By Justin Gincauskas
As college sports begin the final stretch of the spring semester, KU athletic coaches are still adjusting to the unique season. Strict protocols, limited practice sessions, COVID-19 testing and social distancing are among the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic for KU athletic teams.
After over a year of having to deal with the virus, many coaches say they believe they have the right protocols in place to practice safely. KU’s Assistant Baseball Coach Mitch Pinder said that his players have done a good job so far of following COVID-19 protocols during the spring season.
“The team has been following protocols correctly with no issues. Unless you are one of the nine players on the field during the games, you are wearing your mask and are social distancing,” said Pinder.
Pinder and KU Softball Coach Judy Lawes explained having similar protocols in place to help slow the spread of the virus. The protocols include mask wearing at all times during practice, temperature checks, social distancing and wiping down of all equipment. Lawes said that the team started practicing in “pods” at the beginning of the spring semester, keeping players in groups of nine to allow for social distancing.
Women’s Basketball Assistant Coach Justin Hallman said following COVID-19 protocols is the easy part in holding team practices. “The biggest challenge for the team was mentally accepting that there would not be a season,” said Hallman. He said the news was a lot harder to handle since other schools, whether at the college or high school level, were able to play games this season.
Hallman also said that he is unable to push the players as hard as he normally would during a non-COVID-19 year. With masks required during practices, Hallman said he makes sure to give his players plenty of water breaks, avoids the most challenging drills and puts a stop to practices after an hour and a half.
For Pinder, the most difficult thing as a coach is trying to see his players’ facial reactions. With all the players wearing masks, Pinder said it can be challenging to see the emotions of his players to tell whether they are upset or smiling, and when you throw social distancing in the mix as well it makes it exceedingly difficult to talk to the players to figure out what they are saying to each other on the field.
The biggest challenge for Lawes’s team is the constant rescheduling of matches but is glad it has not been because of COVID-19 related issues with her team. The protocols seem to be working for the baseball, softball and basketball teams, as there has yet to be a positive test for any of these teams during the spring semester.
The COVID-19 testing protocols are similar between each team, with baseball and softball getting tested once a week and also the day of or the day before away matches.
When asked if he believes the pandemic will set the team back a year, Hallman said that in fact the opposite is true.
Hallman said he thinks the cancelled season will be greatly beneficial to this team.,believes his players will be the best team to come out of it.