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Return to high school sports: Full practices begin with health, safety at forefront

Return to high school sports: Full practices begin with health, safety at forefront

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Senior Taylor Gambardella was pretty pleased to be practicing on Monday afternoon at Kavanaugh Field. The full Guilford girls soccer team was together for a practice, instead of the cohorts of 10 they were limited to during the summer months.

“Quite a few times, I thought we would not have a season,” said Gambardella, who plays defense. “It was just really hard to think about for the past three years being on varsity and then not being able to have a senior season.”

It’s been a long road to get to this point. No high school contests have been played since March 9 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The CIAC canceled the remainder of its winter postseason tournaments the next day. Then the state’s governing high school body canceled its entire spring season in early May.

In the age of the coronavirus, conditioning in cohorts was an absolute necessity. Fall sports teams have been practicing in cohorts of the same 10 people since July 6, save for a week in August when the CIAC paused all conditioning to review recommendations from the state Department of Health.

Fall sports teams were able to begin non-skill development on Aug. 29 in those same cohorts. The move to full practices on Monday went from low to moderate risk.

“Keeping each other motivated and excited was pretty difficult,” said Olivia Ste. Marie, a senior goalkeeper. “But now that we are playing, we are super-excited. There is a lot of hope for our season coming up

All of the fall sports — except football, which had its 11 on 11 contact season canceled on Sept. 4 — can begin having scrimmages this Saturday, Sept. 26, followed by the start of the regular season no earlier than on Oct. 1. Fall sports include boys and girls cross country, boys and girls soccer, field hockey, girls swimming and girls volleyball.

“Especially with football being cancelled, there’s been a lot of uncertainty. I am so grateful to be out here,” Gambardella said.

Said Ste. Marie: “We are super-lucky that we have five practices per week.”

Guilford had water breaks every 15-20 minutes during its 90-minute practice Monday. It’s cool down at the end of practice was spread over the length of Kavanaugh Field in order to remain socially distant.

First-year head coach Regina Sullivan said the players go through a medical screening questionaire at the beginning of every practice and also sanitize before the start of the practice session.

“If someone has a runny nose, it could be seasonal allergy,” Sullivan said. “But we’ve been very clear and consistent as a coaching staff, we don’t want to see them if they are not 100 percent (healthy).”

Sullivan, a former standout player under Jim Sweeney in the early 1990s, gets a chance to coach her alma mater. She was hired in the spring, but didn’t meet all of the players — there are just fewer than 50 currently in the program — until Aug. 30.

“I’m really pumped,” Sullivan said. “People mention COVID, but I’ll take anything I can get. I’m excited to be back out here.”

Guilford is scheduled to open its season on Oct. 2 against Hand. It will be a matchup of first-year head coaches as Robb McConville takes over at Hand.

Guilford won its final eight games last season to capture both the Southern Connecticut Conference and the Class L state championship, respectively.

“I’m grateful we even have a game at this point,” Ste. Marie said.

— JOE MORELLI

Elsewhere around the state …

MASUK

There were plenty of good reasons for those small cohorts before Monday, but Emma French and Amanda Campos, two of Masuk’s girls soccer captains, were glad to see them go for one particular reason.

“We’re very close, a family, a team,” French said Monday at Benedict Field. “That honestly was the hardest part for me, only being able to bond with five or six other players the first month of school. I’m very social. So is Amanda. Especially for us as leaders, it’s really hard to be a leader when you’re only working with like six people.”

At last, they were all together Monday night, building those relationships that make sports so memorable.

“We’re all friends,” Campos said. “Even if I’m a senior and they’re a freshman, we have some good conversations. Outside of soccer, not one person here does not hang out (with teammates) outside of soccer.”

The Panthers graduated a senior class that was very close, including four-year standout Kacey Lawrence, now at Michigan. This year’s freshman class seems to be the same, but French and Campos said they’re integrating well already.

Without the preseason camp to get to know each other, and battling through a long stretch of fitness tests and distanced drills, it has been tough. Their fellow co-captain Rachel Hersch said she has been trying to stay positive through the months of waiting.

