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Bruin Vision: How Belmont athletes are using season delays to prepare for the spring

Imagine working towards something your whole life and having to put it on hold for an indefinite period of time.

Hard work that started in early childhood — work that exhausted your body and mental health — cast aside as the world deals with unprecedented times.

Student-athletes at Belmont and across the country are dealing with this predicament right now.

Just seven months ago, Belmont’s student athletes were welcoming visiting recruits and preparing for summer camps. Now, they have to change their schedules, adapt to social distancing protocols and brace themselves for whatever lies in the spring.

Among the uncertainty, however, these athletes have ample time to turn the emotional anguish of postponement into gold for a strong spring season.

All they can do now is focus on individual training and improving their skills for their next opportunity to play.

What most people don’t realize is being a student-athlete is like having a full-time job. The combination of schoolwork and athletic commitment requires a certain amount of dedication that, at times, can feel heavier than a nine to five.

Many student-athletes usually find themselves in a schedule where they are working out with the team by 7 a.m. From 9 a.m, to mid-afternoon, they have a full day of class. After class, they end their day with a two-hour practice. Somewhere in the middle, they must make time for school work, social interaction and self-care; those things matter just as much to them as they do for anyone else.

It’s taken years for student-athletes to prepare before taking on the grueling life of college athletics. Although these athletes understand postponement was the only way to go about the fall semester, it hurt to have their life’s work come to a sudden stop. However, their years of hard work has, in a way, prepared them for a time like this.

“As an athlete, circumstances are always changing. Whether that’s on the court in a match, or off the court as a student,” said junior volleyball player Peyton Kelly. “Facing daily challenges that require perseverance and mental toughness are what prepare us for adversity.”

A global pandemic turned their reality on its head, but athletes prepare for adversity–they thrive in it. So amidst the unknown, many choose to remain positive, holding on to the belief that the extra time off will only make them better.

“This extra time we are getting in the gym now to prepare will be so crucial for our success in the spring. We have been competing every single day since we’ve been back on campus and it’s a great feeling to be playing together again,” said Kelly.

Last season, for each team, was a learning experience. They grew together under one unifying goal–to get better every day. Coaches and players hoped to build off of last year’s momentum, but now they are forced to wait a little longer.

The women’s soccer team made an amazing run in the 2019 season. After punching its ticket in a PK win at the Ohio Valley Conference championship, the team ventured to North Carolina to compete in its first NCAA tournament in over 10 years.

Those on the team fought for their spot at the national tournament all season. They battled the injury of two starters early, and by the end of the regular season, they had won just enough games to make it to the conference tournament. Through the adversity, they prevailed, becoming the lowest seed in OVC tournament history to win the title.

With a championship win and a national tournament appearance, the collective focus shifted to this season, and the hope of winning the conference tournament again. However, COVID-19 quickly changed that.

“As soon as we got the news about the season being postponed the entire team was disappointed. We had been working hard all summer to prepare to win another OVC championship. Once the news settled in we realized this was a ‘this is a good moment.’ We could use this unique semester to build and grow as a team. It has given the team time to bring the newcomers into the sisterhood that we had last year. I am so thankful for this opportunity to strengthen the bonds between teammates both on and off the team,” said junior defender Rachel Vernon.

For the men’s soccer team, the 2019 season shed positive light onto a program that had been in a drought for some time. Over the years, it has been in and out of different conferences trying to figure out where it fits in.

“Of course, we all wish we were in the middle of our season right now, but I think this additional time works in our favor,” said junior midfielder JP Armbruster. “It gives all of us more time to establish a collective identity as we focus on developing the unrelenting attention to detail that separates great teams from good ones.”

The men’s soccer team has played in three conferences since 2012. Each year it hasn’t been able to lock in a winning record or make a significant tournament run.

Currently, the team competes in the Southern Conference as an affiliate, and in 2019, it took steps towards being a championship level team.

All season, the men’s team showcased the amazing talent it possessed. Starting forwards Jordan Dozzi and Niccolo Dagnoni led the team in most scoring categories in 2019, and in turn, led the team to its first three wins in the SoCon tournament despite its low regular-season record.

The team unfortunately lost to UNC Greensboro in the semi-final, but the big picture showed us the program was taking a turn for the better. Leaving both the team and the fans excited for what is next.

The volleyball program has struggled to piece together a winning season since 2017.. After the resignation of long-time head coach Tony Howell following the 2016-2017 season, the Bruins have yet to make it to the OVC tournament.

The now second-year head coach Katelyn Harrison is committed to building a perennial powerhouse at Belmont. The time off has helped both her and her staff better prepare the team for that goal.

“The best part about the season postponement to spring is our ability to grow the team and integrate the incoming players more in-depth than just a normal preseason,” said Assistant Coach Justin Wells. “We have been able to work through things and learn at a faster rate due to being able to focus just on us and becoming a great program together.”

New seasons always provide new opportunities for a team to grow and possibly make a significant change within their programs. Athletes look forward to the uniqueness of a new season and understand adversity inevitably lies ahead.

Despite the sting of their regular seasons being ripped away from them, each of the fall teams is no stranger to adversity. We’ve seen each of the programs grow and tumble, but they never shy away from representing themselves as strong individuals.

As a unit, they train, hurt, and prosper in an emotional rollercoaster of a season each time a new semester starts. As for postponement, it will be just another push for these athletes to humbly work harder towards their goals.

The anticipation of carrying on their seasons will produce some of the best performances we’ve ever seen. Performances full of emotion, insane plays and memories we never knew we needed.

A full semester to prepare was not something necessary for these athletes to succeed in their crafts, but it will provide us with a great spring season. 

This article written by Julieann Challacombe.

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