Students return to campus as athletes continue to distance themselves  

Ben Malakoff, Contributing Writer

Field hockey senior forward Emily Van Hijfte and her teammates could not participate in the normal team bonding exercises after practice due to COVID-19 regulations. This was a part of the decision the team mutually agreed on by returning to campus and wanting to play in the spring.

This decision meant maintaining responsibility by reporting any signs of symptoms to the team trainer, getting tested regularly and limiting who players on the team see, according to Van Hijfte. 

“I think it was a whole team decision,” Van Hijfte said. “It’s a decision you have to make all together because if one person doesn’t feel the same as others do, it doesn’t work.”

If last semester was a test for the team, head coach Stacey Bean said that they passed and their methods are sustainable for the upcoming season.

Bean said the team has a good understanding of what their “civic responsibilities” are on and off the field. This means wearing masks and staying socially distanced from others in public settings.

“When they returned to Richmond, they knew they’re living in a completely different world than we were a year ago,” Bean Said.

As students completed their first week of school back from summer break, field hockey was getting ready to put on their jerseys and face an opponent from a rival school. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Atlantic-10 pushed the sport to the spring. For field hockey, games were canceled over the next few months and replaced with team practices.

COVID-19 cases and related deaths in the United States are higher than they were in the fall, according to the Virginia Department of Health. In Richmond during the week of Aug. 16, the first week of the fall semester, cases were at 320. On Jan. 10, they were at 678. In the week of Jan. 17, the week before spring semester classes started, cases were at 422.

Men’s basketball coach Mike Rhoades has also expressed worries about increased potential exposure as students start to return to campus.

“I’m aware of it every day,” Rhoades said. “I’m concerned of it every day. Every coach in America is.”

According to a VCU Athletics statement, the following will happen after a confirmed positive test by a student athlete:

  • Team activities are placed on pause until all protocols are fully cleared.
  • The positive individual enters isolation.
  • Everyone who came into contact with the positive individual will be tested and immediately enter quarantine.
  • Any further positive tests move into isolation.

According to the statement, everyone who tests negative will continue their mandated testing and may undergo extra testing. Student-athletes in isolation with confirmed positive cases will report symptoms twice a day. After 12-13 days, a team physician performs a medical evaluation to see if the student-athlete can return to practice.

“We’re testing all the time,” Rhoades said. “We’ve had some scares which affects all of us. Not just our players but our staff and everyone around our program. It’s not easy. It really isn’t … you just have to keep pushing through. I commend our guys so far but we still have a ways to go.”

Although it’s uncertain if games will be played through the year, Bean and Rhoades both share no doubts in the maturity of their athletes and their knowledge of doing what’s best for the team’s safety.

“If you were that disciplined first semester without [games], you gotta be crazy not to be disciplined now that you do have that incentive,” Bean said. “We’ve done a good job of educating them on all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes to give them this opportunity that others don’t have.”

Despite hoping to play as many games as possible, Van Hifjte said she is nervous about a potential spike in COVID-19 cases with students coming back to Richmond. 

Van Hijfte said that many of her teammates have taken it upon themselves to keep each other in check. The team plans to continue living on campus until the end of the school year.

“I’ve spoken with some of my teammates that are back, and they all just want to play games,” Van Hijfte said. “They really don’t care how many we play. … We just want to play and be out there and compete.”

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