The NESCAC Presidents’ decision to cancel competition this winter disappointed Bowdoin’s winter athletic community. However, it was not unexpected and plans are well underway to create a meaningful experience for winter athletes.
While there is still a small possibility that formal competition between schools with similar coronavirus protocols could occur, Ashmead White Director of Athletics Tim Ryan stresses that the department’s focus will be providing an alternative high-quality experience for winter athletes.
“It’s highly unlikely that we’ll end up competing in our winter season sports and unlikely that we’ll end up competing in our spring sports,” Ryan said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “So, we’re really focused on providing the best experience that we can, taking competition out of the equation.”
This news does not come as a surprise to most student athletes and coaches.
“I think the NESCAC has been at the forefront of a lot of decisions made in terms of athletics since March,” said women’s basketball Assistant Coach Megan Phelps in a phone interview with the Orient.
“When we hadn’t seen a huge change from the way things were in March to September, I wasn’t so surprised that the NESCAC made the decision that they did,” she added.
Annie Maher ’21, captain of the women’s basketball team, concurred, but she also said that she had not anticipated that the announcement would come so early. At the end of the day, however, everyone on the team understands and supports the decision.
“We were expecting a decision in November, so it was a little surprising. … But we all understand what’s happening in the world right now. It wasn’t like we were completely shocked,” she said in a Zoom interview with the Orient.
Men’s and women’s squash Head Coach Theo Woodward agrees.
“In the squash world, at least, we were expecting it would be a very minimal season if we had a season at all,” Woodward said in a Zoom interview with the Orient.
“It’s disappointing but it’s not unexpected,” he added.
Dylan Welch ’21, captain of the men’s track and field team, echoed disappointment about the announcement. He and Maher are seniors, meaning they will not compete for Bowdoin again.
“I only ran two years for Bowdoin, maybe two-and-a-half, and I don’t know if I’m going to run in the spring,” said Welch in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “I really don’t have a lot of time to do that.”
Maher said that one thing that weighs especially heavily on her is that she will likely not get to know the first years, even though they are still heavily involved in the team through Zoom calls and training on campus with staff.
“We definitely do have a relationship with [the first years], but it definitely doesn’t look like it would normally,” she said. “It’s disappointing—those are usually your best friends.”
Maher said that, with no competition and a large number of players having taken a leave of absence, training for the winter season will likely be more individualized.
“It’s going to be the enrolled students, if permissible, doing training on campus with small groups training with our coaches, focusing more on individual work so they’re prepped for the following season,” she said.
Training for the track team will also be less intense in the winter.
“Just getting back into the swing of things,” said Welch. “We don’t want to stress like, ‘Oh, you’ve got to be fully trained by this amount of time,’ because there’s no real timeline right now.”
From the coaches’ point of view, the canceled season provides an opportunity to turn their focus on their team’s development and, more specifically, the development of individual skills.
For Coach Phelps, that means a lot of scrimmages, and taking advantage of the fact that they now don’t have to prepare for games. This will allow them to spend more time working on individual skills and sharpening their play this season.
“We fully intend to have as much of an experience as we can on campus,” Phelps said. “Whether that’s doing some intrasquad scrimmages with players that we have or individual skill work and then more like team practice.”
Woodward is also looking at the increased amount of practice time as a good thing. Because the squash team is so big, he is hoping to incorporate a shuffling of intrasquad matches that will provide his players with a wide range of opponents, even if they are all from Bowdoin.
He and Assistant Coach Ian Squiers ’19 even anticipate playing in some matches against their teams.
“I think it’s a good opportunity to enjoy what we have and just work with the teams on campus,” Woodward said. “The big thing for us is just to enjoy it and show them energy where we can and work in small groups where we can give them more time.”
While they are looking to primarily develop skills with their players, Phelps also wants to focus on seniors having a memorable last season.
“We really want to give our seniors the best possible experience that they can have for their last year as collegiate athletes,” Phelps said. “So, we would welcome any opportunity to give them a chance to compete [with other schools].”
Welch still looks forward to the winter season, even with no formal competition. For him, being back on campus means that he will be able to connect with his teammates more.
“[I’ve missed] talking to the athletes and just seeing how they feel every day,” he said. “I always like to check in with them and see how they feel about their training, see how they feel about academics, sometimes mental health.”
Maher also said that, in a season without competition, the Bowdoin Athletic Department can focus more on other pressing issues of the day, such as concerns about diversity and inclusivity.
“With the cancellation of our season, there’s a lot more time and opportunity to focus on other things,…[such as] diversity reform and locking in on those plans that the AoCC [Athletes of Color Coalition] has,” she said. “As disappointing as it is, this is a great opportunity to build athletics and make it a better community, just in a different way.”