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Return To Campus Means Changes For College Softball Teams

(Photo by Notre Dame Athletics)

When the NCAA canceled the 2020 college softball season back in March due to the spread of COVID-19, countless seniors around the country did not know if they would ever be able to take the field with their teammates again. Today, several college softball teams are back on campus, including several of last year's seniors since the NCAA afforded them the opportunity to extend their eligibility. But now, things look quite different.

In the era of COVID-19, masks can be seen everywhere on campus, protocols are in place and much is uncertain about the 2021 college softball season. However, that hasn't stopped several teams from getting back to work.

The University of Notre Dame was one of the first universities to open back up to students and student-athletes in early August. Since then, members of Notre Dame's softball team have been experiencing a new normal.

"A lot of it is just a change in regulations on the protocols," says graduate student infielder Katie Marino. "We're starting off with eight-hour weeks instead of 20-hour weeks. We're doing smaller groups."

There are also mandatory check-ups and COVID-19 tests to make sure that everyone is healthy. Student-athletes are questioned and tested to make sure that they have not been in contact with anyone with the virus and that they have no symptoms before they are allowed to participate in team activities.

"We're doing our normal practices but wearing our masks and everything on the field is very similar, but a lot of the off-field stuff is different," says Marino.

The fifth-year student-athlete says that one of the biggest challenges has been changing that "tough" mentality that many athletes have.

"You have to be a little bit more cautious," Marino says. "In the past, if you felt a little bit sick, you're probably still going to practice. But now, there's a responsibility and accountability for you to say 'Hey, this could be something. I need to make sure that I'm not causing any concerns for my teammates.'"

For Marino and her teammates, the changes to the college softball experience definitely take some getting used to. For freshmen, however, they haven't experienced collegiate student-athlete life any other way.

"I haven't had anything else," says Notre Dame freshman Karina Gaskins. "Everyone who's been here for a year or more has been such a huge help. They're on top of you. They want to make sure that you're doing okay. We do check-ins with the upperclassmen, who have just been so amazing through all of it."

Both Marino and Gaskins expressed the importance of helping each other out and maintaining accountability throughout the entire process. Even though they are both experiencing this new normal at different stages of their collegiate careers, they still both express the importance of working together and having good leadership.

These themes don't just resonate within the Notre Dame softball program, but also within the softball team at Boston College.

Graduate senior Jules Trevino was a captain last year for the Eagles. Now, in the era of COVID-19, she is putting the skills she developed to work by making sure her team is doing what they can to have a 2021 season.

"You have to be patient and understand that what you know is not the same thing as what everyone else knows, so you have to reiterate things," Trevino says. "It's crucial to think about things in their perspective and think about how chaotic this seems to them."

Trevino says that at Boston College, things have naturally been different than in years past. But, Trevino and her team want to focus more on how they respond to the changes than the challenges they pose.

"It's not just you, it's everyone who is dealing with this," she says. "We're going to get through this together and we have to be as positive as we can."

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