Due to COVID-19 restrictions implemented by the university and the state, the concept of returning to competitive play seemed like a far-off fantasy for many Tufts athletes. Tufts’ early March announcement that spring sports are anticipated to play a shortened, NESCAC-only season beginning in mid-April brought about mixed emotions for many students who were given only a few weeks to prepare.
“When I did hear the news … I was super excited," Patricia Obeid, a senior on the women's tennis team, said. "But I was slightly disappointed, to be honest, because I feel like we definitely weren't fit … We weren’t physically there to compete."
Obeid’s teammate, junior Nicole Frankel, felt more excitement and disbelief.
“I was excited — I was not expecting it," Frankel said. "The last year has just been another thing that’s not going to happen or another thing that's canceled. I stopped having expectations for anything … It’s nice to have something to look forward to again."
Just over a year ago, members of the women’s tennis team were gearing up for their spring break trip when they learned that the trip had been canceled due to COVID-19.
“We were shook to our core, is the best way to describe it. We were all really sad, everyone was really emotional and there were a lot of tears shed,” Frankel said.
Like everyone, Obeid had shifting views on when life would resemble normalcy again. It was only when the construction of the Mods began on the tennis courts that she knew how seriously the pandemic was going to affect her collegiate tennis career. After leaving during the spring 2020 semester, Obeid returned to the Tufts campus over the summer.
She began practicing with one of her teammates on the Vouté Tennis Courts, when "the next day, all the nets were gone; I [saw] construction workers and contractors laying out plans," Obeid said. "That's when it really hit me."
Outdoor courts away from Tufts were also hard to access for some members of the tennis teams.
“COVID got real for me when they locked the tennis courts with these fat locks in front of my house for a few months," Frankel said. "They were closed until August. There was a three-month span when I didn’t get to hit."
A normal women’s tennis spring season includes numerous matches, against conference and non-conference opponents. But this spring the team's schedule, if it plays out as expected, will include only four or five matches within Tufts’ NESCAC group.
According to Obeid, the NESCAC has divided the league into two regional brackets. Teams will play within their brackets until the NESCAC championship, when the winners of the two brackets will face off.
After the initial shock and a few days to process the idea of preparing for a season in a short timespan, both Obeid and Frankel are enthusiastic about getting back out on the courts, especially now that Tufts has refinished the courts near Harleston Hall and restricted their use to the tennis teams. The courts were previously open to the public.
While fall and winter sports missed out on any opportunity to compete this year, Tufts’ reinstatement of a spring season has given those athletes a chance to have more regular, longer practices.
“Everyone on the team is excited to be back out playing field hockey and [doing] what we do,” sophomore Sam Gibby, a member of the Tufts field hockey team, said.
According to Gibby, practices continue to be complicated by COVID-19.
“It comes with a little bit of confusion because the COVID guidelines are always changing and we have to be respectful of those,” Gibby said.
As a winter sport, the Tufts men’s squash team was able to finish out its NESCAC season last year before the pandemic forced a shutdown. This year, members hoped for a season but were left disappointed by the NESCAC's decision to cancel winter sports.
“There was a lot of anticipation and wondering if we were going to have a season, and then we finally got the notification that we weren’t and everyone was pretty bummed out and kind of angry,” Vaughan Siker, a junior on the men’s squash team, said.
Siker, a resident of Portland, Ore., was unable to play squash for seven months due to COVID-19 restrictions. Siker was not able to get back on a squash court until he returned to Tufts.
Even with Tufts’ permission to resume practices, squash’s indoor setting means that the team has to be particularly cautious. According to Siker, members of the team are expected to stay 6 feet apart and eight people are allowed on the courts at a time.
Regardless of the restrictions, though, Siker is eager to have the opportunity to engage in a lifelong passion once again.
“There’s not a lot of things to do, so it is a nice way to keep yourself on schedule and socialize and get back into a mindset of practicing,” he said. “Being able to do a physical activity you enjoy and practice a game you’ve played your whole life … you feel better about a lot of things.”
Across all seasons, athletes are excited to return to their respective sports — whether for competitive play, a routine or just to see their teammates in practice again. While it is a small step, in the Tufts sports world it seems like a semblance of normalcy.