For the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has been the main factor in deciding how college has been organized. Eleven months after Ohio’s athletic programs were halted in March 2020, the pandemic is still affecting Ohio’s protocols on and off the field. The Bobcats feel those effects every time they walk onto the court or into the locker room.
Ohio’s experience in The Convo is drastically different this season. Before the pandemic, the Bobcats were accustomed to the sound of trumpets and tubas rising from the band, screaming fans, blasting music and bustling energy. This season, there is none of that.
“I don’t know what home means this year,” coach Deane Webb said. “I know it doesn’t feel like most years, that’s for sure.”
Despite all the changes, Webb is appreciative that his team still gets the opportunity to play at home in what has been a crazy season thus far.
“It’s good to be any place that you’re comfortable,” Webb said. “Obviously, your home court you’re used to; used to the sidelines, you’re used to what it feels like to play in here.”
Until it is safe to host fans again in The Convo, Ohio instead displays cardboard cutouts of it’s biggest fans, including Ohio alumni, former athletes and even dogs in the stands.
Not only do COVID-19 protocols make things quiet in The Convo, but they also have been somewhat of a distraction during matches. Webb said it is easy to get caught up in worrying about following all the rules instead of focusing on gameplay and energy.
“I would say in our first match, we were still stuck on COVID guidelines,” Webb said. “You’ve got to stand by your chair and six feet away. We weren’t creating enough of our own energy from our bench.”
In addition to being spaced out on the sidelines, the Bobcats also have to wear face coverings while they play in order to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19. The Bobcats have already had two of their matches against Eastern Michigan postponed due to COVID-related issues. As of now, there is no set date as to when or if they will be able to make up those matches.
The Bobcats have had to sacrifice many opportunities to be able to make this season happen, such as being able to spend New Year’s Eve with their families.
“I’d say we had to give up a lot of things,” outside hitter Mariana Rodrigues said. “But it’s worth it to be here playing.”
The players also have to be willing to make sacrifices when it comes to their social lives as well. They are only permitted to be around a select group of people outside of the team. Middle blocker Caitlin O’Farrell says this has been somewhat of a positive and has actually helped the team’s bond grow.
“We are only allowed to hang out with like, one person outside of the team,” O’Farrell said. “Pretty much the only people we have are our team and our bubble, which is really good for team chemistry because you get a lot closer with the people.”
Webb understands the severity of the pandemic. He knows that it must be taken seriously and is proud of the Bobcats’ efforts to stay safe.
“We have to win at COVID,” Webb said. “It’s something that our team has really taken seriously, and I’m really proud of them for that.”
Even in an unpredictable season that can be brought to a halt at any moment, the Bobcats are as focused as ever. Their goal is simple and to the point—the Bobcats want to win.
“We’re going to make the best of it,” Webb said. “We’re going to play hard for our fans.”