“Your attitude and the way you prepare yourself as a player stands out and makes your team stand out,” French said.

For all the trials, that attitude seems pretty mature, at least in the captains, with lots of talk about how fortunate the Panthers are to have a season.

“For most of us, we’ve been playing since we were 5, 6 years old,” Campos said. “One of (French’s) best friends plays on Notre Dame (-Fairfield). We were upset that we weren’t going to play them, so they set up a scrimmage for us.

“Yes, disappointing, no end goal to try to work toward, but it is still our senior year.”

“Make the most of it,” French said.

Campos said she has reminded the underclassmen that they have other seasons to look forward to; they can use this year to make a statement to the coaches that they belong.

“We’re going to make the best of it, make a good run for it,” coach Jay Goleski said. “The girls understand there’s no state championship, no SWC championship, no voting (for postseason honors). It’s a tough mental state to be in with no reward at the end, but mentally, they’re staying strong.”

— MICHAEL FORNABAIO

SHELTON

Getting the team motivated through the summer, Shelton’s girls soccer captains said, wasn’t all that easy, not knowing if this Monday, let alone Oct. 1, was actually coming.

“It was definitely scary,” Elizabeth Porto said. “This is our senior year. We’ve been looking forward to this since forever.”

They got their wish Monday at Finn Stadium, progressing from two players passing a ball back and forth right up to a full-team scrimmage in the last minutes of practice.

“It was just exciting to play 11-v-11 after a month of just cohorts and conditioning,” Porto said.

“It definitely is exciting just getting back to normal,” Devan Wildman added.

Sarah Panek said this was what the newcomers in particular were waiting for after weeks of cohort conditioning. It wasn’t that it was hard, but it was much different from what they were used to.

Adding in a little more contact and proximity wasn’t too concerning.

“I feel like we’ve been with these girls for so long,” Panek said. “We’ve been doing little conditioning stuff with them, so it’s not that scary.”

Designing the past few weeks of practice was a challenge, coach Marvin Miller said. There was a lot of work on ball skills, some positioning.

“You’ve got to give them activities that let them work on movement, shape, that allowed them to keep distancing. We had to be a little creative,” Miller said.

“We worked really hard on the conditioning part,” he added. “We’ll find out in a week in our first scrimmage. We’ll be pushing hard this week.”

The Gaels have played for an SCC championship the past two years, winning in 2018, and have had other successful years. This year, there won’t be postseason play, and for some, that might put a damper on whatever season one might get, even during a pandemic.

“Not for us,” Miller said, and his captains agreed. “We don’t define success by banners. It’s not our philosophy around here. We have measures of our performance, and that’s what we measure success by.

“It’s the journey that’s important, not just the prize.”

— MICHAEL FORNABAIO

GREENWICH

Greenwich’s boys soccer coach Kurt Putnam conducted a tryout practice Monday that included 120 players comprised of sophomores, juniors and seniors who will soon form the program’s varsity and junior varsity squads. Masks were worn by each player while they took part in stretching and ball control drills. The players were divided into groups and competed in mini-games against each other. Prior to competing in the intra-squad matchups, the Cardinals worked on their drills in 12 cohorts of 10 players.

“These boys have been great,” said Putnam, who coached his varsity squad to the championship game of the CIAC Class LL Tournament in 2019. “They’ve cohorted properly and they’ve followed our protocols.”

Among the COVID-19 safety protocols team members must follow are filling out a self-monitoring form on a Google document, which they can use their smart phone to do so. After completing the form, they send it to Putnam, who reviews it, before clearing them to practice. Temperature checks are also being administered.

“This is the first day we’re using pinnies (practice jerseys) and we’re going to wash them off and sanitize them today and each day,” Putnam said. “No one is touching the ball with their hands. We have 120 players here and not one has touched the ball with their hands.”

Additionally, each player was instructed to place their school bags and backpacks at least six feet apart from their teammates’. The Cardinals had been practicing in cohorts of 10 the past several weeks to promote social distancing.

“All the drills were technical-oriented drills, with conditioning built in,” Putnam said. “We stressed being 6-feet apart, with cohorts a maximum of 10 players. In the end, the challenge was actually more the creation of practices. You have to create practices in cohorts that they find interesting, creative demanding, while having elements of fitness in it. It makes you as a coach, adapt on the fly.”

