On Jan. 9, Cal lacrosse made its return to Memorial Stadium – more than 300 days after a global pandemic shut down the 2020 season, just seven games in.
“It had been a long time since we were on the field together, but all things considered, it actually went pretty smoothly,” said Cal lacrosse head coach Brooke Eubanks. “I feel like I’m being pushed in a different way as a coach.”
It goes without saying that “smoothly” in the world of COVID-19 is more like a Slip ‘N Slide made of sandpaper in pre-COVID-19 times. While nobody on the squad is shocked by social distancing measures in practice, it will take some getting used to.
In the current era, everything feels like learning your ABCs all over again. Things as simple as getting water, huddling and introducing drills have become elements that Eubanks and her staff must plan and be cautious about.
Even with the return to Memorial Stadium being convoluted and fraught with precaution (and rightfully so), this is a welcome change from the previous months for members of the team. Those who remained in Berkeley after the shutdown created socially distanced practice pods of four to five players each. All athletes attended Zoom training sessions with the coaching staff.
“Obviously it was very challenging,” said senior defender Marina Smith. “None of us ever expected to be doing any sort of athletics at Cal that weren’t mandated by our coach.”
It’s a common sentiment. Senior L.B. Campagna let out a light laugh when asked about how the fall went for her.
“I kinda had an identity crisis because I’ve never not been a student-athlete at Cal,” said Campagna.
The creation of the pod practice system helped foster a sense of chemistry among the team, even after the 2020 season was officially canceled. This played an integral role in keeping the team together during a prolonged offseason.
“Integrating the freshman and cultivating a team chemistry was the most important thing we needed to be doing,” said senior Marisa Kuberra.
But at last, the Bears are back in business.
“I hate to sound dramatic,” Smith said, “because I was really hoping it wouldn’t be that romantic moment where you’re walking in, but it really was that moment.” Continuing her elation, Smith also laughed and mentioned that “When you’re back and literally running next to your teammates, it’s like holy s—, this is so fun.”
It’s not all fun and games, however, and everyone knows it. Finalizing a schedule and trying to conduct safe practicing during a pandemic is never going to be easy. For Eubanks, who usually knows exactly what she’d be doing eight months in advance, the uncertainty of participating in athletics during a pandemic has brought on a new mindset.
“I’m a planner. I like to plan things months in advance,” Eubanks said. “But now, it’s not about planning, it’s about preparing. So I’m focusing on just preparing everything and being flexible.”
Preparing for the worst while hoping for the best is a familiar sentiment to most across the nation at this point. While the Bears’ season will certainly face challenges in scheduling, practicing and playing, for now, they are content to be socially distanced and back in Strawberry Canyon.
“You’ll take anything,” Smith said. “Anything is better than nothing.”
Jesse Stewart covers lacrosse. Contact him at [email protected].