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Navy athletic director, coaches determined to have ‘meaningful’ fall sports season

Carin Gabarra, entering her 28th season as Navy women's soccer coach, takes her role in supporting the physical component of the Naval Academy mission very seriously.
Carin Gabarra, entering her 28th season as Navy women's soccer coach, takes her role in supporting the physical component of the Naval Academy mission very seriously. (By Phil Hoffmann / HANDOUT)

There was never a question that Navy fall sports programs would operate in some form or fashion, according to athletic director Chet Gladchuk.

Varsity athletics plays an important role in achieving the Naval Academy mission to develop midshipmen morally, mentally and physically.

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“It is a critical component of what the Naval Academy is all about. It’s all part of the educational process at a service academy,” Gladchuk told The Capital on Monday. “It’s extremely important for 4,400 midshipmen to break a sweat each day in a competitive, athletic environment.”

For Gladchuk and Vice Admiral Sean Buck, the Naval Academy superintendent, it was simply a matter of determining what the institution’s fall sports programs could accomplish in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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A big part of the picture cleared up Monday morning when the Patriot League announced it would not conduct competitions for fall sports such as soccer, field hockey, volleyball, and cross country.

Army West Point and Navy are exempt from the Patriot League decision, however, because the service academies use athletics to fulfill the physical mission component of developing future officers.

Gladchuk cited two key factors that provided “justification” for Army and Navy to be “granted an exception.” Foremost, both service academies are way ahead of the other Patriot League schools in terms of developing coronavirus testing and safety protocol.

“We’ve got an incredibly comprehensive, systematic process in place that is directed by the Department of Defense in terms of dealing with medical protocol and thereby lessening risk,” Gladchuk said. “In both the Army and Navy environments, I don’t think there is any institution addressing this situation better.”

Gladchuk also pointed out members of the Corps of Cadets and Brigade of Midshipmen have already begun returning to campus at West Point and Annapolis.

“Civilian schools are still struggling with the return of the student body. Athletics is just a small piece of the puzzle and the presidents are not prepared now to move forward with intercollegiate athletics,” he said. “At the Naval Academy, we’ve been dealing with this since March in a very comprehensive way.”

The Patriot League announcement was made Monday morning at 11:15 , and shortly thereafter Navy men’s soccer coach Tim O’Donohue was furiously working the phone lines to develop a schedule.

Navy men’s soccer was supposed to open the regular season Aug. 29 at the University of North Carolina-Asheville, but that contest had already been canceled. St. Francis (N.Y.) and LaSalle pulled out of a tournament with Navy and UMBC the first weekend of September.

O’Donohue quickly replaced the tournament with a home game Sept. 4 against St. Joseph’s at the Glenn Warner Soccer Facility. Navy is also slated to play non-conference games against George Washington, UMBC, Longwood, Mount St. Mary’s, and Drexel.

Last week, the Ivy League announced its fall sports programs would not play games in 2020. Other low- to mid-major conferences were expected to make the same decision and the Patriot League became the second domino to fall.

“I can’t say I’m surprised because we all had an inkling the Patriot League would follow the Ivy League,” O’Donohue said. “I’m excited that as of today we can have some sort of season. It’s not going to look like a normal season, but it’s something.”

Navy men's soccer coach Tim O'Donohue is hopeful he can piece together an eight- or nine-game schedule.
Navy men's soccer coach Tim O'Donohue is hopeful he can piece together an eight- or nine-game schedule. (HANDOUT)

Navy initially had a 17-game schedule consisting of eight non-conference contests and nine Patriot League games. Now O’Donohue is hoping to secure enough opponents for eight or nine games.

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“I’ve been on the phone all morning trying to figure out what we can put together,” he said. “We’re in a bit of a holding pattern at this point because there may be additional announcements in the next two weeks.”

Navy men’s soccer will begin preseason training Aug. 10 with the knowledge it will meet archrival Army twice, possibly three times. The Black Knights and Midshipmen were originally scheduled to play the annual “Star” game Oct. 9 at a neutral site — Talon Energy Stadium in Chester, Pennsylvania. Now the two service academies are discussing the idea of playing in Annapolis and West Point as well.

