Just like every minute spent sweating at the gym or prepping in the training room gives college athletes an edge over the competition, sport seasons come with highs and lows. Amid the haphazardness of an everchanging pandemic, that chance to reach a season’s highs and lows has been restored for some University of Wisconsin-Stout athletes, with their athletic stage finally reopening its doors this winter.
With the help of combined efforts from local and state-wide officials, seasons for both the men and women’s 2020-21 basketball teams, as well as the 2020-21 men’s ice hockey team, will kick off tonight, February 3rd, against the UW-River Falls Falcons. Three days later, on February 6th, the track and field teams—both men and women—will dust off their spikes for their own season opener, also against the Falcons.
“This was an entire conference-wide decision with many, many people involved from each school,” said Duey Naatz, UW-Stout’s Athletic Director and former football head coach. “Ultimately, the final decision rested with the WIAC Council of Chancellors.”
The Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) involves UW-Eau Claire, UW-La Crosse, UW-Oshkosh, UW-Platteville, UW-River Falls, UW-Stevens Point, UW-Whitewater, and UW-Stout.
Erin Sullivan, UW-Stout’s Associate Athletic Director, was a key contributor to the work allowing fall sports to be conducted. Naatz spoke to her contributions, saying “she was a key player and did a large amount of the work.”
Here and Now
The stage for winter 2021 sports is polished and set. Naatz noted that along with the privilege to compete, comes participation from all winter athletes to keep logistical components and health standards up to par.
“Moving into competition is going to take everyone doing the right thing and helping others so competition is here to stay,” Naatz stated. Some of these expectations will include masking, limited competition, frequent COVID testing for student-athletes as well as officials, social distancing, and frequent hand washing.
Logistically speaking, shortened travel times and coinciding matches between teams have been negotiated to limit exposure. “Men’s and women’s basketball always play the same opponent,” Naatz said. Other things like shortened seasons, modified scorer’s tables and limited locker room access will also be strictly enforced, said Naatz, including the restriction of fans being present.
These factors are something to consider for prepping athletes. “The on-ice experience will be negatively impacted due to having no fans, that’s a given. Having said that, the level of play should not change,” said Konnar Dechaine, a senior construction major on the men’s ice hockey team and native of Lac la Biche, Alberta.
Dechaine, who was recently named an alternate team captain, talked about how a condensed, all-conference schedule could add a sense of urgency to his locker room.
“The ten game, all-conference schedule will be extremely competitive. The intensity level must be there every single game, practice and workout. The season is going to fly by, so we need to utilize every opportunity to get wins and grow as a team,” he said.
What’s to Come
While a chance for glory still remains within arm’s reach for some UW-Stout athletes, others were left high to dry in the fall, dealing with the fact that their seasons were not played. Junior Lexie Nelson, a business administration and psychology major on the women’s volleyball team, is dealing with this harsh reality.
Nelson said, “Ranging from the incoming freshmen to the seniors, everyone wanted a season. It is unfortunate that we did not get a chance to compete against other teams in the fall.”
Shedding light on the canceled fall seasons, Naatz commented that there were too many unknowns surrounding the virus. “All the safety precautions needed to safely compete were not in place. At the time the decision to cancel the fall sports had to be made, as difficult as it was to make, it was the right call. No spring sports seasons have been canceled. Our conference is currently working together on all spring sports, including those fall sports with spring NCAA championships.”
So for right now spring sports are still a go. Nelson’s optimism flared saying, “We have to keep looking forward and prepare for next season. I can say wholeheartedly that our team is a family, and we are more than ready for what is in store for us.”