Starting Friday, games will take on a little more importance for field hockey and soccer players as teams prepare to open play in the Rhode Island Interscholastic League.
With an abbreviated season, each win will be bigger than it has been in past seasons. But that’s not what makes this weekend’s openings matter more than they have been.
“Going back to last spring, it was made clear to us that just being together there is something we need to appreciate more,” said La Salle field hockey coach Kim White, who also coaches the school’s women’s lacrosse team whose season was canceled. by COVID-19. “Yeah, we all want to play and we all want to compete and we’re looking forward to Saturday, but that said, we’re just going to enjoy every day of being there.”
That seems to be the statewide message as both sports prepare to open their seasons a week after the official launch of cross country and women’s tennis for the 2020-21 sports season.
This season will be unlike any other in Rhode Island history. Teams play a limited schedule, with league games at the weekend and some opting to play a non-league game during the week.
There is no format for the playoffs or any idea when or where they might take place. The RIIL’s position on all things COVID – dating back to last winter when it first hit – is that every situation is fluid. Plans will be made when things are clearer and soccer and field hockey can start this weekend, who knows what the future holds.
“I’m not saying anything yet because [the season] has to happen here,” said classic boys soccer coach Ryan Cafferty, whose team open Saturday at home against Hendricken. “The children are delighted and it’s great for them. It’s a chance to do something, and they’re happy to run in masks. It’s a sense of normalcy for them.
Field hockey and soccer were the latest additions to the fall sports schedule, and with guidelines put in place by the RIIL and the state, minimal adjustments have been made to how the sports are actually played.
After Massachusetts made various changes to the sport – eliminating throw-ins and various other rules that transformed the game into something you would see at the youth recreational level – RIIL football coaches feared they would have a limited time to train players on the new changes.
Now the only concern is getting players used to keeping their masks on and the various other changes that have been implemented, most involving social distancing measures in training, before and after the game.
“There will definitely be an adjustment. It’s different with just the coach and captain coming out for the toss and no high-fives during the game,” said Cranston West women’s soccer coach Jeremy Scherer. “The girls were talking about social distancing goal celebrations, trying to figure out what to do.”
“Once they released the guidelines, I heard [RIIL Executive Director] Mike Lunney said he was trying to keep the genre as authentic as possible and when we heard that we were thrilled,” Tolman boys coach Dan Silva said. “At the same time, we have to teach safety and make sure masks are worn and distances are kept and respect your teammates and opponents and keep your hands to yourself.”
Masks have been seen as a point of outrage by many, but the science behind the safety of wearing a mask while exercising is pretty clear that there is no health risk.
And, as high schoolers tend to do, players brushed off like it was no big deal.
“They are adjusted now. They complained about it for like a day and then said ‘you know what? We have to wear it in school and in public, so let’s wear it. It became second nature,” Cumberland coach John Hoxsie said. “Kids adapt to things easier than adults, but we’ll see how that plays out in games.”
“Our girls are resilient. They knew the rules and they never resisted the system. They never tried to bend the rules or argue. They just enjoyed being there,” Lincoln field hockey coach Lea Miguel said. “…Adapting to the game with a mouth guard is difficult and with a mouth guard, mask and goggles too, but I said you have to get used to it.”
As the games begin.
They may not look exactly alike but, for now, they will be played.
“It’s definitely one of those times where ‘living in the moment’ is about,” Scherer said. “We have no idea if we will have a game on November 1. I insist, let’s enjoy every minute we have to be on the pitch and not what is out of our control.”