*Update November 17* On Monday, November 16, all preseason conditioning was canceled indefinitely due to an increase in COVID-19 cases in Alameda County.
The FUSD School Board approved athletic conditioning in a limited fashion on October 14. Boys and Girls Water Polo, Boys and Girls Volleyball, and Cross Country made a return to preseason conditioning beginning on October 19. In cohorts of less than 11 people for three-week conditioning sessions, the teams have been practicing with safety precautions in place. Teams are hopeful for the first sports season, which is tentatively planned to kickoff on December 7. The Smoke Signal interviewed coaches and players from each of these sports teams about preseason conditioning sessions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Without access to courts, nets, or volleyballs, Girls and Boys Volleyball have faced many obstacles in their return to preseason conditioning. Girls and Boys Volleyball Coach Thien Nguyen and Assistant Coach Michelle Zhou have been leading joint training sessions between both teams. With a large turnout of 22 participants in the first conditioning session, the volleyball teams began their second conditioning session on November 11 with new cohorts for both new and returning players. To maintain open air flow and six-feet social distancing at all times, the coaches have moved their training sessions over to the track and soccer field. “We are not able to have a larger group and have the students get to know each other — we can’t even high five anymore,” Nguyen said. Despite these limitations, the coaches have worked hard to allow the players to get to know each other by incorporating ice-breakers during the practices. Mask-wearing during intense work-outs on hot days has been a major challenge. Junior Ira Sharma said, “Volleyball is usually indoors but now we’ve had to brave the elements with masks on.” The team has persevered through these difficulties, and Nguyen said, “I really am impressed. Everyone’s still trying their hardest out there, and everyone is not giving up.” Coaches and players look forward to the possibility of a sports season. Junior Sean Linn said, “I hope to be able to step back onto the court after the sudden and unexpected stoppage of the season last year.”
Guided by strict social distancing rules and limited pool access, Girls and Boys Water Polo has had to work around many challenges in their return to preseason conditioning. Without access to water polo balls or goals, both teams have been swimming laps to increase endurance instead. Girls Water Polo Coach Juan Madrigal said, “Because we aren’t able to teach the team actual water polo gameplay, I have just been focusing on speeding up their sprints and getting them as prepared as possible.” To minimize contact, the Boys and Girls Water Polo teams are splitting into multiple training sessions with one following the other. Junior Samuel Lee said, “Since we are separated into groups of 11 people, not being able to see all of my teammates together has been a huge lack of motivation.” Despite the smaller practice cohorts, the intense swim sets, and the slim possibility of an actual season, the coaches and players remain optimistic. Junior Jessica Lu said, “While there might not be an actual sports season this year, I am really glad I have the opportunity to get into the pool again. Seeing everyone and training together has made these long, virtual school days much more bearable.”
With no equipment needed, Cross Country’s return to preseason conditioning has required less modifications than water polo and volleyball. By spacing out their warmups at least six-feet apart and adapting to running around just MSJ’s track instead of the surrounding neighborhood, the team has managed to sustain the core elements of the sport. To comply with COVID-19 guidelines, the size of the team has drastically changed. Junior Nikhil Menon said, “Normally, [the] season would have around a 100 athletes on the field, but now it’s reduced to two pods of 11.” Cross Country conditioning sessions started on Monday, November 9 and the team will continue to practice every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Despite running in the cold and dark with masks on, and no guarantee of an actual season, Cross Country Coach Edward Njoo said, “This year, the goal is to enjoy running for the sake of running. It’s a good time to reflect, and sometimes having something taken away makes you appreciate it even more.”
Cover photo by Staff Writer Mingxin Wang