The COVID-19 pandemic forced Cal Poly’s student-athletes to adapt — from restrictions on how and where teams can practice to the personnel allowed at training. The Mustangs hope to maintain some sense of normalcy, and several Cal Poly athletes and staff spoke about how they have adjusted to training while accounting for safety. 

Football

For the football team, the team was unable to hold any practices, workouts or in-person meetings during Spring quarter. Senior defensive lineman Kain Su’a said the experience was an “unconventional off-season training.” 

“During spring we all went home, and the strength and conditioning coaches sent us workouts to do back home,” Su’a said. “It was hard, but I feel we were blessed with the coaching staff and strength and conditioning staff that tried their best to make a hard situation work.” 

Certain teams could return to campus in June to begin summer workouts. With protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19 put into place, teams including football could resume training for their season. 

The Big Sky Conference announced in August that football would be postponed until spring 2021. Su’a said the decision would take away his opportunity to escape through football.

“Football is an outlet. It’s a place to come out there and not be burdened by whatever is going on in the world, you just go out there and play,” Su’a said. “It’s a war out there, but you find peace out there on the field. I’ll miss that.”

The Football program has updated their weight room and training regimen to comply with COVID-19 preventative measures. The updates include moving the weight room outside to the front of Mott Gym and training in groups at a time instead of the entire team at once. 

“Our strength and conditioning coaches are trying their best in a hard situation by allowing us to come to campus and work out while maintaining social distancing,” Su’a said “We moved the weight room outside. It’s been a tough situation, but it could have been worse.”

The Cal Poly Football team continues to train in their off-season work outs in preparation for the upcoming Spring season.

Strength and conditioning

Head coach of the strength and conditioning staff Sarah Mackenzie described the difficult circumstances of training athletes from a distance. One of the main issues includes that 50 to 60 percent of athletes did not have access to any gym equipment. Despite these difficult circumstances, Mackenzie said she and her staff found ways to still engage the athletes in their prepared workouts. 

“We were doing bodyweight type stuff and we did a lot of metabolic type conditioning and things that I knew would help improve their conditioning,” Mackenzie said “We would do weekly Zoom meetings and every week we would do a challenge that had fitness related stuff. We tried to keep it light and fun but it was definitely challenging.”

During Spring quarter, Mackenzie said she and her staff worked closely with team doctors and the sports medicine department to clear student-athletes to come back to campus. Eventually, they were cleared to bring certain teams back on June 15 to continue training.

As athletes came back, the staff worked to transition into the new training regimen while also following COVID-19 protocols. Despite the drastic change to training, Mackenzie said she feels the athletes were appreciative of the circumstances.

“Athletes seemed grateful and appreciative to have somewhere to do something,” Mackenzie said. “So many people didn’t have access to equipment… they just wanted to be back so badly.”

Since the players returned to campus, Mackenzie and her staff have updated the workout regimen for teams by breaking players into different groups, determined by roommates and position groups, to follow social distancing guidelines. As for the weight room, the strength and conditioning staff have made big strides in creating a new space for teams to lift.

“We had a great fundraiser through strength and conditioning and then we had some football donors that [really] came through to help us buy enough equipment to make a large outdoor weight room on the tennis court,” Mackenzie said. “Hopefully in the next few weeks, we can operate out there and have enough space to train half the football team at one time or 50 swimmers potentially.”

Mackenzie and her staff said they continue to work with all student-athletes.

Women’s Volleyball

Women’s Volleyball, who have made back-to-back NCAA Championship Tournament appearances, had their fall season put in jeopardy by the COVID-19 pandemic. When the Big West announced in early July that their season would be pushed back, captains Maia Dvoracek and Meredith Phillips said they finally had some answers for their teammates about plans for the fall. 

While developing a plan for fall practices, Phillips and Dvoracek said they had to lead voluntary practices over the summer while complying with COVID-19 guidelines. To Dvoracek, the bonds the team had with one another “made this time easier, knowing how to talk to everyone.”

The team is now able to hold full practices with some restrictions. While the team of 17 players are allowed to weight lift together using equipment set up outside, the rules are different for their technique practices held in Mott Gym. All players and coaches must wear face masks during the entirety of practice, and unlike the traditional 6-on-6 style of indoor volleyball, only four players are allowed on the court at a time. 

“Back and forths [are] not allowed, and we aren’t allowed to rally,” Phillips said.

Dvoracek added that “every swing is a free swing at the net,” which significantly slows down the pace of play. 

The team must also use a body board to block shots when practicing blocks, because player-to-player contact of the ball is not allowed.

“We even had to start catching volleyballs using disinfected towels, rubbing them down and putting them back into the cart,” Dvoracek said. “Stuff like that has really made practice difficult.”

The pair of captains said they view fall practices as an opportunity to fine tune fundamental skills and maintain team cohesion.

“The National team, the best NCAA teams, they do the simple, slow stuff at their practices too, and buying into that here is helping the team grow,” Dvoracek said.

“This is not easy, but we [as a team] have the same goals and being able to lean on them during this… I found that really comforting,” Phillips added.

Track & Field and Cross Country

Practice for Track & Field and Cross Country has not changed much due to COVID-19. While waiting for answers from the NCAA about a potential fall season, the teams operated on their own over the summer by going on runs, trying different distances and practicing a lot of self-training.

Junior runner Presley Roldan said some of her teammates are “in the best shape of their lives right now” despite training at home.

The team provided athletes who stayed at home over the summer with equipment from their normal training facilities to ensure they maintained their athletic skills.

For the fall, practices have not been much different than usual. Roldan said that the teams will be using the “pods” system that other teams within Cal Poly Athletics used. The “pods” system allows certain groups to practice together to ensure teams do not gather too many people at once when using on-campus facilities, but Roldan said it will not be too necessary. 

“It’s difficult to run in pods when everyone might be trying to focus on a different pace, so we are kind of just on our own right now,” Roldan said.

They are still receiving crucial coaching both in their pods and over Zoom from their coaches, which Roldan said she is incredibly grateful for.

“They haven’t just been there to coach us the fundamentals, but [they] were there for us as a team when our hearts were broken this year,” Roldan said. 

Looking forward, Roldan said she is eager for a spring Track season and is staying patient.

“If Cross Country gets canceled, it will at least give us even more time to do even better in the spring, training more and training harder,” Roldan said. “Everything is going to work out, [we] just have to be patient right now.”

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