“I’ve created something like 20-something different sessions over the course of the last three weeks to keep them interested and focused and so they don’t know what’s coming next.”

Greenwich girls soccer coach Simon Rumbold watched his program of 80 players compete in a 90-minute tryout Monday. Rumbold’s squad follow the same protocols, which include bringing their own water bottles to practice. also have to fill out an online symptom-checker prior to attending practice each day, which is checked by Rumbold.

“They’ve also been doing temperature checks and we’ve been spraying them with hand sanitizer,” Rumbold said. “Up until today, we’ve had cohorts of 10, so the same kids have been practicing together the last two weeks.”

Like Putnam, Rumbold said the safety protocols that have been put in place, which has changed the look of practices, has made him get creative.

“It’s been a challenge, but it’s made me think a lot as a coach,” Rumbold said. “I try to do things that they can engage in and but also make them improve The past few weeks have allowed us to concentrate on the technical aspect of the game and fitness. The fall has been positive so far.”

— DAVID FIERRO

WESTHILL

The fall athletes at Westhill learned a valuable lesson from their friends who lost postseasons last winter and entire seasons in the spring: Do whatever it takes to ensure you have a season.

It is something that resonates with seniors most of all.

At Westhill Monday, the girls volleyball team was in the gymnasium for the first time all season after spending the last three weeks practicing outside on the grass field next to the tennis courts to follow guidelines set by the DPH.

Players were wearing masks as they played, a mandate from the CIAC to attempt to keep the sport at moderate risk. Balls were being wiped down and sanitized after being used in drills. Players could not have been happier.

“We are so excited to be back in the gym. It is very different, but it is still so good,” senior captain Vana Servos said. “Outside there is sun, there is wind, the land is not even but it just makes us better. I had a couple friends of mine that were not able to play in the CIAC (tournament) for hockey and I don’t want that to be us. I don’t want our team to not be able to play. We take everything very seriously because we know it is a serious matter.”

Westhill volleyball coach Marianna Linnehan said the resilience of the athletes made the time outdoors a little easier.

“They just want to play. Especially my seniors, they just want to play,” Linnehan said. “They just want to be in the gym playing. They don’t care if they have masks on or if they have to wear gloves. They just want to play. Now we are getting to play 6-on-6 which is great. When we had cohorts of 10, we can’t go 5-on-5 because it’s not a full court. It was very difficult.”

Outside, boys soccer was on the front field scrimmaging 11-on-11 while field hockey was outside practicing in J. Walter Kennedy Stadium.

Field hockey practice looked normal other than players wearing masks under their chins while playing, then pulling them over their noses and mouths during breaks.

“From my perspective it has been about working with our coaches to make sure they understand the protocols and what we are trying to do,” Westhill Athletic Director Dick Cerone said. “Volleyball was the last domino to fall with concerns over them being indoors, but we got the OK today and the kids are so happy. The kids are trying to do the right thing around school and the athletes have been great. They saw their friends in the spring go through what they went through, getting nothing, and they don’t want to have that happen to them.”

— SCOTT ERICSON

MCMAHON

At McMahon Monday afternoon, teams practiced together as full units for the first time this season.

The field hockey team was on the turf at Jack Casagrande Field, scrimmaging with a full complement of players, battling for loose balls in front of the goalie for the first time since last November.

Previously, the team was limited to conditioning and skill work, but could not get into game-like situations.

On the turf field adjacent to the baseball field, the girls soccer team worked out while all wearing masks.

The team was running a 2-on-2 drill with the offense trying to get by the defense and beat the keeper.

— SCOTT ERICSON

DANBURY

Danbury Girls Soccer practice was in full swing for the first time Monday afternoon as the team was able to practice beyond just basic conditioning for the first time.

“Today was the first day where we could do more than just the skill work,” Danbury Girls Soccer coach Jessica Halas said. “We’re now being able to let them play a little bit and assess where they are at coming off the Summer break.”

