The Whittier College campus is once again full of life as students return to in-person activities for the first time since the start of the pandemic. This has sparked the return of the College’s athletics department, which is back up and running after over a year of no competition and practices for all of our Whittier College Athletes. With little over a month since our return, all of our Fall semester sports have returned to competition; many kicked off their official Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) season earlier this month.
Each team has been performing well in conference games, with Men’s Soccer at a 2 – 1 record in SCIAC and a 4 – 1 record overall. They have been having consistent performances so far this season. Women’s Soccer has found success, too. After starting off their season slowly and losing their first three games, the team turned it around once conference games began and won their next two games. They now have a 2 – 1 record in SCIAC. As for the College’s Men’s Water Polo team, the reigning Division III National Champions, they also got off to a rough start, losing their first four games preseason. They are now undefeated in the SCIAC conference against Chapman and Redlands this past week.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Rock Carter, Whittier College’s Director of Athletics, and Mike Neale, Whittier College’s Head Football Coach, and asked them how they feel the Athletics Department has been performing this season, as well as how they have been protecting the athletes through this time.
Rock Carter, when asked about athletes returning to compete, said, “It’s extremely exciting [to have students back]. There’s a lot of energy back on the campus, and the students needed this as much as the institution did.” It also seems as if athletes are adjusting back to training and classes. Like the rest of the Whittier College students trying to adjust back to being back on campus, our athletes have the same challenges — balancing both school and sports. Carter thought, “Our athletes are adjusting just as well as our other students.” As for the coaches’ readjusting, Carter said the staff and coaches had a seminar in August in which they talked about how to reacclimate the sports programs and get them up and running again. “There’s been some training; our coaches were willing to be flexible. They were willing to make some adjustments, and I think they did a pretty good job at doing that.”
Coach Neale also talked about how the team is readjusting to practicing and getting back into the groove. “That was certainly a concern of mine, as guys did not have access to a weight room or ability to run somewhere, [like] parks. Gyms and high schools were closed, so my number one concern was to get guys back into shape to get to the physical level we need to be at.”
Coach Neale expressed that “[athletes] were pumped up, and when guys found out that we were going have a season, they were extremely excited, obviously, to come back on campus — not just academically, but also from an athletic standpoint.”
As far as how the team has adjusted to playing through a pandemic, Coach Neale says, “It [is] a challenge, definitely. I do think COVID-19 is going to be around for while, and, certainly, we are doing everything we can to keep our guys safe; we are [taking as many] precautions as we can. As far as practicing and being outdoors, we are going to be close to each other. We are just being safe as we can. We have had some cases where some guys were quarantined and isolated, but, fortunately, we have not had someone who was seriously ill or at-risk due to the virus.”
The excitement of college sports returning seems to have affected students who are not athletes, as evident by the rise of attendance for home games for each team. Carter spoke about this — emphazing our first home football game of the season: “I noticed the football game the other night had a significant amount of students compared to other years. Our Volleyball tournament there was probably more students than non-students, which usually is not the case.” He believes this is the case because “students are ready to get out and experience different types of activities and get back to some socializing norms that we are used to.”
Coach Neale expressed why he feels students are attending games more often: “I think people are looking for something to do [ . . . ] whether that be simply going to your college’s football game, or any sporting event.” As for how the team reacted to this large influx of students coming to games, Coach Neale expressed his thoughts: “I am a bit oblivious to the crowd, for the most part. Our guys can probably be a better answer for that, but, certainly, being able to play for and with each other was a prime focus. Having family and friends in the stands adds to [a great atmosphere].”
Like many students, athletes on campus are adjusting through this time just like us, with even more on their plate — practice, games, and school. Regular students going to games really helps keep the spirits of off athletes going, and it can help regular students take their mind out of their stressful school day and relax, if needed. Taking the opportunity to go out and do something that we did not have the opportunity to beforehand is something that every student should do, with the return of student sports providing this option.
Photo Credit: Dafne Avila / Quaker Campus