By Kaiyo Funaki
For the first time in nearly 18 months, City College athletics are officially back, with the fall schedule set to feature a full season from seven teams.
Men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s basketball, women’s volleyball and water polo, and football will each have the chance to play a standard schedule along with a shot at the postseason, an opportunity they didn’t get after the COVID-19 pandemic halted everything in March 2020.
Both men’s and women’s soccer, as well as water polo, did play an abbreviated schedule earlier in the spring, but their scrimmages didn’t count and were ultimately treated as more of a tune-up than anything else.
To ensure that the season proceeds as smoothly as possible, coaches, athletes, and other department faculty still get tested once a week via a saliva PCR test, wear masks when not participating in physical activity, and maintain social distancing whenever possible. There is no interaction between the different teams either, as each sport has a designated block of practice time that prevents them from running into each other.
Men’s basketball coach and newly appointed athletics department chair Justin Labagh said that the department as a whole is, “according to the trainers, right around 85% immunity.”
The department also submitted an R2C, or a return to campus form, in the hopes of allowing fans to attend home games this season, which Labagh is confident will pass.
Nonetheless, the fact that City College could prepare for this upcoming season was all thanks to the countless hours the staff put in over the summer.
“Our athletic directors, a lot of coaches, ran towards the fire and went to go try and put this thing out and give our student-athletes the ability to come back and compete this fall and spring,” Labagh said. “There’s people here that put in 30 hour weeks throughout the entire summer without a paycheck to make sure that we get our athletes back.”
These efforts weren’t lost upon the student-athletes either, who appreciated just how much went into making this season a reality.
“I think our training staff, Sara Golec and Emerald Molina, did a good job of working hard,” sophomore quarterback Jack Newman said. “Behind the scenes, there’s a lot of people who helped out and have been doing everything they can to help us get back on the field … without their efforts, we wouldn’t have the possibility of playing.”
Even while the threat of the Delta variant looms large, coaches and athletes alike believe that City College has created an environment where everyone feels as protected as possible.
“… We’re pretty optimistic about our ability to persevere through this year, but we’re not naive to the fact that what’s going on with the Delta variant is not just real, but very dangerous,” football coach Jimmy Collins said. “… but because of the way we mask, because of the way we social distance, because of our constant testing, because we do essentially everything outdoors, we’re very confident in what we do on campus that everyone is safe.”
Sophomore forward Megan Celillo of the women’s soccer team offered a similar opinion from the perspective of a student-athlete.
“The City College program has done an extremely good job at trying to control it, and having a really good plan. Right now we’re being tested every Monday, so if an outbreak does happen, we can catch it right away before it spreads to too many girls,” she said. “… With the new variant, I feel like if we’re diligent enough to stick to what the guidelines are, it should be fine.”
With the clarity that a full season and a safe environment provides, the student-athletes can now focus on their excitement for real competition and building the camaraderie that plays such an important role in team sports.
“It’s been 18 months, and that first game, just getting on the field and knowing it’s finally back will be really exciting. But aside from that, I’m just looking forward to every day trying to get better, doing what we can, and hopefully getting the most out of the talent and our potential as a group,” Newman said.
Sophomore forward for the women’s soccer team Iliana Sanchez doesn’t know if she’ll play organized soccer after this season, so the ability to play alongside her teammates for potentially the last time is something she doesn’t take for granted.
“I’ve been playing since I was five years old,” she said. “I’m just looking forward to being competitive … and I’m super excited to be playing with these girls and playing at a high, competitive level.”