Though the session was normal in regards to drills on the field, the COVID precautions were noticeable such as socially distanced stretching and wearing masks when not on the field.

“It is really all about making sure the kids keep their distance, and it’s hard because such a big part of sports is team chemistry,” Halas said. “By spreading everyone out it affects the things like the water breaks or walking to and from practice. Now the kids have to be socially distanced and have their masks on. We are going to have to find different ways to build that team chemistry.”

On top of changes during practice, new responsibilities have been added to players and the coaching staff, both before and after practices.

“Before practice they hand sanitize and at the end of practice they have to as well,” Halas said. “We have to spray down the equipment, wipe everything down, make sure everything gets taken home and gets washed. There is a little more responsibility on our end, but it’s all good. As long as we can make it work, follow all the guidelines and give the kids an opportunity to play, that’s the biggest goal.”

For players, one of the most difficult adjustments seems to be keeping a safe distance from teammates on the sidelines.

“It can be tough because we have to be doing that constant nagging, stay six feet apart and wear a mask with everybody,” Co-Captain Jenna Ferrandino said. “It is completely different and not what we’re used to. Not only do we have the stress of try-outs, but also now the stress of keeping apart so it has been a little overwhelming.”

Tryouts, which have been delayed partially due to the two-week shutdown of Danbury Athletics after the recent spike in COVID cases, had a smaller showing than previous years due to opt-outs.

“Our numbers are down at least within the girls soccer program,” Halas said. “Probably by about 10-15 less girls trying out that what we usually see.”

For a team that has had less time on the field together than most, Halas is confident in her team’s ability to be ready for the upcoming season.

“I think the kids worked hard over the summer when we were allowed to condition and the ones that are intrinsically motivated did it on their own instead of being able to come and do it with their cohorts,” Halas said. “I don’t really feel like we are that far behind. We are still going to have the certain number of days prior to when we can have a contest, so who knows, maybe it’ll be a little more of an advantage for us with some rest before going full steam into it. It will be nice to get some kids in and get them back on a full field. We will have to start slowly with that, reconditioning back up to full 11-on-11 game speed, so we will be careful with that.”

One thing is for sure, senior athletes like Ferrandino are glad to be back in any capacity.

“I am so happy to be here right now,” Ferrandino said. “It is my senior year, so I was really afraid I wasn’t going to be able to get anything at all. I am just taking it all one day at a time because we don’t know what is going to happen next week.”

— WILL ALDAM

RIDGEFIELD

On the soccer field in front of him, Phil Bergen watched a group of freshmen and sophomores playing an intra-squad scrimmage.

“We are going to move a few of these guys up to varsity,” said Bergen, the longtime coach of the Ridgefield boys soccer team. “It’s a strong group, which is good for the future of the program.”

The late-afternoon sun was intense enough to make the actual temperature (64 degrees) feel like a lie. And the way the players were playing — an energetic mix of creativity and raggedness — was familiar enough to make this first day of tryouts resemble all the ones that had come before.

But then Bergen’s words brought the escapist moment back to the cold, strange reality of 2020.

“If, at some point, one of these players gets a positive test for COVID all the others will also have to go into quarantine. I would probably have to quarantine as well,” Bergen said. “We’re only playing 10 [regular-season] games, so two weeks of quarantine … that might be the end of the season right there.”

Other reminders of how COVID-19 safety protocols and precautions have influenced high school sports were apparent: Bergen and his fellow coaches wore masks; the tryouts were split into two groups (freshmen and sophomores, followed by juniors and seniors); and Bergen planned to spray the soccer balls with a disinfectant between sessions.

“I keep it in my car,” he said. “I used it over the summer for club soccer.”

Bergen said that around 75 players participated in the three-week conditioning program and are attending tryouts for the varsity, JV, and freshman teams.

“We usually have about 90, so it’s a little smaller but not by much,” he said. “All of the returning varsity players are back, too; none of them left for prep school or decided not to play. We should have a pretty strong [varsity] team this season.”

As long as there is a season.

“All the communications we have received from the state and the school have described it as fluid,” Bergen said. “That’s really the best word for the situation. Fluid.”

