RADNOR — Among the topics of conversation as the Radnor girls soccer team congregates before practices these days is a surprisingly in-depth examination of masks.
Cloth ones don’t work great, is the consensus. Anything with too heavy of a fabric and non-adjustable straps either collects too much sweat or doesn’t stay in place. Surgical masks are OK, if you’re ready with reinforcements to swap them out mid-game. The jury is still out on vents.
For goalies, communication is an issue, having to adjust how much you project your voice over the mask’s muffling. The current popular choice is the Made to Move mask from Athleta, with its adjustable straps and the stiffness of a crease in the front to stay in place over the nose as you run around.
The reason for the impromptu product demos is Radnor’s mask necessity. When the school board voted Sept. 29 to reinstate fall athletics amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, it came with a unique proviso that exceeds how most other schools have addressed the health and safety question: “All coaches, athletes, and officials/event workers are to wear face coverings in accordance with the most recent recommendations of the Department of Health Facial Coverings Order and PIAA guidance regarding face coverings.”
That means masks on the field, through contact and the conditions of an exhausting sport, as Radnor sweats out 80-minute games.
To the players, it’s pretty much a non-issue once the whistle blows.
“It’s definitely an adjustment and we’re getting used to it,” senior captain Tori DiCarlo said at practice Wednesday. “We’re playing, our heads are in the game, we’re not too focused on the mask. We’re playing a game. … It’s a process that we’re getting through, and we’re just happy to be out here.”
Compared to the other obstacles that Radnor athletes have surmounted to get back to the field – the remote schooling, the original cancellation of the fall season by the Central League, the campaign to reverse course – a lightweight piece of fabric isn’t a dealbreaker. It’s just another example of 2020’s new normal.
Maybe down the road, there will even be a chance to accessorize with uniform numbers or logos.
It certainly pales in comparison to what much of September was like, Radnor players holding out hope that as other leagues returned and COVID-19 conditions seemed to improve, they might get a chance to play. That required discipline, both mental and physical. On the latter account, the team got together twice a week for voluntary workouts. Conditioning was mainly left up to individuals at home, but the sessions together to get touches on the ball, albeit limited, were important to keep them connected.
“It was definitely hard, but with our voluntary practices, that helped to keep sharp,” senior forward Avery Ciatto said. “We’re seniors, so we’ve gone through this process before with preseason so we have bountiful resources of what we can be doing to be staying in shape, especially with the ball.”
Maintaining the mental fortitude was more difficult, especially for multi-sport athletes who’d weathered a lost season in the spring.
“I think it mainly was just keeping everybody hopeful and keeping our goals in check of wanting to be prepared if there was a season,” goalie (and lacrosse player) Elise Palmer said. “I think we all were really eager to get out of the house and do something, so we tried to take advantage of the few practices we did have. We were really communicating and encouraging people to come out to the voluntary practices, which made it more fun and productive.”
“I think the key is not putting your hopes too high but having your athletic standards staying consistent, and working out every day and running as if you’re in-season,” DiCarlo said. “No matter what, you want to be that type of athlete. With all the ups and downs, with trying to decide what you should be doing and how you should be working out, and if you get too excited, it’s all about staying as hopeful as you can and having low expectations of what can happen.”
COVID-19 has presented leadership challenges, like communicating to underclassmen what’s expected in preseason. Trying to export what normally is two weeks of two-a-days to each individual for home workouts, especially to those new to the program, didn’t always translate.
Things aren’t back to normal, as the masks indicate. But with players able to practice, the team is moving toward a semi-normal if abbreviated campaign. They’ll get at least a month of games, the first contest slated for Oct. 17.
No matter what mask they’re wearing, the players are carrying the aspiration of having a memorable season.
“I think our expectations are as high as they’ve been any year before,” Ciatto said. “We understand we have a new challenge with the masks, but we’ve prepared mentally and our expectation is that we’re going to go out, we’re going to play as if we didn’t have masks on our face and we’re going to shoot for the same target of having some form of victory towards the end, having a great season and most of all having a great experience together.”
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