Saddleback sports return to competition after lockdowns

Saddleback’s softball fields with the newly constructed football stadium in the background. Alyssa Gervacio/Lariat

When COVID-19 initially began to spread in the United States in mid-March of 2020, Saddleback College’s campus was abruptly closed. With the closure came the barring of school-related sports activities.

The stoppage of activity was a harsh interruption to Saddleback teams that were either training or amidst their spring 2020 seasons.

“We went from training every day and seeing each other to being 100% remote,” said BJ McNicol, head coach of women’s soccer at Saddleback. “It was almost a year before we were back in training a couple times a week. It really affected all aspects.”

As COVID-19 cases have lowered in prevalence across the state and Orange County has moved into the less restrictive “Orange Tier” for its guidelines, teams are beginning to return to the field.

“The entire state has been opening up in different stages,” McNicol said. “You’ve got some teams that are playing full games and some teams that are only allowed to do fitness. We’ve slowly taken advantage of opportunities we’re given to first get back on campus, then to start to do more use of shared equipment, and hopefully, we’re building up to a couple of scrimmages.”

The lack of playing time has taken its toll on the players. Soccer player Reagan Appleby said that not being able to be with her team has been a challenge.

“Being online, obviously, you can’t play soccer through a screen,” she said. “Trying to meet my new teammates and trying to build relationships, I think, is the hardest challenge.”

Although the pandemic mostly had a negative effect, some student-athletes were able to find a silver lining. Denis Watson is a golfer at Saddleback who has found positives despite the lifestyle change.

“With all the online schooling, it gave me a lot more time to focus on golf,” he said. “I can just do all my school work at night because all my classes are asynchronous. So, I just spend all day at the golf course.”

Bob Bosanko, head coach of women’s golf at Saddleback, said that his team has played since the pandemic began. The team took on Orange Coast College, the only other Southern California team to opt-in to play, in six scrimmages that weren’t allowed to be considered official events.

“We could have played a whole season easily,” Bosanko said. “It’s easy to socially distance in golf.”

Saddleback’s men’s golf team has also been able to continue limited activity despite the pandemic. The team does not have an on-campus facility, so they use surrounding golf courses and ranges. Head coach Wayne Westling said that it has been difficult to get tee and practice times for his players since golf was one of few activities open during the height of the pandemic.

“We are practicing the protocols the college has laid out,” Westling said. “We get screened and tested every practice or tournament day, and we use masks in practice. It’s easy, compared to most sports, in golf to stay socially distanced.”

While the team has been able to play, it hasn’t been an easy journey for everyone on the team.

“I was verbally committed to Cal State San Marcos,” said Chase Bosanko, a golfer at Saddleback. “I got word that some of their seniors were coming back to use their extra eligibility, which took my spot on the team.”

Chase Bosanko added that he was glad to play another year at Saddleback. The team opened their season with a first-place finish at a conference event.

Although golf has been able to play in a fairly normal fashion, some changes have been made to limit the amount of surface-based spread of the COVID-19 virus.

“We’ve been having to leave the pins in,” said Patrick Jaksch, a golfer at Saddleback. “Normally, the player has the option to take the pins out.”

Some courses have placed slices of pool noodles in their holes so that players don’t have to reach far into the hole and potentially touch a surface other than the ball. Jaksch said that he’s seen the noodle cause a ball to bounce out of the hole.

Saddleback College announced in March that they would partially reopen the campus for the 2021 Summer and Fall academic semesters, meaning that there is potential for several Fall sports teams to be able to participate more fully next season.