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Despite Canceled Season, College Coaches Still Helping Teams Stay Ready

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(Photo by Shane Bevel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

Lonni Alameda’s players found out on their own.

Her Florida State team, off to a 17-7 start, was in a meeting on the afternoon of March 12, and Alameda was talking to the Seminoles about planning for a brief break from their season, should the ACC and NCAA decide to take that step with the coronavirus crisis worsening by the day.

But several players were checking social media during the meeting and found out the break would last much longer than a couple of weeks. The NCAA canceled all winter and spring championships that afternoon due to COVID-19.

“The seniors lost it,” Alameda said. “We went from a plan for having a little bit of a delay to kind of craziness. A couple days later, we met as a team…that second team meeting was a lot easier to handle on what our outlook was going to be like.”

That outlook was unlike any that Florida State’s players were used to. Alameda said about 12 of her players initially stayed in Tallahassee after the season was canceled, but most returned home once the training room closed.

The Seminoles, like all college teams, had trained throughout the fall and winter to be at peak performance in April and May. Now that no games are taking place this spring, Alameda still wants her players in something resembling game shape. She said the Seminoles plan to take the summer off, as they typically do, so they can hopefully return to a normal routine in September.

“It’s still spring season for us, so they still have their conditioning and running plans,” Alameda said. “They have what we would normally do. I set up some bullpen plans and some hitting. We’ll debrief with Zoom individual player meetings (about) the end of the short season and talk about the little bit we did have.”

Mike White’s Texas team was about to head to Alabama. The Longhorns were 24-3, having already beaten Tennessee, Louisiana, Washington and UCLA, and they were ready to test themselves against more top competition in the Crimson Tide.

But with the team’s bags all packed, White got a phone call saying the trip was canceled. The cancellation of the rest of the season followed a short time later.

White said there were “a lot of tears” in the meeting when he told the Longhorns about the NCAA’s decision. Texas had six seniors on its roster, including fifth-year outfielder Reagan Hathaway. At the time, the seniors’ futures were uncertain.

Since then, the Longhorns have held weekly team-wide Zoom calls like many other teams, but Texas has added a twist—after three hours of players and coaches on the call together, players talk with a sports psychologist for another hour. White said the Longhorns are able to discuss just about anything with the psychologist, from being distant from their friends and teammates to taking online classes.

White and his assistants are not allowed to actively monitor their players’ workouts, but he recognized the importance of maintaining a routine to avoid being out of shape once softball does return.

“We’re making sure our strength and conditioning coach has sent out some workouts,” White said. “It’s kind of individualized depending on what (equipment) they have. We’ve stressed the importance of making sure you throw. Get a couple of balls, get a net, or go to a field and throw the ball as far as you can. Take some of your swings.”

Kate Drohan and Northwestern were ready to turn the page after a tough non-conference season. After a Super Regionals run in 2019, the Wildcats were just 11-12 through five weekends this year, but they were still expected to compete for a Big Ten championship in 2020.

Drohan said because Northwestern had been traveling a lot, the team had been paying attention to the spread of coronavirus. But she said there was still some shock when her players got the news in a team meeting that their season was over in a flash.

“They are working really hard and really engaged at a high level,” Drohan said. “We’re really looking at this like we’re still in season. We’ve got the summer ahead of us for a break, but there are a lot of different ways we can learn and grow as a team together right now.”

Drohan said Northwestern’s sports performance staff has built specific programs based on the equipment each player has at home.

The Wildcats will keep up an intense training regimen for the rest of what would have been the spring season, then get back to work in late summer with the hope of being game-ready by the fall.

“You try to build something of an idea of what would mimic a regular season, but it’s just so unrealistic for our pitchers to get in the number of innings we would like,” Drohan said. “We’ve shifted our model, and we’ve asked them to go pretty hard physically until the end of the spring.”

Alameda and White also emphasized that the onus is on the players to keep at it and avoid falling behind once they take the field again, whether that’s in September or in 2021.

All three coaches recognized there is only so much they personally can do without seeing their players in person, and they understand there are far more important things than sports right now. But they can still be there for encouragement, and White said he’s been coaching his players to be their own coaches.

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” White said. “We can make all sorts of excuses, but you’ve got to find a way to get better during this time. If you’re not, somebody else is.”

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