Fall semester for the Fighting Squirrels was a waiting game. But with careful safety measures, players, coaches, and staff are returning to competitive play this spring.
“Our commitment is to the student-athletes — they want to play, and the athletic department and university are doing everything we can to accomplish that,” said Tom Byrnes, athletic director. “It won’t be perfect, but we’re doing the best we can in an extraordinary era. Hopefully it’s short term, and we’re back closer to normal next year.”
Basketball gets it started
Women’s basketball kicked off MBU’s return to USA South competition at home last week. Even though fans weren’t able to cheer on the Fighting Squirrels in person due to the pandemic, enthusiasm still ruled the day. Fans are able to join virtually through live streams of all the games.
“It feels amazing and very exciting to be back on the court with my teammates and to be able to play the sport I love,” said guard Demet Saygili ’22, who is majoring in health sciences. “Especially with this pandemic going on, I am very thankful to be able to play a conference schedule in my junior year.”
Her teammate Mary Moran ’22, who plays guard and is a political science major, also looks to basketball to help invigorate a difficult time.
“It is relieving to see something normal going on with all the changes due to the pandemic,” she said. “I’m most excited about the team and its progression and the impact and competition we will bring to the conference.”
This spring is a historic moment for men’s basketball as the team embarked upon its first-ever season at Mary Baldwin.
“It is a privilege to be in this position, and one that myself and our players don’t take lightly,” said Matt Griggs, head coach. “We are working hard every day to represent MBU well both on and off the court, and we are just happy to be able to practice and compete, and we understand how fortunate we are to do so.”
Men’s basketball is playing as a club team on the path to NCAA Division III varsity play next year.
“I’m excited about getting back out on the court and competing with my teammates,” said forward Luke Ogle ’24.
Even though the inaugural season lacks fans in the stands, men’s hoops are focusing on getting the most out of the game.
“I am truly blessed and grateful to be given the opportunity to still lace up and play a couple games representing Mary Baldwin University in these crazy times,” said Quentin Hart ’24, guard/shooting guard and marketing and communications major.
Safety measures in place
Following NCAA guidelines, MBU is taking every possible precaution to protect student-athletes and the community. Indoor games are not open to spectators, and COVID tests are administered weekly for athletes, coaches, and athletics staff. Game officials are also tested as appropriate.
Masking and social distancing are enforced as much as possible; the only time players may remove their masks are when they are actually in a game.
For away games, travelers will adhere to social distancing and masking in transit and once arrived at the host institution. The athletics department has also eliminated most overnight trips, with only one currently scheduled as opposed to more than 20 in a normal year.
Fall sports return
After the fall sports season was cancelled due to the pandemic, each team practiced two to four times a week and regularly held intrasquad scrimmages.
Depending on the team, fall sports will have their season start in February or early March.
“I am really excited to be back with the team and coaches, and seeing everyone healthy and ready to start something that we have been waiting for,” said Rene Ramirez ’22, midfielder for men’s soccer and health sciences major.
Though the adapted seasons won’t see as many games as in the regular season, players are eager to face off against other teams.
“What I’m most excited about is to see how the team connects in a real game,” said Megan Andrews ’24, hitter for MBU volleyball and biochemistry major. “We’ve been working as a team since the beginning of August last year, so we’ve had plenty of time to learn each other’s strategies and patterns, and built a strong bond with one another that will benefit us on the court.”
After having to miss last season, setter and exercise science major Emily Link ’24 says her team’s motivation remains strong.
“Everyone has been working and feels ready to play no matter what,” she said. “We all got super close with only practicing last semester, so I’m excited about having games and watching all of our relationships grow.”
Though spectators are not allowed indoors, Byrnes anticipates that they will be able to attend outdoor events, depending on the state of the pandemic. All spectators must be properly masked and socially distanced.
For the spring season, baseball, softball, men’s and women’s tennis, and men’s and women’s track and field will have start dates in early March.
Live streams of every home game and all sports’ schedules (as they become available) and results can be found on the MBU Athletics website.