APU athletes have returned to campus, but face an abnormal set of COVID-19 guidelines as they continue to cope with the pandemic
After last semester’s hiatus in NCAA sports, the spring semester is now underway with positive advances. Multiple Azusa Pacific sports teams have been granted the opportunity to play their sport on campus again. Under the circumstances such as social distancing and weekly COVID-19 testing, returning athletes have regained a sense of normalcy again.
I sat down with three of APU’s athletes — Weston Ellis from track and field, Kyra Zovak from women’s basketball and Courtney Page from women’s tennis — and asked them what it is like to be back on campus, practicing amidst the ongoing pandemic and how they are mentally coping with the changes they face.
Ellis is a graduate student at APU and a member of the track and field team. After majoring in kinesiology during his undergraduate years, he is now a part of the physical education single subject teaching credential program.
Q: After having been away from campus for the majority of the 2020, what has it emotionally and mentally been like for you to practice your sport at home?
Ellis: It’s been a constant challenge. I’m from Orange County, CA, and the guidelines and rules changed weekly. When things first shut down last March, everything was completely closed for a couple of months. Eventually, I was able to practice some things at the local high schools. I would record myself sometimes when I worked on track and field drills. However, it has been challenging overall because everything was so shifty.
Q: What was your first initial thought when hearing you would resume on-campus practices? Were you more nervous or excited?
I was more excited than anything. I think for so long now, we [athletes] have been craving any kind of stability or something to hold on to regarding what’s going to happen. It’s nice to be back and have something to do now.
Q: What kind of atmosphere does being back at APU bring to you?
It’s really nice. I like being back on the track because it’s a lot of fun to be out there with teammates. We all have a good time together. Even though we have to wear masks and social distance from one another, it brings a sense of normalcy to us that we haven’t been able to experience in a long time. It’s fun to feel a sense of community while training.
Although she is in her third year of eligibility, Zovak is a graduate student at APU. She is working towards her M.S. in organization psychology and plays center on the women’s basketball team.
Q: What did you miss most about practicing on campus?
Zovak: I missed being with my teammates as well as getting to see the other athletes when going to clinics and getting treatment. Basketball is harder to practice by yourself if you want to do more than just practice shooting. I felt like my efforts and ability to get better were hindered because I wasn’t on campus with my team and I didn’t have access to the campus facilities.
Q: How does COVID-19 affect your team’s ability to practice normally? What are some transitions you’ve had to become accustomed to?
Basketball is a contact sport. It requires us to be very cautious. Sometimes it can be hard to understand the rationale behind having to wear masks as well as not being able to hang out with teammates outside of practice. But we’ve had to follow these guidelines. When we are running full court, we are allowed to take our masks off.
We also have to split the locker rooms. Half of our team is in one locker room and the other half is in another room. We recently played at Biola and instead of us normally taking one van or sharing a bus with the men’s team, we had to take three separate vans. There were only a few of us in each van so we could maintain distance.
We are only staying local this season so we won’t be able to go to Hawaii this year, which takes some getting used to. COVID-19 definitely takes away from our ability to truly get the college athletics experience.
Q: What kind of requirements is the school enforcing in regards to COVID-19 and testing?
We have to get tested three to four times a week. We usually get tested Monday, Wednesday and Friday. When we have games on Saturday, we also test then as well. After practice and games, we have to shower immediately in the locker rooms before we can go home. This is because some of us have other roommates and we want to be as clean as possible before going home in the same living space as them. We also have to shower before we get any treatment after practice, even if it’s just to get ice.
When it comes to water bottles, we must have our own. This is different because we are accustomed to using the training room’s collective water bottles. Also, we are required to check-in every day on the APU app. On the app, we have to assure that we are symptom-free. When showing up to practice, we have to show our coaches that we filled out the symptom sections and they then take our temperature and we get a wristband for that day.
Page is finishing up her senior year at APU and is majoring in accounting. As part of the tennis team, Courtney plays both singles and doubles.
Q: Tennis is a fairly physically distanced sport, but in regards to COVID-19, do you feel a sense of fear being around your teammates and coaches? Why or why not?
Page: I’m pretty comfortable with everything. We had practices last semester and everyone on our team did a good job of being smart both outside of and at practice. No one came down with COVID-19 on our team. Knowing that encourages me when going out to practice every day. Also, everyone has the mindset that the smarter we are at practicing social distancing, the more we’ll get to play.
Q: What is something you hope to never take for granted again in your sport given the unexpected circumstances that you faced within the past year?
My answer is always going to be people. Especially with the tennis team, everyone is from different places. I’m from Chicago. We have people from Hawaii, Northern California, Germany, Cyprus, Sweden and Croatia. We will never really be in the same spot again for a while. With COVID-19, we were all separated for ten months which was a very long time. It was the longest period of time that I have ever been away from these people since my freshman year. Seeing them for the first time a couple of weeks ago was a super sweet moment and it helps me to not take for granted the small moments we have in-between playing.