The 2020-21 school year was already going to be an unfamiliar landscape for athletics, with the shift to online classes and the postponement of fall sports creating a unique pause in the otherwise cyclical nature of training and game action.
The freshman class of student-athletes will be dealing with this rapid change while also acclimating to the usual nerves and challenges that come with entering a new environment at the university, and jumping to an entirely new level of competition.
Fortunately for the freshman, Stony Brook has been preparing for months to introduce them to a structure that will not overwhelm them.
“It’s been a lot different than what I expected, having to quarantine for the first two weeks and then having to move into my dorm by myself,” freshman forward Makenna Robinson said. Robinson is a member of the women’s soccer team. “But honestly it wasn’t that bad. I think having my teammates is good. My roommate, [freshman goalkeeper] Shannon [Kilian], she was a big help with everything.”
There are many new regulations set in place for athletes to safely practice and to maintain their peak conditioning. Teams are split into practice groups, and most of the focus is aimed toward individual work. Team meetings are scheduled on Zoom and there is plenty of communication across the board for the various sports programs, but ultimately the responsibility falls on the athlete to keep up during such a turbulent time, one with no indication of when games may actually begin. Despite this uncertainty, the work has created at least some sense of normalcy for incoming players.
“It’s definitely easier having a team and the guys on my back to help me through this time,” freshman midfielder Trevor Harrison said. Harrison is a member of the men’s soccer team. “It was a pretty easy transition, everything was straightforward. Obviously, COVID has [required] a lot of rules that we have to follow, but everything seems pretty fair.”
Some of the athletes have adjusted well, in part because this is the only experience they have had at the college level. Unlike their older teammates, who have known a pre-COVID-19 world on campus, the freshmen have had to head right into college life as is, and they have done so seamlessly.
“Well, I really don’t have anything to compare it to because this is my first year,” freshman setter Torri Henry said. “Honestly I feel a lot safer too because the precautions back home aren’t as strict as they are here so it’s just been getting to know the volleyball team because that’s who’s in my social bubble right now.”
Henry added that her coaches are always present and available to answer any questions that the team may have, and they have helped guide her as she settles in on campus, alongside her academic advisors. The transition to online classes has made it easier for her to stay on track academically, and not having to physically attend classes has helped to keep her school life calm.
“This definitely hasn’t been easy, but I mean, I wasn’t here last year so this is all I know,” freshman quarterback Drew Guttieri said. Guttieri is a member of the football team. “Everything that my experience has been so far is what COVID has done for us, so I’m just trying to adjust as best as possible. All of the guys have been very nice, it’s been helping me a lot. So when it comes to my adjustment it hasn’t been too bad, ‘cause I wasn’t here last year I didn’t know how things really run. But it’s been good.”
After also dealing with the chaos that came with the first few months of the pandemic, Henry believes that now she’s in a more stable situation.
“I guess it was kind of difficult only because our orientations and stuff were online and I was getting a ton of emails and I didn’t know which was what,” Henry said about the period between graduating high school and moving into Stony Brook. “It’s honestly been pretty smooth for the most part though, because for high school we didn’t have any closure or anything so we didn’t know what was gonna happen next and if/when we were gonna get to campus, what would happen with the pandemic and all that.”
Robinson echoed those thoughts on what she thought the transition into college would be like.
“I think I kind of went into it expecting it to be hard, just moving so far away from home,” Robinson said. “I expected it to be kind of difficult, but the team makes it so much easier, because I’m already like, I already have the family.”
The one area where things have been noticeably different for the freshmen has been the bubble environment that they have had to accept in order to properly prepare for a season.
“The only big difference I’d say is socialization,” Robinson said. “We want to make sure that everyone around us, especially our teammates, is keeping safe. So we don’t really, I haven’t been and my other classmates that are living here on campus, we haven’t really let anyone into our inner bubble yet. So we haven’t really met any new people, but it’s okay. Yeah, it’s been kind of an easy adjustment, since it’s been so long [that] we’ve been doing this virtual thing.”
Still, the players have each other, and the upperclassmen have been instrumental in making this adjustment easier as well.
“They’ve been helping me out, telling me the ins and outs,” Harrison said about his teammates. “What I’m supposed to be like, how I’m supposed to have good character and just helping me prosper.”
Guttieri also shared the advice that the football team has given to him.
“Just take it day by day,” Guttieri said. “You never know what’s gonna come next, so just take it day by day and see where this takes us.”
Right now it’s unknown when they will be able to play, but this next generation of Seawolves is taking every step necessary to be ready for when their opportunity comes to them.