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  • Anna Clemson

Forgone Fall: Transition during COVID with the Cornell Women’s Soccer Team

Last February, Rob Ferguson was named the new head coach of Cornell women’s soccer. He is looking to continue to develop “culture and identity” within the program this season. This focus on culture has already manifested itself within the team as they have pushed forward in the current circumstances with a focus on “positivity and togetherness.” In this unprecedented time, everyone is adapting to the current circumstances, this is especially pronounced for seniors and freshmen.

Seniors, like captain Carly Swetz, have to reimagine their final season and lead the team through tremendous adjustments. Swetz says, “I am approaching this season with a positive and grateful attitude.” On the other hand, freshmen, like Michaela Ferrario, are trying to acclimate to college while also facing the uncertainty of the pandemic. Ferrario opted to spend the semester at home in California. Even from a distance, she reflected, “It’s incredibly reassuring to know that so many kind and informative friends and resources are only one text (or call) away!” Ferrario’s freshman teammate, Mia Gonzalez, was able to come to campus for this semester so she is experiencing things a little differently. Gonzalez says, “My goal for this year is to get to know my coaches and teammates.”

Athletes across the board have had to adjust their training and women’s soccer is no exception. Since the Ivy League cancelled the fall sports season in July, they have been operating with uncertainty about when they will play their next game. At the end of September, Cornell Athletics entered Phase I, meaning the soccer team can practice without a ball for five hours each week in groups of ten or fewer. Swetz said she came into the semester with very low expectations, so it is very exciting to be able to practice together as a team.

This transition to Phase I is a testament to the success Cornell has seen with its extensive testing program. Gonzalez, who is on campus, is excited that they can do some in person practice and is focusing on the work they can put in today in order to build a better future for the team. Ferrario has had a different experience being in California. She had to adjust to what she has available at home, which includes weights, hill runs, running on a track, and kicking a ball around with her father. Everyone made adjustments to training depending on the facilities they have access to in Ithaca or at home. For example, junior Jay Matthews, from Florida, says that it’s been particularly challenging because back home she had access to more facilities. Sophomore Annika Destefano reflected on the challenge of not having access to the usual pre- and post- practice treatment from trainers. Gonzalez hopes that the team can move to Phase 2 eventually so that they can use soccer balls and get in some practice with “game-like situations.” Despite these struggles, everyone acknowledged that Cornell has put in a lot of work to make this semester happen in person in any capacity.

Right now, Swetz and fellow captains Naomi Jaffe and Maddie Hoitink are trying to keep everyone safe and help the team improve. Swetz echoed Coach Ferguson’s focus on identity when saying, “Our team values and goals are aligned, and the mix of players and coaches is very promising.” Team bonding was especially important and, like the rest of the student body, the soccer team had to turn to Zoom to find a place for everyone to come together. For the seniors, this meant finding new ways to lead the team. Swetz helped organize virtual team bonding, like jeopardy for the freshmen to get to know the rest of the team, and they created lineages to encourage closer bonds on the team across grade levels. As a freshman, Gonzalez reflected, “It definitely has been challenging to get to know every one of my teammates because of the pandemic, but I believe our team has done a great job at interacting with each other online.” Ferrario also benefited from the support of her teammates, saying, “I am incredibly grateful for many of my older teammates who have reached out to me and checked in regarding how my transition has been.” Being across the country, it has been particularly challenging for her, but it is clear that Coach Ferguson’s focus on building a culture is already taking root in the team. He states “The players have been terrific in terms of attitude and morale, largely because of the energy and excitement around all the changes in our program.” Despite the conditions brought on by COVID, the team has worked to adjust and has been successful at building team chemistry in a virtual and socially distant world.

In addition to virtual team building, they have also been able to do informal activities in small groups. This included things like going to the farmers’ market or Collegetown Bagels and just hanging out and having “social distanced team dance parties.” Destefano really appreciates these opportunities to be together saying, “Seeing my teammates’ faces every day is something that always puts a smile on my face, even during these hard times.” Despite all of the challenges, the women on the soccer team have made the best of it. Swetz says that she was glad that she was able to take advantage of doing things like, “hiking in the gorges, paddle boarding on Cayuga Lake, and visiting the Ithaca Farmers’ Market” during the summer months. Gonzalez says, “The repercussions of the pandemic have made me appreciate my friendships and the little details that I used to forget about.” She is just excited to be on campus; she reflects: “I have loved this semester, which only makes me more excited for when life will be normal again.” Although Ferrario hasn’t been able to come study in Ithaca yet, hopefully she can join her teammates here in Ithaca next semester.

This certainly wasn’t the plan for Swetz’s final season or the beginning of Gonzalez’s and Ferrario’s college careers, but the fact that the soccer team is still striving to meet their goals this season is a testament to the hard work put in by the team. As Destefano put it, “Even though this isn’t the Cornell we are used to, we are finding ways to make the best of the situation and are just happy to be on campus and practicing!”


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