Eastern Kentucky University women's soccer defender Claire Hicks saw other conferences cancel their fall seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it did not feel real for her season until she received a call from EKU Director of Athletics Matt Roan. Finding out her senior season was postponed via Zoom was not the way she imagined her last season going, and her initial reaction to the news was emotional.
“It was heartbreaking honestly because a lot of us have come in, and all summer we’ve been training thinking that we’re going to play our senior year,” Hicks said.
The news was not only devastating to seniors like Hicks, but the entire team had an emotional response to the decision. Hicks recalled players crying, and the younger players spoke on the impact the seniors had in making the team feel like a family.
Hicks said, “...A lot of the younger ones were really saying how awesome our energy had been at the beginning of preseason, and how they felt us becoming a family, and they didn’t want to just give up on it now just because our season’s cancelled…”
Hicks saw although the seniors were the leaders, in that moment, the seniors were the weakest. She said they had to rely on the underclassmen, or their family members, to pick them back up.
The team has collectively adjusted to new safety procedures since arriving back on campus. Hicks stated that everyone was tested prior to coming to campus, and upon arrival, players were held to a quarantine standard, which meant they were essentially not allowed to do anything.
Hicks said, “Everything was in pods. We had to be tested before we got to campus, and during preseason, the first day back we were together but it was socially distanced, keep our masks on during warmups, spread out. We didn’t come in group huddles.”
Players were tested every Wednesday, a procedure still taking place, and temperature checks occur before a player is allowed on the field. At each check, players must fill out a form with their name, the time their temperature was taken, what their temperature read and any symptoms they had to report.
Team dinners were also provided during preseason, and the same safety measures were in place during meals as well.
“During our dinners that we had, because it was provided to us during preseason, it was all like we couldn’t handle the food. Our coaches did. There was hand sanitizer everywhere. We ate outside, socially distanced,” Hicks said.
Training has returned to pods, but Hicks stated she feels safe at practices and there are no issues with following protocol.
“There hasn’t been any compliance issues with our team of wearing the masks and being safe,” she said. “At practice you can tell we’re all following the rules.”
While away from campus during the shutdown period, Hicks was consistent in her preparation for the season. At home, she has a trainer whom she safely worked with until things shut down. Once things closed, her trainer provided her with at-home workouts and soccer provided a packet to follow until their summer packet arrived. She was still doing running and ball work at home, but being with her trainer provided a sense of normalcy during that time.
Hicks was also part of a leadership team that coaches implemented. During the summer, players would meet as teams by position and review PowerPoints. The leaders would have Zoom calls with coaches to discuss what their values would be in the fall, and how they would be different this year. Demonstrating a strong sense of leadership in the summer to the younger players enabled them to feel less intimidated when they came to campus.
The postponement of the soccer season to the spring creates a new set of challenges for players. The possibility of snow leaves Hicks wondering where the team will practice, and how players will stay in shape over Christmas break.
“I’m more worried about running over Christmas Break because it’s so stinking cold. So I think getting in shape, like being prepared to run a fitness test when I get back, I think that’s one of my worries,” Hicks said.
She also noted that many players, especially seniors, are nursing majors or education majors, and will have preceptorships and student teaching to work around.
After having something she loved “ripped out of her hands” before she could control it, Hicks has learned to take each day one day at a time and control what she can control.
Hicks said, “...The only thing I can control is today and how I make the best me today...everything else, I’ve got to give it to God’s hands.”