WORCESTER – Collegiate athletes are one of the many groups experiencing major disruptions due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Students at Worcester-area colleges and beyond have seen their seasons abruptly canceled in recent weeks, quickly followed by the closure of their school’s in-person classes and campus living.
Gaby Mazzoni is on the cheerleading team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), where she is a sophomore. The team earned its first bid for collegiate nationals in August of last year, Mazzoni said, and has been working on preparing for the competition since then.
But shortly before the team was scheduled to head to Florida for the national tournament, WPI announced that it would no longer allow travel by student groups in the interest of slowing the spread of COVID-19. The weekend after WPI’s announcement, the tournament itself was cancelled for the same reason.
“I feel really bad for the seniors,” Mazzoni said, “because this was their first and only chance to get to go.”
At nearby Clark University, sophomore Emily Chandler plays varsity tennis. This spring, the team was able to hold a few weeks of practice, but COVID-19 ended their season before they could play any matches.
“It shouldn’t have been a huge shock that the season was ending, but even still, hearing it for real that the conference had decided to suspend all activities — it was definitely very surprising,” Chandler said.
Chandler said that she appreciates the effort put forth by the athletic department’s faculty and staff to be open and receptive to players’ feelings when the team’s season was canceled.
“To have them take time out of their already stressful, busy days to sit down with us and say, hey, we wanted to tell you guys in person – that really meant a lot,” Chandler said.
Sophomore Lilly Devitt attends Simmons University in Boston, where she plays lacrosse.
“We’d heard things about schools around us closing,” Devitt said, “But I think none of us really took it to heart.”
The team had three weeks of preseason training and almost three weeks of their regular season before the announcement came that their season would be suspended.
The team were playing in Florida when they got the news.
“That Wednesday, we played such a good game – we didn’t think for a second that that would be our last game,” Devitt said.
The team’s coach had taken players’ phones earlier in the day to prevent them from finding out about the season cancellation before she could tell the whole team that evening.
“People started crying. Seeing the seniors cry — some of the seniors are so tough, and once I started seeing them cry, I realized that this was it and I wasn’t going to be playing with them ever again,” Devitt said. “We were just thinking about how close we had become in the past six weeks.”
Moving forward from the season, team members are doing their best to stay connected however they can. The Clark tennis players are using a team group chat, while the Simmons lacrosse team is making videos of their members catching a ball and throwing it off screen, with different clips stitched together to give the appearance of many players in one game of catch.
Meanwhile, the WPI cheerleading team is looking towards their next shot at the championship they missed this season.
“For next year, we’re using this to fuel our fire for nationals,” said Mazzoni.