A Year of Reflection It's been a year to forget for Springfield's First-year Athletes. Seniors, on the other hand, tried to make the most of it.

By Cait Kemp

Springfield College is known for its sports.

Many come just to wear the maroon and white, to compete their hardest on the fields and courts, to work humbly down in the P.E. Complex weight room during the off-season.

The collective dedication and enthusiasm to work hard and become great athletes is something that attracts many students to commit to the Pride.

What happens when all that is taken away in an instant, in a fashion that no one could have predicted?

Last March, seniors were finishing up their final seasons, while first-years were just beginning their time on Alden Street, and suddenly everything was taken away.

Spring senior athletes lost their last time on the field and their last time wearing THE jersey. Some first-years hadn’t even gotten a chance to play yet, and soon, campus was barren with no one breathing life into the fields and facilities.

All athletes experience their last time on the field, court or gym at some point -- it is anticipated and expected. Some are never ready for it, but they are able to know when that last time is.

Going into the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic last year, no one knew things would unfold this way. Many thought life would be back to normal by the fall semester, others thought it would go on to last for years.

It was discouraging for Springfield College students to come back to campus for the start of the 2020-2021 school year knowing that fall sports were already cancelled and anxiously waiting for word about the fate of the winter season.

First-years not only lost the end of their senior year in high school, but also any sense of normality for their first year of college.

First year Emma McLaughlin was recruited to play field hockey during her junior year of high school. She remembers attending the prospect clinic and receiving an email from Springfield field hockey head coach Melissa Sharpe about her interest in her as a player.

Sharpe told her about the overnight opportunities so she could get a better feel for the school and the environment that she could become a part of.

“The beginning of senior year I went on my overnight and knew this was where I wanted to be. I just liked how welcoming [the field hockey team was]... it felt like the right place to be,” McLaughlin said.

First-year Pedro Calderon Jr. had a similar experience. He attended athletic college fairs where he met the Springfield College football coaches, and instantly he recognized they were different than others.

“I met with two other coaches, including the head coach (Mike Cerasuolo), and they all had that same energy that other coaches weren’t bringing,” he said. “I just liked the energy and the enthusiasm everybody brought, so when I chose it was like a no-brainer. I love the players and the team and it's a great school for what I want to study.”

Calderon is a sport management major and he saw how strong Springfield’s program was. He and McLaughlin were both drawn to the athletic focus at the school, with the sports teams themselves and the reputation of the sports-related majors that Springfield had.

McLaughlin, originally a physical therapy major, is now a health science major wanting to become an occupational therapist. Although she wasn’t positive what exact concentration of study she initially wanted, with Springfield she knew there were many options that all had strong programs. If Springfield knows one thing, it’s sports.

The 2021 seniors, who were so accustomed to this life of athletics, got the brunt of it. They were coming out of their junior year not knowing that they would not be able to compete in their senior season. It is an unfortunate ending to many careers, but one that was unavoidable.

“It’s definitely tough knowing that we’re not having a season. Especially for seniors, we’re done after this year. It's obviously not the ending we were hoping for, but we do have a very close team and we really are trying to make the most of it,” senior Alison Rushlow said.

Rushlow is a member of the women’s gymnastics team, and has continued a normal practice workload in the gym despite not having the future goal of a season still ahead of her. Gymnastics is a winter sport, so at the beginning of the school year, Rushlow and her team were waiting to hear what would happen with their season.

“We slowly saw one team after another cancel their season and then it eventually got down to, it was just us and Rhode Island College who were willing to compete,” she said. “As time went on, just COVID restrictions were getting stricter and RIC wasn’t able to compete anymore, so ultimately we had no one to compete against.”

Nick Monteleone of the wrestling team came to the disappointment in a much more sudden way. He recalls practicing one day and getting word at the end of practice that they would not be competing this winter.

“I literally sat there and cried in the room for about 15 minutes while everyone just went to the locker room,” he said. “It was really emotional for me.”

These emotions wash over the many senior athletes at Springfield College. Priding themselves on their hard work and desire to achieve such high goals, it has not been easy to watch them lose their final moments to compete. Their poise and grace, however, truly shines through, as they selflessly have worked to help make the rest of the team better for their next seasons.

“Now we [as seniors] go to practice, we’re retired, so we’re solely there just to help the non-seniors prepare for the season they’re going to have next year… I’m just trying to push them and help them get better,” Monteleone said.

Rushlow does the same with the gymnastics team, but also has a showcase to look forward to soon. Although it is just for themselves to perform their routines without judges, competition or even a crowd, she is looking forward to the chance to show off her routine and wear the competition leotard one final time in Blake Arena.

With the chance to still practice despite not having the opportunity to compete, Springfield College athletes have had to become comfortable with the norm of COVID regulations like wearing masks during practices and lift, and testing weekly in order to stay safe within their teams. These things seem little now, but getting into the routine of them was a task that students had to learn quickly and remember easily, or consequences were looming.

“Getting tested weekly, I don’t mind it at all, I actually love it because it's nice to know that you’re negative and you don’t have it,” McLaughlin said.

If a test is forgotten, participation in any athletic activity is prohibited until the individual receives a negative test, so it is important for the athletes to keep up with their testing to keep their teammates safe and a positive practice environment going.

Testing has helped to ease people’s minds, but it is still a stressful situation to be practicing during a pandemic. Many teams have faced positive tests among players, and it not only makes for inconsistent and ever-changing practice schedules, but instills fear in anyone who was with the positive players.

Calderon said, “It's just constant worry if you’re going to test positive or you’re going to be contact traced then you have to quarantine…”

He experienced this when football faced a large scare last semester, when the virus spread through Gulick Hall. With such a large team, it put them out of practicing for days and much of the team was contact traced. The coronavirus has made everything on campus, not only sports, so day-to-day. Things can be planned, but within an instant that can be completely turned upside down due to an outbreak or surge on campus.

With so much uncertainty surrounding the status of sports seasons, it really is a matter of practicing like it is the last time playing. No one ever imagined having to live by that statement this past year so literally, and it is a phrase that many athletes keep in mind every day they do get to practice.

“Enjoy it while you have it because it can disappear at any second,” Monteleone said. A typical cliché, but a statement that became so true for so many of these senior athletes.

Rushlow added, “I’m very grateful that we have the opportunity to come in and train..I think I’m just going into practice every day and giving it my all because even though there aren’t any meets I want to finish the sport knowing I gave it my all.”

After over a year sans competition, athletes are faced with the challenge of maintaining momentum and keeping motivated over the spring and summer for the next time they do get to play again. The lack of competition could put teams at a disadvantage, having not utilized their skills in such a long time. Yet with the practicing and conditioning that the Pride has been able to participate in, that challenge could come easier than expected.

Athletes are anxious to get back out there, and with the vaccine distribution there is hope that it could fully resume next fall. It will remain uncertain until it happens, but preparation and excitement for that time will continue until it does.

“It’s hard to remember what it feels like to be in a game and like, those are kind of the best feelings of playing under the lights...those are just experiences that you’ll never forget and I’m just excited to be able to feel that again,” said McLaughlin.

COVID has taken away a lot for these student athletes, and caused so much stress, frustration and pain within many. However, they have stayed resilient and patient as they have worked hard to keep in shape and improve themselves so they can best represent in maroon and white the next time it’s game on.

Springfield College takes pride in being the Pride, and will be ready to prove that when the time comes.

Created By
Cait Kemp