— TIM MURPHY

CHESHIRE

While there was excitement among Cheshire field hockey athletes and coaches on the first day of fall practice on Monday, the impact of COVID-19 produced mixed emotions as coach Eileen Wildermann pointedly stated this season would “be less on wins and losses.”

“We are taking it day by day,” Wildermann said. “Sports are such a wonderful complement to our academic life. The coaching staff stresses this to the girls on a daily basis. This year we will have to cherish what time we get even more.

“The focus will be so much less on wins and losses and more on the togetherness and joy of sport. We will find the fun in competing in even the seemingly most mundane drills.”

Like other high schools around Connecticut offering fall sports, Wildermann and Cheshire athletic director Steve Trifone said the Rams have a lot of COVID-related safety protocols in place

Those protocols include entering the athletic complex wearing masks. Masks will be worn on sidelines when not directly in a drill and will also be worn when leaving practice. Student-athletes will be required to complete a COVID-19 check conducted by Wildermann at the start of practice. If they have any answers indicating a possible sickness or exposure, they cannot attend practice.

Everything goes through Wildermann who wants to have a hands-on approach when it comes to COVID-19 protocols. Each athlete has their own thermometer and takes their own temperature before practice and games. Cheshire already had a few players stay home when they had sniffles and they all turned out to be allergies.

During Monday’s practice all girls wore masks except when drinking water on the sidelines and each girl on the sideline stood six feet or more apart.

“Coach set up strict guidelines for us, it’s a situation we all have to follow when it comes to COVID-19 protocols,” senior co-captain Raegan Bailey said. “If she sees you are on the sideline and you’re not wearing a mask, she makes you run. A couple of girls already had to run, and to be honest, we are all glad she is being so strict. The virus is all around us and it’s going to be here for a while.”

Co-captain Tarana Eldredge said there are mixed emotions among the players.

“We’re all happy to be here and have practices and games and have a chance to play,” Eldredge said. “It may not be totally enjoyable with the rules and protocols. With the social distancing you can’t be near anyone. But we all know it’s something you have to do to be safe whether it’s with sports or in school.”

Wildermann said the players understand the seriousness of the pandemic.

“The girls are taking this very seriously, as we think they should,” Wildermann said. “I have my worries and we all talk about safety. Everyone has loved ones they care about. Players carry their own hand sanitizer, towel, and water bottle with them. Nothing is shared. All equipment is actually cleaned and sanitized by coaches after practice except for the goalies.

“The goalies clean and sanitize their equipment and the area around the goal. Coaches will not be using whistles, although they do have hand whistles. Athletes have to be spaced out on the sidelines and that does not mean fewer athletes, just more distanced.”

Wildermann said the field hockey roster hasn’t changed due to COVID-19.

“Our roster size remains the same,” Wildermann said. “We have 58 girls on the squad this year from freshmen to seniors. I do not cut, so it will remain at 58. I have not heard of any players opting out. In fact, it seems like the parents were eager to have the (field hockey) girls compete for a sense of normalcy.”

Trifone did say a couple athletes in other Cheshire sports did opt out due to concerns with the virus.

“Looking back, the most important trait that I gained from my playing days was how to work together for a cause,” Wildermann said. “That cause will probably look different this year, but I know that the Cheshire girls will rise to the occasion as they always do.”

— DAN NOWAK

MIDDLETOWN

Middletown’s girls cross country team ran from the high school to Veteran’s Park and back, taking advantage of its first workout as one group. The 14 Blue Dragons on this year’s squad — only 10 worked out Monday — are rolling with the changes, coach Jenn Price said.

“I am not anticipating many challenges. The girls have been super cooperative from the time we first got together in cohorts,” she said.

Runners were six feet apart for their warmup at the track and had masks at the ready for their run. Some members of the boys cross country wore masks while running.

Even when practice was halted for several days two weeks ago, the result of the school’s closure after two students tested positive for the coronavirus, Price said her runners took the disruption in stride.

“They all came back that first day we could work out again,” she said. “They just want to be with their friends, get their runs in and improve. There will be no stress on winning this fall. It will be an experience more than anything else.”

