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Going into the new month, Penn's teams are looking forward to getting back to practices with coaches preparing for socially-distanced activities.

Credit: Sukhmani Kaur

With the dawn of a new month comes new opportunities for athletes to get back into action.

Desperate to not let the COVID-19 outbreak keep them from their passions, Penn athletes are returning to practice, hoping to regain the time they’ve lost from their sports. Now that Penn has allowed for sports training to resume, players and coaches are jumping at the chance to compete again while heeding COVID-19 restrictions.

The excitement from both athletes and coaches is tremendous, and their enthusiasm for their respective sports has only grown in the months that they were away. This is particularly true for freshman athletes, who are eager to get acclimated to their teams. 

Freshman Michaela Stan, one of the newest Penn’s women’s basketball recruits, is one example. Stan hasn’t let the pandemic stop her, though, as she’s taken any opportunity she can to practice outside of school since the beginning of the fall semester.

“I was in Philly for a couple of weeks with my teammates in the fall, and we practiced together off-campus,” Stan said. “And when I was at home, I also practiced then by myself.”

Stan’s basketball schedule is full, as the Quakers have continued to practice multiple times a week. 

“So we practice Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, in the first phase,” Stan said. “We are broken into two cohorts of 10 and are required to wear a mask and social distance. Each of those days, we’ll spend one hour doing strength and conditioning and one hour doing basketball skill work with our coaches. And on the Wednesday practice, it’s just a 30-minute conditioning session, no basketball.”

Of course, the coaches are more than thrilled at the opportunity to meet with their players, both old and new, and get back into the rhythm of things. With this return to practice, some things take top priority, namely getting back into shape. 

“There are many goals,” men's basketball coach Steve Donahue said. “One of them is to build a physical foundation. We need to build the athletes’ strength and cardiovascular system.”

This is the same for many other sports, like lacrosse. Women's lacrosse coach Karin Corbett talked about returning to workouts and the importance of focusing on technique.

“For [the spring], there are 24 girls on the team, so groups of 10 girls practice together, socially distanced with masks on,” Corbett said. "There’s a combination of foot practices, stick technique training, and body workouts.”

One goal that all teams share is to create a long-lasting family of the players and coaches. 

“The coaches gave us the message that they want us to 'win every day,' so I think we’re all excited to play together after almost a year and going to focus on using each day that we’re allowed to practice to get better despite the circumstances,” Stan said. “I think that having that shared team message will unite us and give us a good momentum.”

Donahue also shared this sentiment, as he noted the importance of creating a strong team dynamic through basketball.

“Reconnecting with each other is another one of our goals,” Donahue said. "We need to build team chemistry even through masks and social distancing. We must build that team camaraderie.”

Luckily for Penn women’s lacrosse, the players aren’t strangers to each other, as they’ve been one step ahead and have been virtually meeting together as a team since the fall semester.

“We would meet on Zoom calls to get to know each other,” Corbett said. “[I created] something called a 'safe seat,' which is where you ask players questions. They’re usually fun, like ‘What would you bring with you on a deserted island if you could only bring one thing?’ or something personal, like ‘What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever been through?' 

"We also used the calls as an opportunity to educate ourselves about BLM and social justice. The players were also able to link up, as the freshman who lived together in the fall met up, socially distanced, and the upperclassmen, as well."

Whether basketball, lacrosse, or any other sport, each team is using their time wisely and savoring the moments they have together. While the teams continue to return to practice, they can only hope that a return to games will come just as quickly.