Athletes on the realities of collegiate competition during a pandemic

Screenshot by Grace Coughlan/ The Towerlight
By: Cory Kefauver, Associate Editor

With COVID-19 protocols and cancellations, Towson University (TU) athletes have been challenged with forming team chemistry as well as overcoming mental hurdles throughout the past year. 

Many TU teams found their seasons postponed at the start of the 2020 school year. Fall sports team’s seasons were mostly rescheduled for the spring. 

Unlike the majority of fall sports whose seasons were rescheduled, the Tigers football team’s season was cancelled after players voted to preserve the eligibility of senior players for their 2021 season.

Graduate student and tight end Jason Epps says while players still need to remain vigilant against the virus, he is still excited for the upcoming season.

“We’ve got to be smart,” Epps said. “COVID[-19] is still going around. As a football player and as a team we’ve just got to be smart about our decisions off the field. One slip up and you could test positive and then you’re out for maybe a game or two.”

The TU Men’s Basketball team was hit hard by the virus last season. The team had its season suspended multiple times for COVID-19 outbreaks. These outbreaks limited the amount of time the team was able to spend together.

Redshirt junior guard Nicolas Timberlake is looking to form more of a bond with his teammates this season.

“It was definitely the least amount of time I’ve spent with a team ever in my whole basketball life,” Timberlake said. “It’s crazy to see how much closer we are already, we’re already closer after six weeks than we were a whole season.”

According to Timberlake, there was a general fear of contracting COVID-19 last season after having to deal with outbreaks multiple times. Even going to restaurants gave them pause. Members of the team would often eat out or dine on campus at the cafeteria quickly to avoid exposure.

“We didn’t even know what a social life was last year,” Timberlake said. “We just didn’t want to get shut down because we had to deal with that multiple times and that 14 days just sitting in your room by yourself puts a toll on you.”

Team chemistry building was an issue for more than just basketball. The Tigers Baseball team also ran into issues with forming bonds between teammates, especially newcomers.

Redshirt sophomore shortstop Danny Becerra played his first season at TU last spring. Becerra played in all 57 of the Tigers’ games last season, but explained that being a transfer during the pandemic made it hard to form chemistry with teammates.

Becerra moved from San Diego, CA to Towson last year noting the move was especially tough having limited interactions with his teammates while being so far from home.

“Trying to meet all the new guys, trying to meet even all the returners was kind of tough because the only way I would see them was at lift for an hour and at the field for a couple minutes,” Becerra said. “For me personally, moving across the country for the first time and trying to go to school was pretty tough because it was just me and my roommates.”

Becerra says the team is hoping for a return to some normalcy and has a goal of forming stronger bonds with one another.

“We lost a lot of seniors last year which means we have a lot of new kids on our team,” Becerra said. “Getting those new kids acclimated and feeling comfortable with Towson and the rest of us is important to our success.”

Epps believes team chemistry shouldn’t be an issue for Tigers football this coming season.

“I think we became a lot closer since the pandemic,” Epps said. “There’s not a lot of cliques on the team, I think we’re a well bonded team.”

He added that it was hard watching Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams play last fall while Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) schools like Towson had to watch from home.

“As a senior I just wanted to play my senior year,” Epps said. “I got another year of eligibility. I was just motivated to keep working and have the best senior year as possible.”

Timberlake says that the pandemic brought about a day-to-day mentality where every day was another chance to play.

“It was just looking forward to the next day of playing because you really didn’t know when or if you would ever play again,” Timberlake said. “Any day you could get into the gym with the team felt like a gameday. 

TU will be allowing full capacity attendance at sporting events this year. Students have access to TU home games at no additional cost. 

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