Middletown’s first meet is scheduled for Oct. 1 at Rocky Hill.

The boys soccer program’s first full team practice with contact took place on the turf at Rosek-Skubel Stadium. Because the team lost time with the school closure earlier this month, coach Sal Emanuele is using this week as a tryout.

Emanuele split the field in half Monday for simultaneous drills and game situations.

“These guys have been working,” he said. “We’re just glad to get things going where we can just play. “We’re still kind of establishing the team and establishing our play.”

Middletown girls soccer coach Rachel Lemke said the first full-team practice, 90 minutes of it, went by quickly. Lemke also is taking the week to decide between her varsity and junior varsity rosters.

“It’s nice to have everybody back,” she said. “There are still extra reminders about six feet apart and to keep the masks on. I’m teaching social kids how not to be social, but they’re doing a good job with it. We’ve talked to them several times and say, ‘If you want to have a season then you have to do it this way.’”

Having tryouts in a full team setting, Lemke said, allows her to see more of her players’ skills. There is no room for scrimmages. Middletown is playing only five opponents, each home and away.

“The time frame between now and actually playing a game on October 1 will be our biggest challenge,” she said. “We’re going to continue to move forward and be as fluid as possible and take it day by day. It will be that type of season, maybe for all of the teams. I’m just happy to be out there with the girls and they’re happy, and that’s all that matters for me.”

Lemke said she has 33 players out for soccer, down a few from 2019 because some who played last season chose the full virtual learning experience, and the district ruled that such students cannot participate in sports.

— PAUL AUGERI

TORRINGTON

First day of real high school sports practice?

Two schools in Torrington offered updated snapshots Monday of the hope and heartbreak that’s already a major part of this fall’s season long before the first real game is played.

At Torrington High School, the fields are empty.

The Republican-American reported Superintendent Susan Lubomski sent a letter to parents Monday that all high school students will learn from home beginning today. They will continue with remote learning through Sept. 30.

“The affected person has been instructed to remain home in self-isolation for 10 days and has been provided with additional instructions to follow prior to returning to school,” The Republican-American reported Lubomski stated in her letter. “Family members have also been instructed to self-quarantine and get tested.”

“I got called into a teacher’s meeting at quarter to two this afternoon and I knew what was going to happen,” Torrington Athletic Director Mike McKenna said.

“We had a (covid) case and the school is closed until October 1. All athletics are cancelled until then,” he said.

The designated start of regional athletic competition for Torrington’s already-pared-down schedule as a result is Oct. 1.

“We’ll push the start of our season 10 days forward,” said McKenna.

Meanwhile, across the street at Wolcott Tech, the girls soccer team has finished their practice and the boys team is running laps.

There’s still hope there — maybe even a little more than usual.

In three years, Coach Vinny Viscarillo has revitalized a boys soccer that used to be a punching bag in the Berkshire League before the Wildcats moved to the Tech League.

There, under Viscarillo, they’ve gone 8-1-1 and 10-5 for the past two years, along with an All-State player, Marc Rich.

Now, thanks to Connecticut’s virus-inspired regional scheduling, the Wildcats get a chance to return to the Berkshire League as a better team than the BL used to see.

“We’re looking forward to it,” said Coach Viscarillo, after this team made it to the state tournament second round last year.

“We hope to make it to the regional tournament (top four teams in each region),” he said.

And yet…

A realist, Viscarillo has scheduled Tech’s Senior Day for the Wildcats’ opening game, at home against Terryville on October 1.

“We can’t afford to wait,” he said.

Meanwhile, girls soccer coaches Ray Royals and Carol Hewitt are joining coaches across the state in doing everything they can think of to get to October 1.

“We gave everyone their own ball and their own pinnies,” said Royals. “They’re responsible for washing the pinnies themselves.”

Royals, whose daughters Michelle and Sarah were legendary athletes at Torrington High School, said, “I will do everything in my power to get our girls to play, but I won’t break the rules to do it. I’m not smart enough to know what’s really safe.”

Suddenly, October 1 — minus football already — seems like a long, long way off.

