After four days of preseason practices and an abbreviated first two weeks of school, varsity sports teams here are getting back to their normal season routines.
With last year’s sports seasons curbed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many teams did not participate in interscholastic games, and health regulations forced coaches to modify their training plans. This year, however, games and regular practices are making a return to the School’s athletics.
Athletes and coaches across the Varsity Soccer, Field Hockey, and Cross Country teams report excitement and eagerness to get back to the playing field. Many athletes in the Class of 2021, at the top of the varsity rosters, have been waiting for this moment since sports shut down indefinitely in March 2020.
Theo Pellman ’22 is one of those athletes. The pandemic interrupted the soccer player’s varsity career, which faced restrictions even as school reopened last fall.
“I’m so excited to go back to soccer. Last year, we didn’t get to play—we just had practices,” Pellman said. “But this year, I’m psyched to get back to the game.”
On September 21, Pellman and the rest of the Varsity Boys Soccer team will have a kick-off for the first time in nearly two years. The team hasn’t done as much conditioning in advance, according to Pellman, and it’s just been “practice as normal”—but normalcy is what the multi-championship-winning team says they’re most looking forward to having.
The Class of 2022 is uniquely impacted by the long-term changes of the pandemic, according to Field Hockey coach Mirna Goldberger.
“I did not want the group to go without their sport, especially this group of seniors, after such a challenging COVID year,” Goldberger said.
Goldberger, among other Varsity coaches, argues that the start of the season has brought a wave of excitement across campus.
“The team is a healthy mixture of some experienced players and complete beginners, but one thing already evident—the overall positive attitude and kind camaraderie,” Goldberger said.
Assistant Athletic Director Tom Nelson agrees.
“Seeing the enjoyment and the excitement of winning and losing either way, but just that feeling again, I think it really helps the School,” Nelson said. “It helps the spirit that we were missing and helps us get us that camaraderie that we needed.”
Nelson said that this year’s athletic enrollment is the highest he has seen at the School.
“That just shows you that within the student body, they’re excited, and I think the faculty and teachers can’t wait to get back out there and cheer for the students as well.”
Athletic Director Jeff Gates said that despite scheduling difficulties, there will be plenty of games this season.
“Overall, our schedule is pretty full,” Gates said. “I can’t wait to see all the kids get back on the field and play. They’re starting to look forward to the first games of the season.”
First to have an interscholastic meet were Varsity Cross Country and Varsity Girls Soccer. On Tuesday, Varsity Girls Soccer won 8-2 against St. Andrew’s School. Kaylee Little ’23 scored three goals during the game.
With the youngest team and biggest roster that she has ever seen, Head Coach Mallorie Nai is optimistic about the season ahead.
“With the help of our new assistant coach Zoe Stublarec, I feel that we have already made huge strides even in just one week of practices,” Nai said. “With any season, there will be ups and downs, but I am confident that our senior captains, Elisabeth Fitzgerald and Iris Bishins, will tackle anything that comes our way.”
Also on Tuesday, Varsity Cross Country won against Chapel Hill-Chauncy Hall on the Boys team and did not score on the Girls team.
Coming together for practices and meets excites Cross Country Head Coach Dona Rehm, who coached Running Club last year.
“I think that’s what my favorite part of cross country was when I was a runner—the team camaraderie,” Rehm said. “So hopefully, with more bus trips and meets, we can have a little more of that back.”
Although Conno Wagner ’25 is new to the Upper School and the varsity team, he has two years of Middle School Cross Country under his belt.
“This is nice cause I feel like I’m a leader almost even though I’m only a freshman,” Wagner said.
Despite racing for two years prior, Wagner said that the COVID-19 pandemic slowed his growth as a runner.
“Last year, I ran a bit during the school year but I wasn’t out and about as I should’ve been,” Wagner said. “This week, it’s been fun seeing everybody and starting to get back into a better running schedule.”
Wagner is not the only varsity athlete at the School that feels like their training suffered during COVID-19. Athletic Trainer Larry Stahley said that he found it challenging getting to see everyone have their first athletic experience in a year or more.
“We have had people who have played sports for a year or two outside of school, and we have students who basically haven’t done anything, so we have a very wide range right now of people’s conditioning and skill levels,” Stahley said.
Stahley hopes that coaches will “take things slowly, building ourselves up, so we can get to where we would normally be in a couple of weeks.”
“It was really tough to not get to work with everyone in the training room,” Stahley said. “We have so many talented athletes, and to not let them compete and get out there and win, it was really tough.”
With the hustle and bustle of after-school sports now back, Stahley and the rest of the Athletic Department are happy to see students enjoying the start of the school year.
“It feels like we’re almost back to normal in here,” Stahley said. “It’s been a chaotic first couple of days getting paperwork in and new students and athletes to their right spots, but it feels pretty normal again. We’re getting there.”