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Penn's teams have come up with new and innovative ways to include their rookies as they adjust to all the changes that come with life in college, especially during the pandemic.

Credit: Son Nguyen

At the start of their first college season, Penn’s incoming athletes were immediately faced with a number of challenges.

With virtual classes extended indefinitely, on-campus housing closed, and the cancellation of all athletic competition until 2021, the freshman cohort was left with more questions than answers.

For the first time in Penn history, the process of getting to know new coaches and teammates would have to be done completely off the field, if it could be done at all. 

Women’s soccer coach Casey Brown believes having the right mindset and constantly checking in is vital to integrating new players into a sports team that isn’t able to train or compete together. For her team, the process of welcoming the freshmen started over the summer.

“We have different groups that check on each other over the summer, keeping people accountable and also checking in with each other, making sure everyone’s good and sharing what’s going on," Brown said.

Additionally, discussing recent events from the past few months gives teams a new way to bond and come together for the common good.

“We’re finding unique ways (on Zoom) to keep our group together. We’re doing different cultural things, team-building things, giving our team different opportunities to get involved in social justice, and doing things with alumni engagement. It’s not gonna be the same, but we’re focusing on what we can control.”

Women’s lacrosse coach Karin Corbett had similar thoughts. Even though the entire freshman class decided to move to Philadelphia for the fall semester, the team faces similar challenges as it brings new athletes into the fold.

For these squads, virtual team-building has been hugely successful, and the challenge of bringing on new team members has been surmounted through solid senior leadership and ongoing support between new and veteran college athletes.

“Not seeing the freshmen is tough," she said. "It’s going to be a lot of checking in. All of our freshman are on campus living together, so they have more of an opportunity than some teams to meet each other and bond. They’ve also been committed for a while, so they’ve gotten to know each other over the last year or two.”

But despite the drawbacks of virtual team-building and a lack of competition to focus on, the women’s soccer and women’s lacrosse teams are making the most of the obstacles in their way.

“We’re really just trying to stay connected and get the team closer," Corbett added. "I think that with everything we did getting them connected in the spring and summer, they were so eager to meet their team in person and build relationships in person that they’ve been building virtually since April. We’re going to keep learning about how to be more creative.”

For women’s soccer and women’s lacrosse, ongoing support from coaches and upperclassmen has been key to a smooth transition to virtual life. As they explore new ways to integrate and involve new players, Penn’s athletic teams are learning as they go and making the most of an unfamiliar season.