Emily Gray is a junior on the Virginia Tech Women’s Soccer team. She has started all 45 games of her career, and she led the nation in assists this fall. One of the top players in the nation in her age group, Gray has most recently represented the United States at the U-20 level. She is majoring in Sports Media and Analytics.
About eight months ago, I sat at home writing optimistically about the unknown future of college sports. I expressed my perspective of what it was like as a Virginia Tech student-athlete at home during the first four months of the pandemic.
Around that time, I had also begun a summer internship with Virginia Tech Sports Properties (Learfield IMG College) where I sat in on calls as we prepared for the abundance of possibilities for fall sports.
As you all know by now, fall sports did go on in the ACC, and I will do my best to share with you what it was like for a women’s soccer player.
Over the summer, my team reported just after the fourth of July to begin our acclimation period and testing procedures. I had arrived a few weeks earlier to finally complete the functional testing to be cleared from my ACL setback. During that period, we worked out with our strength coach in small groups doing fitness and makeshift outdoor lifts. Every few weeks, we progressed into more dynamic work and increased the group sizes.
At this point, there was still no word on if the season was going to happen or not. We were still having our weekly team Zoom meetings, and there were always many questions and potential schedules, but few answers with nothing set in stone. We continued to prepare for what we still hoped would be a full season – with fans. Still, playing just one soccer game would be far better than none at all.
In August, we kickstarted our preseason. The staff did a great job of slowly integrating contact into our sessions. Having not officially trained or played a game in six or more months, for many of us, it was important to not rush back into things and to prevent injuries.
I know for me, personally, after each practice this preseason, I could not wait until the next one. It was a long time coming for many reasons, but just running around playing the game you love with some of your best friends is something none of us will take for granted again.
The weeks went on and finally we had a schedule to look forward to with eight ACC games, four non-conference matchups, and the ACC Tournament. Initially it was only supposed to be three non-conference games, but just days before what was supposed to be a scrimmage at UVA, it was rearranged to be a counting game.
With all the schedule changes throughout the lead up to the season, we wound up playing at UVA, where I had actually played my last game of the previous season.
It sounds crazy to find out about your first game so close to it, but these flexible changes have become normal in college sports. Hokie fans may have started to appreciate these changes with our football team bringing home the Cup after a postponement early in the season and men’s basketball upsetting Villanova in an overnight scheduled game in Bubblesville.
Another token of normalcy for us beginning the week of our opener back in September: getting COVID tested three times per week.
For context, sometimes we were tested at six in the morning after a game the night before or after returning to Blacksburg in the middle of the night from an away trip. On the days we were lucky to sleep in a bit and get tested around 7:30am, I would rush back home to hop on my laptop and join my 8:00am Zoom class.
Honestly though, nobody really complained about it. Getting tested was just part of our routine at that point.
Coach Fuente alluded to this in one of his press conferences, mentioning we go each day waiting for our test results and whether or not we are going to play that weekend. At first, it brought some anxiety, but as the season went on we learned to take everything day-by-day and to do what was in our control.
Luckily, our team played all of our games without any pauses throughout the fall, and after a rough start we were able to qualify for the ACC Tournament.
When I look back on the fall season of 2020, I will always remember how grateful I was to simply play soccer and have the opportunity to interact with other people during a time when most could not.
Lastly, I want to thank those who made our season possible. Countless individuals went beyond their pay grade to make it all work and still continue to do so.
This year was definitely unexpected, but being a student-athlete during a pandemic certainly teaches you to make the best out of a difficult situation.
As always, Go Hokies!