Montclair Athletes: Senior student-athletes cope with spring season stoppage
COURTESY YAEL GELMAN
by Andrew Garda
As COVID-19 began to accelerate in New Jersey, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association shut down the spring season for high school sports.
While the hope is that the acceleration of the virus will slow and then reverse in time for the resumption of those sports, with each passing day that reality seems less likely.
For senior athletes looking for one last lap around the field, it’s a hard pill to swallow.
“I’ve been going through waves, you know?” said girls lacrosse captain Yael Gelman. “One day I’m like, ‘This isn’t that bad.’ And then it starts to hit you, and then you eventually kind of start to be okay with it.”
Lucas Podvey, who was looking forward to his final lacrosse season at MHS, takes solace in the fact that he at least got a chance to play in a hockey state final just a few short weeks ago.
“Obviously I wasn’t happy with the result, but at least we got to play at the Prudential Center,” he said. “I think I [would be angrier] if, you know, I didn’t at least get the closure of being able to play.”
Lacrosse was briefly a nice escape for Podvey after the Mounties fell to Morris Knolls in overtime of the NJSIAA Public A Tournament on March 9. Mike Diehl, the boys lacrosse coach, reached out to the hockey players who were also on the lacrosse team the morning after the loss and asked if they would come to practice that afternoon to work towards getting enough practices to play in an upcoming scrimmage.
“So, I went to lacrosse literally like 12 hours after the game and it was, like it was a good thing, it was a nice distraction,” Podvey said. “So now I have a lot of time on my hands, and I do not have a distraction.”
While it seems increasingly unlikely there will be much of, if any, spring sports season, Podvey and Gelman are both working with their teams, albeit remotely, to stay in shape.
“Our coaches have been working with the captains to create kind of an itinerary,” Gelman said. “So, we have this Google Classroom with our coaches that they post workout videos on. And we’ve been tuning into Instagram Live videos of at-home workouts, so a lot of body-weight workouts. Then obviously I’ve been going on runs, on the bounce back playing lacrosse. Basically have to send our coaches a workout log of the week every Sunday. And it’s like nothing that's required. It’s more like for holding each other accountable for staying in touch with her coaches.”
Gelman said they’re doing calls on the Zoom platform and trying to do different virtual activities as a team. They put polls on their Facebook page to debate which are the best college lacrosse teams to watch and have gone over drills online. They’ve even scheduled a virtual pasta party, a tradition many MHS teams have the night before a game, where the team gathers and eats together.
“[That’s] something that has been really important over my years on the team,” Gelman said. “You eat a lot of carbs the night before the game, and it’s mostly a bonding thing. We used to watch film and stuff like that. So, we are actually going to have a virtual pasta party. We’re all going to make our own pasta and log onto the Zoom call.”
Gelman said, “I know that it would have been a great season. You have four senior captains who are going on to play at the collegiate level, two juniors who are going to be playing at the collegiate level, and a bunch of freshmen and sophomores who are heading down that path. There’s just a lot of reasons why we were super-excited for the season, especially with incoming freshmen, so it’s disappointing.”
Podvey has experienced a similar schedule, though minus the carbs.
“We have a Google Classroom for the team and there’s suggested workouts,” he said. “Running, stickwork, all that stuff. So now I try to plan out my day, because it’s nice to take a break from staring at the computer, which I wasn’t very successful at the first couple days. [Now I] do some schoolwork, then go outside and shoot, then do some more [work] and then go out on a run.”
It’s not just high school seniors who have seen their playing days end prematurely. Allison Connors rowed crew for the Mounties when she graduated from MHS in 2016, and has been doing the same for Lehigh University.
This was supposed to be her grand finale for the sport, but that’s no longer an option.
“We had gone to San Diego on a training trip in Chula Vista at the Olympic Training Center, and it was this amazing opportunity,” Connors said. “And I was in the shape of my life, I was hitting really wonderful [personal records]. My team was doing so well, and we are all so excited to see how our season would begin. Our first race was slated against Loyola at their home course the Saturday we got back.”
That wasn’t to be. When they were in San Diego there were just a few cases of COVID-19 in the United States. By the time they got on the plane to go home on March 13, it had become much worse.
“It was crazy because when we started the training trip, which was only a week long, my biggest concern was if I was going to make it into the top boat or not,” she said. “And when we left that training trip, onboard the flight I wasn’t even an athlete anymore.”
Connors said that despite the NCAA’s decision to offer an extra year of eligibility to spring college athletes, she would not return to Lehigh for an extra season. The wear and tear on her body has been enough to where she has to move on.
“I didn’t get to say goodbye to my sport properly, and it was really sad,” Connors said. “And it hurts a lot, too, because you row with your teammates for four years and you would do anything for them. And my hands are tied behind my back now, and I’m not able to.”
While Gelman, Podvey and Connors are sad they didn’t get a last season with their teammates, all three said they are aware the sacrifice is necessary.
“I totally understand, because obviously the well-being of those who are elderly or immune-deficient, that’s the most important part,” Connors said. “We all need to do our part [and] make our sacrifices to make sure that the population and those around us are healthy and have the privilege to live.”