— PETER WALLACE

TRUMBULL

At Trumbull, the girls’ soccer team practiced under the watchful eye of coach Rich Sutherland. Two games took place on adjoining halves of Sebe Gangemi Field. Players not involved sat six feet apart. All water bottles were numbered for individual players. Individuals brought their own ball, which was cleaned before and after by that player.

Now with the team component in place, the bag of balls going forward will be cleaned after each session by the coaches. Everyone wore masks to and from the field. Coaches kept masks on throughout.

Waiting for their practice to begin, the Trumbull boys gathered on a hill outside the fields keeping social distance and wearing masks. Prior to practice, the players walked to coach Sil Vitiello in a staggered line. He checked on his phone to make sure that they are approved that day from a school-mandated online health screen. If approved, Vitiello takes their temperature and keeps a record every day.

— BILL BLOXSOM

NEW CANAAN

New Canaan girls soccer coach Rich Hickson said that although full-team, full-contact practices have started, COVID safety protocols remain front and center, a fact he reinforced with his team at the end of Monday’s session at the Saxe School fields.

“We all need to do our best to manage this,” Hickson said while emphasizing the use of masks, hand sanitizer, and social distancing protocols to the Rams.

When arriving at practices each day, the players answer questions from the CIAC’s monitoring form, with Hickson noting their responses.

“I do it old school – by pen and paper,” Hickson said. “As they come in, I ask them a multitude of screening questions, they answer yes or no, and that will happen every day at practice.

Hickson also stressed the use of masks as well, as players arrive for and leave from practices while wearing masks.

Monday was the first day the team was able to have players mix as a group, and work on team play.

“This is our first day when we’re combining upperclassmen and underclassmen and the talent’s really impressive,” senior tri-captain McKenna Harden said. “So I’m really excited for the season because I think we’ll do really well.”

Opening day has been a long time coming, but Harden said the players have been working out in different areas through the summer and fall.

“Over the summer, we did a couple of captains practices and then we started with preseason in mid-August,” Harden said. “We did a strength and conditioning clinic which was optional, but a lot of people did it, which was really good.”

Players also participated in a summer camp run by the New Canaan Booster Club, running through footwork and speed drills to get in shape.

Hickson said the team is holding tryouts this week, but there are time constraints. In past years, morning and afternoon sessions of tryouts would’ve been held before school started. There’s also a time limit on practices, which had been one hour of conditioning and drills until today, when practices increased to 90 minutes.

The coach said the players have remained positive.

“Everybody seems to be really happy to be out here and the morale is good,” Hickson said. “They just seem to be happy to be out there, playing and being involved with their friends and teammates. We’re close to (the first game), but it’s still one day at a time.”

— DAVE STEWART

DARIEN

In Darien, athletic trainer Katie Bryant set up a Google doc to make it easier for coaches to monitor their athletes’ health each day.

According to athletic director Chris Manfredonia, students will answer yes-or-no questions from the CIAC’s “COVID Athletic Monitoring Form” before heading to their respective practices. It’s a self-screening process for symptoms such as fever or chills, shortness of breath, and loss of taste or smell, and helps get the athletes be aware of the own health while hopefully mitigating the spread of the virus.

Blue Wave boys soccer coach Jon Bradley said he felt it was important to keep student-athletes involved and with that in mind, the program is keeping everyone this season.

“As a coaching staff, we made the decision not to cut players this year and we explained the many reasons to the boys,” Bradley said. “The biggest (reason) being that we believe players having a home and an activity after school is so important.”

Despite the reduced schedule and the changes in the way things are done this season, Bradley’s players are happy to be with the soccer team.

“My message is clear: We are lucky,” Bradley said. “We are playing and having fun and doing what we enjoy. There are many people in worse positions than us.”

Darien boys cross country coach Tyson Kaczmarek said his Wave runners have been great given the circumstances.

“We are wearing masks anytime we are not engaged in physical activity,” Kaczmarek said. “We put a lot of thought into our cohorts. With the help of the captains we tried to group people by ability. We ran the risk of having to quarantine an entire cohort, but it looks like it has paid off.

“Being able to train with people of your ability, even if it is one other person, was very important to us.”

— DAVE STEWART

About By Staff reports

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