If the 2020 spring sports season resumes following the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pleasanton Women Eagles soccer team will be eager to step out onto the pitch and begin a hopeful quest to the state tournament.
In the meantime during the University Interscholastic League’s suspension of all contests and practices, the five seniors have taken it on themselves to make sure they’re ready when the season resumes. At the time of publication, the soccer state playoffs would’ve just ended the Area Round of playoffs.
“I think being prepared every single year to go to the playoffs in March through April and having a constant schedule is what we’ve gotten used to,” Delanee Olivarri said. “So, having this setback of not knowing if we’re gonna have our season again or when we’re gonna play again is difficult, but it’s nothing we can’t handle.”
Pleasanton had just clinched their fourth-consecutive District 29-4A title with their eighthstraight win, a 4-0 result over La Vernia on Friday, March 6, before the UIL suspended all spring sports and subsequent practices. The suspension was initially until March 29, but was extended to Monday, May 4. They were preparing for their final two matches of the regular season when the news broke.
“My first thought was how are we gonna keep where we’re at now physically, mentally and our skills,” Kate McNeill said. “To me, and I still haven’t registered the fact that we might not be able to [play], it’s in my mind, how are we going to keep up the same pace? It’s hard to get into a groove and our preseason showed that. But once we got into that groove, how can we keep that groove so we’re able to pick up where we left off.”
McNeill and Olivarri, along with her fellow seniors, Madelyn Bird, Carly Jo Esquivel and Zoei Diaz, have worked to organize player-run practices during the halt. Prior to the CDC’s new guidelines limiting groups to under 10 people, and while the Pleasanton River Park field was open, 15 of the 18 team members showed up for the playerrun practices where they would go through a full training session like Head Coach Brant Bird would run during a normal season.
Since the release of the new guidelines from the CDC and the temporary closing of the park, the team has had to adapt once again. They’re doing anything they can to hopefully stay in ripe form when the season returns.
“I think not knowing … if we’re actually gonna come back can be confusing because we don’t know if we need to [practice] like we normally would,” Madelyn Bird said. “Right now, since the virus is getting worse and we’re not meeting in big groups outside anymore because things like the river park are closing, we’re more concerned about keeping our relationships and bonding through online classes, social media and messaging, and making sure everyone is keeping up with each other and taking care of each other emotionally, because everybody needs that right now, and then being active by ourselves. That’s where our focus is.”
“Once we found out the school was closing down and we wouldn’t be able to work out with our team in athletics and at practices, the first thing we did was the captains texted each other,” McNeill said. “We said, ‘Ok, so how are we gonna work out?’ We came up with that plan [at the park] and it worked for the first week. Now that the park has shut down and we’re all quarantined at our houses, it’s more important than ever that we all understand that there is a possibility of our season continuing and I think we’re all committed to that.”
With Pleasanton ISD moving to online classes during the outbreak, the team still has an online athletics period with coach Bird. That has helped them stay focused on the only thing they can control during these uncharted waters — their preparation for a hopeful return.
“That’s a good reminder,” McNeill added. “There’s inspirational videos we’ve each made and it’s a good way for us to stay mentally engaged and that we do have a season ahead of us and we need to focus on that. It’s up to us to work out on our own and do that part, but … we have an outlet for us to communicate and talk about what our goals are and that we might have a season.”
Seeing his team move proactively and without prompting from him is a source of pride for coach Bird during these unprecedented times. It reaffirms his belief that the culture he has instilled in the program is working.
“It makes me extremely proud,” Bird said, “because it shows they’ve been listening to me and the example I’ve been trying to set throughout the time they’ve been in the program. The things I’ve been trying to teach them have not fallen on deaf ears. So, that’s encouraging and it’s encouraging to know, when they leave Pleasanton and move on to bigger and better things, I think their time in the soccer program will have played a part in their preparation.”