Athletes and coaches feel noticeable differences between this year’s championships and those of years prior. From the lack of fans to the constantly changing rules, they have had to adapt to it all.
One of the major differences setting this year apart is crowd size. Conferences are slowly allowing fans to attend competitions and championship games, but have yet to open them up completely. Due to this, championships have had little or no crowd at all.
The CURE Insurance Arena in Trenton, New Jersey, where the Mid-American Conference held their wrestling championships, was empty when SIUE competed there.
“They didn’t have any fans in New Jersey,” Wrestling Head Coach Jeremy Spates said.
Redshirt sophomore wrestler Aaron Schulist said the absence of fans has a distinct effect on the environment.
“It was pretty cool to hear your teammates and coaches cheering you on, but with no fans, it’s a little bit different and not as loud,” Schulist said.
However, Schulist said his drive to perform well wasn’t affected by the challenge of changes to his surroundings.
“For me, it doesn’t really affect my motivation as much. I just notice it’s a really different environmental change,” Schulist said. “Something you get so used to when you’re competing is having some fans or family there. When there’s nobody there, it kind of throws you off.”
Many student-athletes have instead been turning to FaceTime to celebrate with their family members after their games or meets, which is not the same as having their loved ones there to witness it firsthand or congratulate the players in person.
SIUE’s cross country team had to cut back on the number of people that could travel to their championships. During an average year, they would bring nine athletes, but this year they could only bring seven. They also had smaller crowds watching; while there used to be at least 1,000 audience members, this year there were only 100-200 people in attendance.
In another change from past years, student-athletes also must test negative for COVID-19 before traveling to competitions. Positive cases could cause a team to go into quarantine, which could then lead to game cancellations or lost practice time leading up to important competitions and championships.
Cross Country Head Coach Marcus Evans said after so many season cancellations over the past year, student-athletes were just happy to get back to the games they love.
“Getting into a competition was really exciting for them,” Evans said.
For championship results and upcoming event details, visit the Cougars Athletics website.