That scenario would also apply to women’s soccer, and veteran coach Carin Gabarra called the prospect of a home-and-home series with Army “historic.” Gabarra said it’s too early to speculate about what the remainder of the schedule would look like.

“There is a lot of uncertainty right now and we have to sort of wait it out. Other conferences have to decide what they are doing before we can really work on answers,” she said. “We can find non-conference games in a heartbeat if certain schools are given the green light.”

Gladchuk met virtually with all the Navy fall coaches Monday morning following the announcement and assured them there would be contests this fall. Gabarra, who is entering her 28th season at Navy, takes seriously her role in fulfilling the Naval Academy mission.

“We as coaches will do the best we can to have a meaningful season for our athletes,” she said. “Our superintendent and athletic director believe the physical mission is important, and that’s what I’m focusing on. I’m a positive person, so I’m going to put a positive spin on things.”

Gabarra, who planned an online meeting with the women’s soccer team Monday afternoon, was excited about the prospect of playing a Patriot League schedule during the spring semester.

“Wouldn’t that be fantastic? Our kids would get a split season, which I actually like because we try to fit too many games into a short period of time,” Gabarra said. “I’m happy for our athletes that in such an unprecedented time they can still have something powerful.”

Navy women's soccer coach Carin Gabarra likes the idea of a split season - non-conference contests in the fall and Patriot League games in the spring.
Navy women's soccer coach Carin Gabarra likes the idea of a split season - non-conference contests in the fall and Patriot League games in the spring. (By Phil Hoffmann / HANDOUT)

Gladchuk has given his fall coaches the freedom to explore potential opponents but made it clear he will have final approval when it comes to scheduling decisions. No overnight travel will be allowed for any game, home or away.

“We’ve established clear medical and safety protocols for any opponent we would possibly compete against. Our coaches will now search for those schools that are as advanced on that front,” Gladchuk said. “If we can determine there are other institutions meeting the safety protocols we have established at the Naval Academy, and are within a bus ride, we will probably sign off.”

Gladchuk used upstate New York and North Carolina as the furthest distance Navy or an opponent could travel to and from in one day.

“If you take a look at the geographic range between here and West Point or here and North Carolina, there are a lot of programs that exist,” he said.

Navy cannot meet Maryland in any of the Olympic sports because the Big Ten recently announced it will play conference contests only. It is possible the other Power Five conferences could come to the same conclusion. In such a scenario, Navy would have very few choices for finding non-conference opponents.

“Temple is up the street and North Carolina is down the street. There are many possibilities,” Gladchuk said. “We just don’t know at this point. Maybe we can find three opponents and play them all twice.”

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Navy volleyball coach Paco Labrador is hopeful he can build a decent schedule and is just happy the players have a goal, even if beating archrival Army is the pinnacle. The third-year coach looks forward to welcoming the veteran players back and indoctrinating the plebes into the program.

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Navy volleyball coach Paco Labrador.
Navy volleyball coach Paco Labrador. (Courtesy Photo)

“I’m trying to stay positive. Any opportunity to be together — to compete, train and practice together — is what this little extension has allowed us to do. We’re trying to keep that team mentality going,” Labrador said. “No question you just start feeling appreciation for what you have. A lot of people aren’t going to have any kind of competition in the fall. We’re smiling; we’re happy we’re going to get to have something going.”

Navy men’s cross country coach Aaron Lanzel planned to do his part to provide his athletes with the ability to fulfill the physical mission mandate of the Naval Academy. Lanzel is a Naval Academy graduate who competed in both cross country and track and field.

“I was going to do it one way or another. We have to figure out a way to continue that for (the student-athletes),” he said.

Lanzel noted there are many strong cross country programs around the Mid-Atlantic region and was confident he could schedule some meets.

“We can host a couple more meets and have some teams come in as long as the guidelines of the medical protocols (are followed),” he said. “We still have plenty of time to figure it out, and I’m happy for the guys and girls who are going to be able to compete a little bit and have a developmental season.”

Staff writer Katherine Fominykh contributed to this article.

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