On their own: How Cal men’s soccer players are coping amid a pandemic

Photo of Men's soccer (Lucas Churchill) from November 2019
Cheyenne Tex/File

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Cal men’s soccer forward Alonzo Del Mundo finds himself enduring a unique set of challenges during what is supposed to be his redshirt junior season.

Instead of scurrying past opposing defenders on the field of Edwards Stadium, Del Mundo is working for a construction and painting company on-site in St. Helena, north of Napa, where he makes the trek from his Richmond home.

Del Mundo is working to help his mother pay some bills during the COVID-19 pandemic, and by the time he gets back home from his arduous shift, there is still work to be done.

“It’s definitely been hard to balance. Not just to find the time, but the energy,” Del Mundo said. “By the time my shift is done, I am already exhausted. I still have to train, do homework and go to sleep by 10 p.m. because I have to wake up at 5 a.m. the next day.”

Having not seen his teammates in person since work began, Del Mundo is forced to train alone on any public field he can find near his house, doing his own conditioning drills to make sure he is fit for when his team is allowed to practice again.

Only about half of the Cal men’s soccer players are currently in Berkeley, spending one half of their day on Zoom attending classes and doing homework and spending the other half searching for a public field anywhere in the Bay Area that will allow them to train.

Without formal guidance from the Cal administration, the team has been left to operate under its own accord. The firm constraints that continue to be observed by the city of Berkeley, the campus administration and the athletic department have put Cal at an unprecedented disadvantage compared to its collegiate counterparts in other cities.

It is the only team in the Pac-12 that hasn’t started training for the upcoming spring season.

“It’s been pretty frustrating because all of the other teams in the Pac-12 are able to practice except for us. We’ve been limited in our resources,” said redshirt junior midfielder Lucas Churchill. “It’s up to the guys to get together at city parks. It’s been tough, and it’s taken a lot of coordination.”

Not only have neighboring schools such as Saint Mary’s and San Jose State begun training, but youth soccer clubs have been able to practice at the Tom Bates Regional Sports Complex in Berkeley.

“If the administration isn’t going to get us back out there, then we have to make sure that we’re preparing ourselves for whenever we take the field next,” Churchill said.

The team is continuing its weekly Zoom meetings while trying to keep morale as high as possible in its various group chats. For senior midfielder Francisco Perez, the fervor for the upcoming season is still alive. It’s the accountability and commitment of the team that have become a top priority given these circumstances.

“We expect and hold everybody accountable to stay fit, to stay sharp and do the best that they can. With people being in different regions, it’s hard because of the harsher, more controlling limitations in regards to COVID,” Perez said. “Having that commitment as a team and knowing that we are a part of something larger than ourselves is what’s keeping everybody going. Everybody is waiting eagerly to start.”

It’s no secret among the Cal constituency that football tends to get preferential treatment in funding and in health and safety protocols, given that the sport brings in a substantial amount of revenue for the athletic department.

With a massive deficit looming, the return of football is an essential step in bringing the other 29 teams back to competition.

“I think they deserve the preferential treatment, if anything,” Churchill said. “They bring in the most money, and it’s important to get them out there so our athletic department has the funds to go forward.”

Even with the remaining uncertainty of their athletic futures, ones that most have dedicated their lives to, the players are choosing optimism over pessimism.

“We have to deal with what we are given,” Churchill said. “We’re still learning from some of the best teachers in the world, some of the best students, and we still have each other.”

The season is set to kick off Feb. 3, 2021.

“I’m obviously really excited,” Del Mundo said. “But I feel like a lot of us are going to be unprepared for the season because there are so many other things going on. For some players, soccer is not their first priority right now.”

Spencer Golanka covers men’s soccer. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @sgolanka.