Women’s soccer learns to deal with fall sports postponement, maintain fitness during pandemic

San+Diego+State+women%27s+soccer+celebrates+after+scoring+its+lone+goal+against+UNLV+in+a+1-0+victory+against+the+Rebels+on+Oct.+4%2C+2019+at+the+SDSU+Sports+Deck.

File photo

San Diego State women’s soccer celebrates after scoring its lone goal against UNLV in a 1-0 victory against the Rebels on Oct. 4, 2019 at the SDSU Sports Deck.

by Devin Whatley and Reese Savoie

On Aug. 5, the Mountain West Conference released a statement regarding the conditions under which fall sports would take place for the upcoming 2020 season. Games weren’t set to begin until the week of September 26, and regular season schedules were heavily modified. 

Just five days later, the conference released a follow up to their initial announcement: fall sports would be postponed indefinitely due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

That decision hit San Diego State’s women’s soccer program hard.

Senior forward Veronica Avalos was preparing for her final season on the Mesa. The news came as a letdown.

“I was bummed,” Avalos told The Daily Aztec. “I thought our team was gonna do so good this season, so it’s really sad that it was taken from us before we can start.”

Head coach Mike Friesen expressed sympathy for everyone on the team, but especially toward his senior class and incoming freshman.

“I feel terrible for our seniors. I feel terrible for our freshmen that this is their first experience,” he said.

Friesen preferred to not play out the fall season as is, because he did not want one year of the players’ eligibility to be wasted in such a short amount of time with the initial 2020 schedule being shortened from 20 games to 16. 

“For me, I just felt like in their careers, this is just such a small window for them,” Friesen said. “Once we got to the spot where we were losing so many games and so, to me it just got exciting. I was like, we can actually get to a spot. 

“The decisions that have been made since then about eligibility, and how even if we play a spring season, it’s not going to cost eligibility…that’s way better for me personally, because I get lots of chances to do this, they only get four.”

Senior defender/midfielder Phoebe Leitch went through a journey traveling from her home in Forest Row, England to San Diego in July. 

At the time, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement released new guidelines that said foreign students attending colleges with online-only classes in the fall would not be able to enter or remain in the United States. 

Worried about the possibility of deportation affecting her ability to participate in team workouts, Leitch flew from England to Bermuda, where she quarantined for two weeks.

Afterward, she returned to San Diego. Upon an arrival and another two-week quarantine, Leitch was finally able to participate with her teammates.

“It was just so refreshing to see everyone again and just kind of be around the team environment,” Leitch said.

Despite a challenging travel process, Leitch said it was all worth it because even though the fall season is postponed, she can still fulfill her responsibilities towards both the team and the school. 

“I’ve come to school here to go and play soccer as well as getting education,” she said. “So it’s important for me to put in the necessary sacrifices, the effort and go through that to get here because I know that this is what I want. 

“This is what I’ve wanted for so long and with it being my senior year, I was not gonna let that get me down.” 

The team had an impressive 2019 season, making history with their 11th Mountain West Conference championship appearance. The squad also came out as regular season champs for the sixth time, another record number for the program.  

The Scarlet and Black were looking to expand upon these accomplishments and collect more hardware in the fall. 

However, despite the season being put on hold, the girls’ training has remained consistent.  

Due to the pandemic, practice has looked a bit different. It is now broken up into phases, with Phase One being completely individualistic. As the team progresses through each phase, increased amounts of player contact are slowly reintroduced. 

Currently, the team remains in the first phase, which prohibits any contact. The result: lots of conditioning.

Their regimen is as follows: for two hours a day, five days a week the team runs. 

…and runs. 

…and runs. 

While strenuous, the intense conditioning has helped to improve the team’s strength, both physically and mentally. 

“There’s been a lot of fitness which is hard and mentally challenging,” Avalos said. “You’re tired, you’re running to your fullest capacity so that has made us a lot stronger of a team. We’re always trying to push through something, so that’s going to really help us if we have a season in the spring or next fall.” 

Strength is not something the girls are unfamiliar with. The pandemic has made its mark on the season, but the squad’s motivation remains unwavered. 

This is largely in part to the support they’ve found in each other. 

“These are my sisters. I live with them, I hang out with them,” Avalos said. “They’re my friends in soccer, out of soccer.

“It’s nice to have everybody there, all together through this hard time. It makes everything a little bit better,” she added. “You kind of forget what’s actually going on for a split second there at practice.” 

Being surrounded by such a strong support system is something sophomore defender Claire Watkins can appreciate. 

The San Diego native transferred to SDSU from the University of Oregon in early July and was looking forward to being able to play in front of her friends and family once again. 

“I was really excited just to be back in San Diego with all my family and friends, so I was really wanting to play so I can get all that support from them,” Watkins said. “It obviously kind of hurts a little bit because I really just wanted to show up for my family.”

As the Aztecs look to move towards Phase Three of workouts after the university’s two-week pause due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Friesen wants everyone on the campus community to take initiative so the team can get back playing a full season. 

“We want everybody at San Diego State to follow all the protocol and be safe,” he said. “We want to play our sport, we want to be safe, we want to go to class. We want to get back to normal.”

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