If this were any other year, Cal Poly’s Men’s Soccer players would have made their way back to San Luis Obispo in August to prepare for another season. Practices would have begun in the summer and games would be planned for the fall. Due to COVID-19, however, all 45 Men’s Soccer players, along with many other Cal Poly athletes, are left unsure if their season will even play out.
On July 29, the Big West Board of Directors voted to postpone fall sports competition through the end of the calendar year. The ruling indefinitely postponed the Men’s Soccer season along with the other Big West fall sports.
The Men’s Soccer team would normally start playing matches by early September, but it is now unclear whether there will be a 2020-2021 season at all. The decision on whether fall sports competition is possible for a spring return will be made at a later date. Currently, the players are unable to practice in person.
“For our seniors … I think all of them would prefer to play in the spring, and then after the spring season, be in their best form if they wanted to go pro,” Sampson said.
Sampson has been with the team since 2014, leading them to 28 victories, including a signature win over the rival UCSB Gauchos in the famous Blue-Green rivalry game in 2017. He said he is concerned about how the players will be affected by having a shortened season, especially for those that are going into their last year with the team.
Last year, the team ended the season with seven wins and nine losses, finishing fourth in the Big West conference.
COVID-19 restrictions may limit their season to only eight games, if they are only allowed to play within their conference. This leaves senior players with the possibility that their last season will include half the amount of game time they were used to.
Recreation, parks and tourism administration senior Kenneth Higgins is approaching his fifth year on the team. He plays midfielder and was named to the Big West Conference All-Freshman team during his first year at Cal Poly. After finishing his degree this year, Higgins said he hopes to play professional soccer.
Higgins said that, if the season were to be postponed to next year, his last game would have been in the middle of the season last year during which he took an elbow to the face and walked away with a concussion.
“It would just be sad to think that I’d already played my last game with this team that I’ve poured my entire life and soul into these past four-plus years,” Higgins said.
New NCAA rules
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is offering all fall-sport student athletes an additional year of eligibility and an additional year in which to complete it. Cal Poly Athletic Director Don Oberhelman said this puts senior athletes in a difficult position, as they have options to extend their time and play another season.
“Most athletes are weighing that idea of ‘Do I want to come back, do I want to spend a whole other year of my life dedicated to the sport that I love?’ or ‘I’m 23 years old and I’m ready for the next chapter,’” Oberhelman said.
Jacob Lindberg, a mechanical engineering senior on the team, said he still figuring out where the decisions about their season will leave him. He plans on pursuing a Master’s degree after finishing his undergraduate degree, however he said the possibility of having another year of eligibility to play for the team leaves him conflicted.
“It would put me at a disadvantage because I don’t want to go to Cal Poly for my graduate school, but I feel like I would be pressured to stay,” Lindberg said about if he were to get another year of regained NCAA eligibility.
Although, Lindberg said his priority is finding the best possible graduate program for his major and he does not plan on continuing with soccer after this season.
Despite the uncertainty about how their season will play out, the priority is the health and safety of the team, according to Sampson. He said that even though they aren’t able to practice together, the soccer players are still making an effort to stay connected with each other through the waiting and uncertainty.
Higgins said he, along with other older members of the team, are doing their best to rally the others, whether that be through FaceTime, group messages or calls.
They would normally have the opportunity to get to know new players during the players-only “Captain’s Camp” practices in the summer. Instead, current players are assigned a new player to check in on them and get to know remotely. However Higgins said it is still sad that incoming players do not get to have the same bonding experiences.
“All of those team bonding experiences that we’ve done in the past won’t be there. That would be the biggest thing we’re missing out on,” Higgins said.
Sampson also said the bonding the team is missing out on may affects how they play together.
“They might be physically fit with all the work that they’re doing, and I am confident that our guys are really working hard, but to gain game rhythm and even training rhythm takes quite a while,” Sampson said. “Even though we’ve been having Zoom calls constantly and I think the guys are getting to know each other from a distance, we all know it’s really not the same as them having the opportunity to do it in person.”