When the global pandemic hit, students didn't know how to react. They were told they had an extra week of spring break, but by the end of that week they found out that no one was returning to classes, clubs or even campus. For student athletes, this meant an abrupt end to their season. Until recently, these RIT Tigers have been in the longest offseason ever. 

It Came as a Shock

Natalie Barrera is a second year Mechanical Engineering major and member of the RIT Softball team.

“We had just done really well in our [preseason] tournament and afterward our coach came back crying, saying 'This is it!'” Barrera said.

 She had her first season with the team cut short due to COVID-19, while down at a tournament in Florida.

Ava Vescovi ran into similar problems at the end of last season. Vescovi is a third year Marketing major and part of the Women's Volleyball team.

“We were supposed to start the week after spring break ended and it all got canceled … like two days before,” Vescovi said.

While everyone prepared to head home and embark to online classes, student athletes were left wondering what would come next.

Planning on the Fly

Vescovi said, “There was a ton of uncertainty [through the summer]. At first we were confused, we thought we were going to have a regular [fall] season ... we were all doing our training programs."

For most, the living room became a home gym and the same can be said for RIT's student athletes. These workouts developed by RIT's head Strength and Conditioning coach featured at-home variations of traditional offseason workout programs due to gyms being closed. The workouts did not come without its challenges.

"I live with older family members so I could not workout as much as I would have liked, but the workouts were great when I could do them," Barrea said.

Vescovi had a similar view and described the workout as stability in all the madness.

Regardless of the challenges put in front of them, these athletes were determined to make the best of the worst possible situation.

An Unusual Homecoming

Upon the return to campus, athletes were told to come to practice if they can, but with no pressure on them to return if they didn’t believe it to be safe. To ensure safety, the Liberty League with athletic directors, presidents and vice presidents from participating schools developed a “Return to Play” plan.

You can find details on this plan at the RIT Atheletics website

This plan is based on the “Resocialization of Collegiate Sport: Developing Standards for Practice and Competition” from the NCAA that details the three phases that each university must go through before returning to competition. Highlights of Phase 1 include avoiding groups of 10 or more, gyms and common areas to remain closed, physical distancing should continue and virtual meetings should be held whenever possible. While Phase 2 wouldn’t start until at least 14 days after the first one ends, it does allow for nonessential travel to resume and recommends the number of people at gatherings be 50 or less.

Vescovi said that for volleyball, Phase 2 is passing back and forth, which they started in early October.

“It's all very on the fly. We were told Friday that we can go into Phase 2 on Monday,” Vescovi said.

"It's all very on the fly."

The information is coming to the players and coaches as quickly as the executive director of Intercollegiate Athletics can get it out to them.

Tiana Hose, a third year Biomedical Sciences student and member of RIT cheerleading said that she was participating in socially distanced practicing by dorms with some of the freshmen, as a way to build relationships and to improve skills before they can get back into the gym.

By the end of September, RIT’s Women's Crew, Women’s Volleyball, Cheerleading and Softball had all entered the second phase of the plan and were focusing on building to their in-season form.

“[Now] I try and lift around twice a week ... I feel rusty ... I can’t wait to get back in tune with my skills and work with my teammates again,” Barrea said.

"I can't wait to get back in tune with my skills and work with my teammates again ..."

The Games Will Continue ... Eventually

For seniors with a spring season, the hope for a final hurrah is still alive. But with fall sports being canceled, sports like Volleyball, Cheerleading and Crew have to wait and prepare for the fall 2021 season.

Melissa Rockhill, fifth year Chemical Engineering major and captain of Women's Crew at RIT, described her feelings on the whole ordeal. 

 "[Crew] is the best decision I made in college ... I'll probably never row on the water again, which sucks but it's not about that. Meeting up with the 30 or so girls that come to the boathouse where we practice is what it's all about. If it all gets better I'd love to row 8's again with the people that I've trained with these past four years," said Rockhill.

More importantly Rockhill wants "to keep the legacy going. Letting the freshman know that the end of the tunnel is hopefully next year.”

For those fall sport athletes that still have some time left here in Brick City, they won’t have to fear losing a year of eligibility as the NCAA has allowed a “blanket waiver” to cover them. A similar waiver was given to those who lost their spring season when everything was first shut down. Beyond the eligibility rules, student athletes here at RIT are looking forward to starting their seasons in the spring.

Cheerleading is still hopeful that they can participate in the National Cheerleaders Association College National tournament in the spring.

Barrera is excited to have her initial season with the softball team after having it cut short. With or without a season, these Tigers are ready for the games to begin.