By Taylor Viles – Sports Editor
On March 13, Lasell University announced the cancelation of in-person classes, asking students to head home until COVID-19 was under control. Two days prior, the men’s volleyball team hosted Springfield College in what would become the last on-campus sporting event for over a year.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been that long,” said Director of Athletics Kristy Walter.
Sporting events were able to return to the playing surface halfway through the spring semester. This was due to good communication between Lasell’s COVID-19 task force, the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC), and other conference schools to create a plan to safely allow athletes to play, according to Walter.
The return to play wasn’t without stipulations and extensive guidelines. Masks were required to be worn both on the bench and during gameplay, athletes were tested three times a week (as opposed to twice a week for other students), fans were not allowed at events, locker rooms were not able to be used, and players were required to maintain social distancing on buses, on the bench, and in meetings.
Each team finished the season, proving it was possible to compete in the climate.
Over the summer, vaccines overtook the headlines and the country slowly became vaccinated. The introduction of the vaccine was key for returning to normalcy in the country and on-campus, allowing Walter to bring her sports department back in full force for the fall semester.
“We’re 97% vaccinated across the board and probably 99% with athletes, I don’t know that for sure…but it makes people feel a little more comfortable,” said Walter.
Because of the vaccination status of the Lasell campus, many of the guidelines for athletics required in the spring season have been removed for this fall.
Masks are the most noticeable change. The difficulty of playing with masks was detailed in the May 2021 issue of The 1851 Chronicle. Players said the blockage made it harder to breathe especially when they were exerting the amount of energy needed to sprint. Mask use by athletes is only required this fall if a student hasn’t been vaccinated.
“A lot of schools in the GNAC are requiring masks indoors even to play,” said Walter. “We are not [requiring them] to play [or practice]…except for the unvaccinated.” In the gymnasium, only spectators are required to wear masks.
Fans are allowed on the sidelines for the first time since that fateful March game. According to Walter, there are no capacity limits. Only a negative test or a vaccine confirmation is required for fans inside the athletic center, besides the mask mandate. There are no guidelines for fans outside.
The extra sense of caution used in the spring semester won’t be necessary this year. Walter explained that last semester if one student tested positive, it would affect the whole team’s ability to compete. But now that nearly the entire department is vaccinated, this fall only the infected athletes will be removed from gameplay. The rest of the team, although monitored, will be able to continue to play.
For fall student-athletes who haven’t taken the field/court since 2019, this full-fledged season is extra special and proves to be a comeback opportunity for many of them, explained senior field hockey player Kait Duarte. “I think me and the other seniors feel that it’s our last chance so we just want to leave it all out there,” she said.
Allowing gameplay to return to full capacity wasn’t easy for Walter to coordinate, especially when the Delta variant began to take a stranglehold on the country (particularly in Massachusetts) over the summer. “[We had] constant meetings with the [COVID-19] task force and constant meetings with the GNAC,” Walter said.
She explained President Michael Alexander was adamant that students had endured harsh guidelines in the spring semester and deserved the situation to be relaxed for the fall.
Although sports were included in the plan to return to normalcy, Walter wasn’t confident that it was going to be possible during the summer.
“I thought maybe we were going to go back to where we were in the spring,” said Walter. “A lot of schools are doing a lot of things differently [this fall], but it’s just our comfort level and a risk that we’re taking. We’re four weeks in and every week you kind of feel a little bit better, like we are doing the right thing.”
The regular season for fall sports will continue until the end of October.