from the coach’s perspective brings soccer back to its more native environment anyway.

“In truth, I think sports are going back to being more regionally-based. It just makes more sense,” O’Donohue said. “You look at soccer, Premier League, around the world, it’s all a bus trip, and then they play ... It’s natural.”

There will be other hiccups to sort out. Though most Patriot League member institutions are within a few hours’ bus ride, it’s unlikely to expect Boston University and Holy Cross to drive 800 miles round-trip to Annapolis in a day, and vice versa. Gabarra predicts her team will travel a maximum of four hours for most road games.

League play will begin at the end of September and before Thanksgiving, which falls on Nov. 26 this year.

At right, Navy women's soccer coach Carin Gabarra speaks to players during practice. - Original Credit:
At right, Navy women's soccer coach Carin Gabarra speaks to players during practice. - Original Credit: (By Phil Hoffmann / HANDOUT)

Women’s soccer had planned for a 20-game season beginning Aug. 20, but that has been trimmed to 15 for the moment. A two-game road trip to South Carolina over Labor Day weekend has been canceled. Gabarra hopes to leverage good relationships within the sport and locally to organize replacement games with schools from the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. region.

Navy men’s cross country was set to host a minor meet on Sept. 1, but having to cancel it doesn’t faze head coach Aaron Lanzel.

Generally, Lanzel plans to be quite flexible when it comes to scheduling workouts and the actual running of meets. Though early-season meets are better run in the morning due to the lingering heat of late summer, the coach expects some will be shifted to the afternoon to accommodate teams traveling the same day.

“Cross country is a little different than some other sports. There are a lot of ways we could have a competition. We could possibly not run at the same time as the opposing team; run the meet based strictly off times,” Lanzel said. “There is a lot of time ahead to get things figured out. We’re just waiting it out and planning what we can do when the time comes.”

Navy volleyball typically loads the front end of its season with two-day tournaments over Friday and Saturday.

As of now, Labrador’s potential slate is crumbling in real-time.

Advertisement

Last year, the Mids played 11-straight matches in tournaments before opening league competition in late September. One of those tournaments, which pit Navy against nationally-ranked Michigan in a closely-fought defeat, wasn’t exactly a car-ride away.

But the current Patriot League guidelines, which Labrador surmises are a combination of coronavirus safety and the effects of budgets slashed by the pandemic, have the volleyball coach seeking games closer to home.

“It’s just a matter of connecting with teams and coaches that do know what their parameters will be and say, ‘Hey, do you want to try to get a game in on this day?’” Labrador said.

The program still intends to host West Virginia and Rider in the Kristen Dickmann Invitational to start September, playing each team Friday and Sunday. As of now, neither school has any overnight travel restrictions.

“Bottom line, we’re all in this together. Whatever it takes we’re going to get the job done,” Gladchuk said. “We will have to modify the way we do business, we will need to make sacrifices, but we maintain that expect-to-win mentality and attitude.”

Capital staff reporter Bill Wagner contributed to this article.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement