What It’s Like Being a Division I Student-Athlete During the COVID-19 Crisis

Attending college during the COVID-19 crisis hasn’t been so easy for many students, especially, those that have chosen to remain on campus, despite the pandemic. Typical college life—hosting study groups in your door room, enjoying an on- or off-campus party, eating at the dining hall—has been put on hold for the foreseeable future. At Siena College in Loudonville, for example, students aren’t allowed to have more than two guests in their dorm room at all times, and the majority of other student activities have been canceled or banned due to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and New York’s strict COVID guidelines.

A notable exception to the no-crowds-allowed-anywhere rule at Siena is in regards to its athletic teams. Siena’s student-athletes have been cleared to practice and compete, but with a number of health restrictions in place, including a rigorous regimen of daily  COVID testing to ensure that team practices or games don’t become superspreader events.

Saratoga Living recently chatted with sophomore Sophia Caputo, a Division I softball player and biology major, about what her experience on the field (and on campus) has been like during this pandemic-shortened fall semester at Siena.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way your team practices?
Before COVID, we normally would practice six days a week, around three hours a day. Our practices would include the entire team, which is about 20 girls. During COVID, we now practice about the same amount of days per week but for four hours each day. A lot of this extra time is used for cleaning equipment, waiting for groups to switch locations and daily symptom testing. For the majority of practice, we have to wear masks and remain six feet apart; luckily, softball is a pretty socially distanced sport. However, we only have half the team practicing with each other at once.

How has this season looked different from a normal one? Are there fewer games, and is there less traveling involved?
All fall scrimmages that would’ve normally happened during this time have been canceled. This is to limit travel and interaction between people from different colleges. We aren’t even really allowed to [do] intersquad scrimmaging within our team, due to too many people being in one area. Softball is a spring sport, so normally there wouldn’t be much travel during the fall anyway, but all games have been canceled in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. The spring season was canceled for us last year due to COVID, so now we are waiting to see if there will be a spring season next year.

What precautionary measures have been taken to protect Siena athletes from contracting the COVID-19 virus?
In order to practice every day, we have to go to the trainers to get a daily symptom check. This process involves completing [a form on the] Campus Clear [smartphone] app, getting our temperature and blood oxygen levels recorded, as well as answering a few questions regarding COVID and how we are feeling. Once we are cleared by the trainers, we are given a colored bracelet that allows us to attend practice for the day. A new bracelet is needed each day before practice.

Obviously, you’re not just an athlete; you’re a student, too. What’s been the most difficult part of being a student-athlete during the COVID crisis?
Online learning combined with a sport has unquestionably been a lot harder than the typical experience. Normally, for my biology classes, I would attend lectures around three times per week with a lab once a week and take my exams in person. The only out-of-class work assigned was homework. Now, I may have to attend lectures once a week in person and twice on Zoom; watch three hour-long, outside-recorded lectures; do the homework and study; and take an exam. The accelerated pace of classes due to the condensed semester, with no breaks, has also been more strenuous. The extensive amount of time required to complete all the work, study and self-teach, coupled with the extra time at practice, has made for a pretty hectic semester so far. It’s also very burdensome to get help from professors, considering office hours are all virtual, and you can’t ask a question during a lecture that’s pre-recorded.

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