Scrimmages create competition, allow younger players to shine

Freshman middle blockers Jasmine Knight, front, and Kylie Loftis, back, celebrate at a scrimmage. Photo courtesy of VCU Athletics

Noah Fleischman, Sports Editor

Music bellowed from Sports Backers Stadium on Friday as two teams, dressed in full uniform, warmed up on the pitch. Though the coming matchup wouldn’t count in any NCAA scorebooks, women’s soccer wanted to make it as real as possible. 

Women’s soccer began playing scrimmages against themselves — splitting the team in two — on Sept. 6, following a July postponement of all Atlantic 10 fall sports. Coach Lindsey Martin said the team has learned a lot from the games. 

“It’s a measure for us to try to develop and grow as a team collectively but also just trying to bring joy to the kids’ lives,” Martin said. “They love the game and for them to not get to have a real season, this is at least a great replacement.”

VCU Athletics allows fall teams to practice although the fall season was postponed in July by the Atlantic 10. An August outbreak of 44 cases in athletics led the university to convert three floors of the Honors College into isolation space. Practices, which began over the summer, continue to follow university COVID-19 protocols, and masks are required when not actively playing and when teams huddle in groups. 

The team has played six matches, changing the lineups for each match. Martin said the scrimmages allow younger players to learn.

“It’s definitely an advantage for younger players for sure,” Martin said. “Coming in as first years, there’s usually a two-week learning curve, where they’re able to learn for two weeks and then they’re thrown into the fire.”

Martin said the season being moved to the spring has allowed the program to operate how a regular spring sport would. She said that being able to play games is a “silver lining” despite setbacks caused by COVID-19. 

“A lot of players don’t end up developing until their later college years because of a lack of games,” Martin said. “I think as coaches, we’re learning more about our players and our players are learning more about themselves.”

For volleyball, competition isn’t anything new. Coach Jody Rogers said she recruits players that compete at everything — from the classroom to the court. Now, she’s seeing the competition levels increase on the court at practice, especially during scrimmages. 

“We just see it at a higher level, and we get to train as much as possible and not have games,” Rogers said. “Everybody’s playing a lot, getting a lot of reps and getting better every day.”

Like in men’s and women’s soccer, these fall scrimmages help younger volleyball players get more in-game action than they would have during a normal season. 

“Even in scrimmages, during preseason you get a lot of reps, but not a lot of freshman play,” Rogers said. “Now since we have six on six, we have a lot of freshmen getting the kinks out, getting their ability to shine and gain leadership skills.”

Not only do scrimmages help the players, but they also give the coaching staff more time to get familiar. Rogers has an entirely new assistant coaching staff, with all three of them arriving in Richmond this season. 

“I’m looking back and reevaluating what we’ve had to go through as a program,” Rogers said. “I think it’s helped us immensely.”

Men’s soccer has also played scrimmages at Sports Backers this fall. Coach Dave Giffard said games were a part of  his team’s developmental plan. 

“I think that one of the things that athletes of all sports have kind of been missing out on since March have been games,” Giffard said. “As we laid out a plan for our fall and what we could get out of it, we want to focus on development for our guys, but part of that development is playing games.”

Men’s soccer entered this season as a deep squad, and with its season on pause until the spring, Giffard wanted to make the best of it. 

“I think what we’ve tried to do is take what is not an ideal situation, instead of being upset about it, trying to look at it and saying ‘how can we get something really positive out of not a great situation?’” Giffard said.

The team streams scrimmages online, so friends and family can watch and be a part of the action. 

“They probably miss that as well, being able to see their son, brother or nephew go out there and play and enjoy that aspect,” Giffard said. 

Giffard said men’s soccer will pause scrimmages to focus on a weightlifting plan that they will carry through February. 

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