When the high school fall sports season began last week, the overwhelming, unanimous consensus among players and coaches was, “It’s good to get ‘back to normal.'”
Last fall, with COVID-19 raging, it was uncertain, even as September approached, if there would even be a fall sports season. As it turned out, football and volleyball were postponed to a “Fall 2” season, which began in late February and ended in April.
Although all of the other fall sports – cross-country, field hockey, and soccer – were able to compete, there were many, sometimes drastic, modifications, not only as to how the teams practiced, but how the games were played and the outcome of many of the teams’ seasons.
“We’re back to being as normal as we can be,” said Dennis-Yarmouth girls’ cross-country coach Jim Hoar.
Last year, there were some modification in the races, such as staggered starting positions and times for the runners, but those were minimal. The big difference was that the runners were not able to compete in as many races.
“Our invitationals were limited; we only had dual meets,” said Hoar. And those were restricted to teams on Cape Cod.
This year, the schedule is the same as always, with dual-league meets and matches against other teams off-Cape.
The biggest changes involve how the athletes interacted with each other, since many social distancing protocols were in place; access to the school building was limited; and everybody had to wear masks.
“We didn’t have a pre-season last year,” said Madelyn (Maddie) Edwards, a junior on the D-Y cross-country team. We had a week of practice and then our first meet. And there were more restrictions about going inside. Now, we have our own lockers instead of having to leave our bags in Coach’s car,” she said.
One important aspect of being on the team—building camaraderie—was really missed.
“We did not have a lot of time to build up the team and to bond before we got into the meets,” Edwards said.
And now, the social aspect of being on a team is back. “We can do more activities, like go out for ice cream or pizza after a run,” Edwards said.
The same is true for the field hockey and girls soccer teams.
“We don’t have to social distance at practice, so there is more bonding,” said senior midfielder/forward Bella Gannon. “We’re in the locker room, and that allows us to be together and go over things.”
Senior defense Tess LaBelle agreed, saying, “we’re already bonding (after three practices). It’s easier to interact with the younger kids. Last year, we were split up (into small practice “pods”), so we couldn’t interact with them.”
As far as actually playing the sport, again, there is a normal preseason practice schedule, whereas “we had three practices before our first game last year,” said senior goalie Amelia Viera.
That may have been a big factor in D-Y’s season. The Dolphins are typically one of the best teams on Cape Cod and in the state.
But with a new coach implementing a new system and the lack of time to teach that system, plus a new set of drastic rules changes that involved playing 7-on-7 instead of 11-on-11 and the elimination of corners, the team managed to win only 2 of their 11 games last fall.
Soccer also was faced with a number of rules changes with kick-ins, instead of throw-ins, no headers, and not being able to kick the ball in the air.
With so much emphasis on following the COVID-19 protocols and adjusting to the new rules, it was hard to actually focus on playing the game.
“There were a lot of rule changes and restrictions, so it didn’t feel like soccer. It took away from the fun,” said D-Y boys’ soccer coach Evan Botting. “My kids have been working really hard the last few days. And they seem to be more excited to be out there than they were last year.”
The late start with limited practice time resulted in a slow 0-3 start for D-Y, but once the Dolphins got going, they won five of the next seven games to finish at 5-5.
While the D-Y girls’ coach, Kate Corliss, said she tried to have a low-key approach to the rule changes and the COVID-19 restrictions, emphasizing to her team that it was all still just soccer, it was still a difficult season.
“Now that there are no COVID rules, the love of the game resurfaces. It takes the stress off the kids. We don’t have to worry about a new set of rules, and it allows us to focus on the right things,” Corliss said.
Aside from playing a limited schedule, golf was a sport that was least affected, since social distancing is actually part of the game. The D-Y golf team had it best season in years.
With a strong group of seniors and some really good underclassmen, the Dolphins finished with a 7-2 record and were second in the Cape Cod and Islands league last fall.
Volleyball, at least at D-Y, may have suffered the most. Playing in late winter and early spring, the D-Y volleyball team had only a 10-game season against teams only in the Cape Cod and Islands League, and only against those teams in the league on Cape Cod.
With possibly the best team D-Y has had under coach Dru Sisson, the team went undefeated in the regular season at 10-0, while beating Division 1 Barnstable three times to win the league championship. The Dolphins ended up losing the league tournament to Barnstable and finishing with a 12-1 record.
“We had some really good players last year. We were able to switch up players. We changed setters to get a better defense set up,” said junior Grace Presswood, one of the team’s top scorers.
The bad news was that there was no Division 2 state tournament, and that cheated the Dolphins out of a chance to compete for state title. With five returning starters (out of six) and several other players who contributed significantly last year, D-Y still has a good chance to make a run for it this year.
With the shortened off-season—only four months—the team hardly feels like it left the gym and is ready to go.
“We have a full 18-game schedule, playing both league and non-league games,” said Sisson. “We’ll have the playoffs for a post-season, and we’re looking forward to it. It’s looking like everything’s back to normal.”
“We’re able to go off-Cape and play other teams we never played before in the regular season,” said senior outside hitter Lucy Swanson.
“We couldn’t go for the state championship, which is always our biggest goal,” said senior libero, Alayna Rooney. “So we’re really excited to try for it this year. The tournament is when the season really begins.”
Football was really weird, the opposite of starting in August’s heat and ending in November’s cold. Those cold days in February prompted Barnstable’s defensive coordinator, Tom Campbell to call those practices “Camp Frostbite.”
And with the coronavirus still very active, it forced several teams to lose games from their already limited schedule. Nauset had players who contracted the disease and left Barnstable with no first game of the season.
Then a Barnstable player contracted it, and the Red Hawks missed two more games. They finally got to play the last three, which they won convincingly, but it was, as with the D-Y volleyball team, a missed opportunity. Barnstable was very strong last year and could have made a run at the state title.
D-Y was a bit more fortunate in that it did not miss any games and finished its six-game schedule with a 2-4 overall record while going 2-2 in the league.
Though the weather has been hot and humid and practices have been monitored for duration and activity level, that is expected.
“I’ve got to say, it’s hot. We want to play in hot weather; it’s better than in the cold. We’ve been playing so long, we’re used to it. It’s better in warmer weather,” said D-Y senior wide receiver Jayden Moore.
“There are no masks. I remember playing in the spring. It was tough,” said senior wide receiver David Azor.
“We’re excited to be back to a more normal schedule. In that Fall 2 season, we had to make efforts to adhere to modifications. We had to go indoors a couple of times because of the cold, so it’s more normal this year,” said D-Y football coach Chris Marsh.
The shorter off-season, Marsh said, doesn’t seem to be a factor in terms of conditioning, but it has had somewhat of a positive effect in terms of players being more mentally ready to play.
“We have a good group of seniors. We’ve been playing together since youth football. It’s our senior year, and we’ve been waiting for this a long time,” said Moore.
“Everybody is kind of ready to be here,” Azor said. “It feels good and right to be back.”