When the Bobcats step on the field this season, there’s an air of appreciation surrounding them.
At least that’s what Ohio coach Kenzie Roark notices when her players show up to practices and games in 2021 after the last season came to a shocking and abrupt halt. It wasn’t until Feb. 22, 2021 that Ohio played its first game 349 days after the 2020 season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This season wasn’t going to be normal, and the team understood that. The schedule was subject to change thanks to COVID-19 still running amuck and the players having to undergo protocol they never even imagined being necessary just over a year ago.
Knowing the alternative, the protocol is all worth it.
“It’s a greater appreciation for being able to do what they love,” Roark said. “There’s enthusiasm that comes with that.”
The day of the initial cancelation was a confusing time for the entire team. The Bobcats were in Tampa, Florida during spring break for a series of games when they received a call telling them that their upcoming events were canceled and they needed to return to Athens.
“At that point, we did not know really anything about coronavirus and any of that stuff,” Roark said. “Nobody in our generation has gone through a global pandemic.”
The players had to return to their hometowns as soon as they arrived back in Athens. Ohio had players on its roster who lived as far away as in California, and they weren’t aware of how long they were going to be away from Athens while the world underwent an unprecedented event.
One of the players who had to travel all the way to the West Coast was Allie Englant, who spent the last weeks of her junior year in Long Beach, California. She still remembers the Bobcats’ heartbreak over the season being canceled.
“We were definitely all crying,” Englant said. “I remember looking back and thinking about how our team was and how I genuinely was excited to just keep playing with them. I was very sad that it had to end because I knew we would have had a good run.”
The quarantine didn’t help morale. It wasn’t easy, but Englant didn’t allow herself to get rusty during the downtime. She spent much of her summer and winter breaks practicing hitting with her dad, and she put in plenty of extra work on defense.
Regardless of how the time was being spent, no one on the team wanted to go so long without seeing each other.
“I missed my roommates, Katie (Yun) and Brooke (Rice),” Englant said. “I missed hanging out with everybody every day.”
To fix that problem, the Bobcats spent almost every day on HouseParty and Zoom chatting with each other, joking around and reminiscing about fond memories. Roark lost track of the amount of FaceTime calls she received during quarantine. However, she also decided Ohio’s Zoom calls needed something to bring her players’ spirits back up.
One day, when the players were in a Zoom call together, a woman showed up with a farm of llamas on her camera and began introducing them to the players. Everyone was initially confused, and some even texted Roark to ask if she had any idea what was happening. Their coach knew exactly what the intrusion was about.
Prior to the call, Roark saw an online advertisement for a therapy animal service that offered to crash Zoom calls to lighten the mood, and she tried the idea out. It was the perfect idea to put smiles on the players’ faces.
“It was just to break up the monotony a little bit,” Roark said. “At that point, it was just like, ‘what are we doing?’”
The Bobcats made the most out of what could have been much more difficult times, but they were still eager to get back onto the field. As soon as the players were back in Athens in the spring and practicing again, they took nothing for granted.
“We’re leaving everything on the field,” Englant said. “We don’t know if we’re going to have a next weekend.”
Englant feels a boost of confidence in herself and the rest of the team this season. She wants to have as much fun as possible playing the game, which is why she and her teammates push each other and are excited to show up at every practice.
“I feel way more confident than I ever have,” Englant said. “For the team, this year we’re dogs. We compete all of the time.”
Not everything is normal, but that’s OK. It doesn’t matter to the Bobcats if they are masked up during practice and games, and the need to social distance in the dugout doesn’t get to them. The most important thing to the Bobcats is just being able to play ball.