Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
September 21, 2021
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ROSIE JANG/CARTOONS EDITOR

Four athletes share their thoughts and feelings about returning to the sports they love.

In a press release from the Centennial Conference on March 5, the Presidents Council announced its plans for the return of sports such as baseball, softball, men’s and women’s tennis, men’s and women’s track and field and more. For the first time in almost a year, teams are getting back on their respective fields and courts to participate in varsity sports.

As Hopkins student athletes prepare for competition in some form or another, The News-Letter reached out to several athletes about their thoughts and feelings as they return back to the sports they love. 

This week, The News-Letter interviewed junior Chid Nnake of the men’s basketball team, senior Annie Gutierrez of the women’s track and field team, junior Jessica Liang of the women’s tennis team and senior Brian Linton of the baseball team.

The News-Letter: What does it mean for you to be able to practice with teammates and compete again after over a year?

Chid Nnake: Being able to compete means a lot to the athletes in a lot of different ways. For the older guys, the days are ticking off athletic careers, so being able to play a sport we fell in love with growing up is an immensely grateful experience. Seeing the people I’ve grown to call a family has been awesome too. 

Annie Gutierrez: I’m incredibly excited to be able to practice and compete with my teammates again. Being pulled out of indoor nationals last March was an abrupt shock to us all, and none of us anticipated everything that followed when campus closed for the semester.

It was difficult for so many of us, especially the students who graduated in 2020, because we didn’t get a good sense of closure. I love track, but practicing alone with no tangible end in sight was so tough both physically and mentally. It’s energizing to be able to practice with teammates now, especially with the goal of competing to look forward to.

Jessica Liang: Oh my God, it’s so amazing. I almost really forgot how much I enjoyed it and how much of an integral part of my life on campus playing tennis was. For most of us in every sport, it’s like your life, at least throughout middle school and high school, as well. 

I’ve been playing tennis six to seven days a week for practice for essentially as long as I can remember, and then for the past year it was pretty much nothing, and so getting back into that routine has been really really amazing. I get those endorphins, and it’s really nice to be doing something that I really enjoy as often as I can even if it’s just for a few days a week right now.

Brian Linton: One of the big things that a lot of us on the team realized once the season was canceled last year was that while we missed actually playing baseball, we really missed just being around each other and seeing everyone on the team. We got so used to seeing 40 of our friends everyday, and all of a sudden we couldn’t see them anymore. 

So I think returning to practice (and competition, hopefully) is as much about being able to be together again and continue forming and building those relationships and bonds, as it is about actually playing the sport. I think that’s what most people are appreciating as we get back into it. 

N-L: How have you stayed engaged with your sport having an extended offseason?

CN: We are a smaller team, so everyone is in the group chat actively participating and getting involved. Over the fall we hosted some Zoom events, but more times than not we all have shared interests and we bond over that and talk about that a lot. Whether it be through collaborative playlists or collaborative projects, we are tight-knit and being able to hoop in person has brought us tighter. 

AG: As I mentioned, it was really tough to stay motivated during this offseason. We had no access to facilities, which as a track and field athlete is tough enough, not to mention the equipment my group needs as jumpers, hurdlers, pole vaulters and throwers. Working out during quarantine was helpful because it provided a sense of structure and helped me remember to check in with teammates to see how they were doing. Staying in touch with my teammates and coaches (voluntarily), as well as setting goals for myself to look forward to, was key in staying motivated, connected and positive during the past year.

JL: To stay engaged with the team and the sport, the captains have been doing a really good job of conducting a lot of virtual events, especially through the latter end of spring semester when we were all at home and also during the summer. We had both full team events and also little groups of three to five girls meeting throughout the week so that you could have a large team interaction and also have the opportunity to truly converse and catch up with individual girls on the team. I thought that that was very nice. 

We were also sent workouts from our coach and our athletic trainer so that we could do workouts individually and still feel like we were fit and staying in shape and we were ready to start for the spring. A lot of the girls also, obviously at home, have their own facilities that they can go to or people at home they can play tennis with. That’s how I personally kept up with the sport. At least over winter break, my younger brother plays tennis as well, so we would just play tennis together when we had the time. 

But obviously, not everyone has the same resources, and I think the most important part as we’re moving into practices right now is that the coaches have no expectations for people to be in their top shape right now. It’s a hundred percent okay for people to take a few extra water breaks or be a little bit rusty for this first month, or even more than a month.

BL: Like most people, we’ve had team Zooms and group chats and all the different electronic ways of communicating. We, the older guys on the team, have tried to do the best we can to communicate to the younger players just how important the team friendships are and how important baseball is for us. 

It’s been hard for us to get [that] across without people actually seeing it in action and going through it themselves. But by trying to stay engaged, we’ve tried to keep people up to date on what everyone is doing working out-wise and practicing-wise and showing people that we are still preparing for what hopefully will be a real season. This has been a major focus of ours.

N-L: Do you feel that the safety measures in place are adequate?

CN: I feel the safety measures are good. There has been heightened vigilance in the athletic center about precautionary measures of how to properly disinfect and prepare for the next session/pod of guys coming in to workout. I know there’s been a little bit of underlying frustration from some people about the strict policies, but we abide by them not because we have to but because we want to keep playing for ourselves, for each other and whatever each individual’s reasons are. 

AG: Our coaches and the athletic department have worked extremely hard to give us the opportunity to practice and compete this season. Our head coach, Bobby Van Allen, has been our biggest advocate to get us to this point of having an outdoor season. As much as they want us to compete, they have continually prioritized the health and safety of our team and the Hopkins community, and they would never sacrifice that for the sake of competition. I have full faith in our coaching staff to ensure that we can train and compete safely this semester.

JL: Yeah, I definitely think so. It’s very nice in general that tennis is a very COVID-safe and distanced sport. We are so far away from each other, but I think Hopkins as a school is doing a good job of holding sports accountable. We obviously have to have masks during practice and we have a few indoor practices when the weather is not good and we have to take those extra measures, like the coach has to take a picture of us on our shuttles to and from practice to make sure that we’re distanced and we have to sit in the same seats on the bus every time we go to those indoor practices. 

For us, our team is currently less than 10 people who are on campus and playing tennis right now, but if we were more than 10 people then we would have to split into two separate pods and those pods would not be able to interact with each other. I do think that Hopkins is very cognizant of how athletics may play a negative role in the spread of COVID-19 on campus, and they’re really putting in all the resources they have into making sure that we’re still able to play our sport but that it’s also not having that impact.

BL: We’re all pretty comfortable with what has been put in place. We feel that people will be more incentivized to follow general rules and guidelines if they have a goal or deadline to work for, like the start of practice, the start of games or the start of the playoffs. So I am hopeful, and the people on the team are in agreement that with the season becoming more realistic, it has also encouraged people to be more diligent in terms of following the safety rules outside of practice.

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