Practicing through COVID-19: VCU field hockey, basketball teams adapt

Junior Lynea Gregory started 12 games last season. CT file photo

Noah Fleischman, Sports Editor

Sitting to the side of a water cooler on Cary Street Field was a bottle of hand sanitizer. One by one, VCU’s field hockey players squeezed some of the liquid disinfectant onto their palms and between their fingers before filling their water bottles — and again once they were done. 

As the only fall sport to return to the field before classes began on Aug. 17, field hockey made some adjustments to its routine to practice with minimal surface contact. Team equipment became a responsibility of the coaching staff, who now corral hundreds of balls after practice. 

“I think myself and my two assistant coaches are a lot more tired than normal because we don’t let our girls touch any of the equipment,” coach Stacey Bean said. “We’re moving everything, we’re collecting everything, so it’s a lot of moving pieces for us.”

The full field hockey team was able to resume practice on Aug. 10 since they can space themselves out on the field. Bean said her players and staff felt comfortable being back on the field, despite COVID-19. 

For Bean, safety is a top priority under normal circumstances and she said it hasn’t changed during the pandemic. 

“When I talk to a recruit’s parents, I tell them ‘Hey, we’re going to take care of your child,’” Bean said. “This is a big test to that.”

The team is practicing on the field for 20 hours each week until Oct. 9, then they will scale back to eight hours a week. 

On top of using hand sanitizer and restricting contact with equipment, Bean said the team sanitizes each player’s stick handles before and after practice.

The decision to practice wasn’t made by the athletic department, but left up to the team. After five months of not holding a stick on the field, Bean said the players were excited to return. 

Bean said the athletic department didn’t take any funding away from the program, something she said “speaks volumes about the administration.”

The rest of fall sports, including volleyball and soccer, returned to practice on Aug. 17. All of the athletes were tested for COVID-19 prior to returning to their respective practices. 

Men’s and women’s basketball practiced throughout the summer for four hours a week at VCU’s Basketball Developmental Center, in what coach Mike Rhoades called their own “bubble.”

Rhoades said the team’s main priority over the summer was being safe while working out. 

“When we were on the court or in the weight room, everybody was wearing masks, sanitizing everything and following the protocol,” Rhoades said.

Rhoades said more than 80 COVID-19 tests were conducted on players and staff on the men’s and women’s basketball teams with one person testing positive. Since practices began in July, they were voluntary for the program, but Rhoades said that every player was in the facility at one point during the summer. 

Bean and Rhoades both said the students’ return to campus may present a challenge to their coronavirus protocols, but that they believe they will still be effective. Bean said it’s more than just her team working together to minimize the risk of the virus –– it’s everyone on campus.

“We need people, whether it’s a student-athlete on my team or whether it’s a chemistry major or biology major,” Bean said, “it doesn’t matter. We need the VCU community locked in and committed for the long haul.”

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