Since the COVID-19 outbreak last March, Conference Carolinas presidents have worked around the clock to implement safety measures on their respective campuses.
Athletic directors have been busy, too.
The virus abruptly halted and eventually canceled all spring sports competition. It carried over into the fall semester, which called for another pause in athletics.
“Truthfully, the fall has been challenging,” said Sharif Saber, who guided the University of Mount Olive women’s soccer team to the NCAA Division II regionals in 2019.
“As a program, we have to balance maintaining a standard of competitive excellence with also understanding how hard it is for our athletes as they acclimate to the college experience and college athletics in a COVID world.”
Determined to conduct traditional fall sports championships in 2021, conference officials unveiled a detailed plan last week.
All schools will qualify for conference-title action in men’s and women’s cross country, men’s and women’s soccer and women’s volleyball.
Regular-season play for soccer kicks off Feb. 21.
Appreciative of the conference and school administrators, first-year UMO head men’s soccer coach Jason Carlson is anxious to see his team compete on the pitch.
“This has been challenging for everyone involved and I cannot praise enough the sacrifices that our student-athletes have made to stay disciplined and allow us to continue to train,” Carlson said.
The men’s and women’s title matches are May 2 in Florence, South Carolina.
Cross country will hold its championship meet Jan. 29 in Concord.
UMO’s men seek an unprecedented ninth consecutive crown.
“I think overall the [men’s and women’s] teams have become more conscientious with their actions,” said UMO head cross country coach Jackie Kirby. “I have a team full of athletes that are eager to compete. We’ve been depositing a lot of hard work this fall, and I know they are going to do whatever they can do to make competing at their best a reality in the winter/spring.”
The women’s and men’s volleyball tournaments will run simultaneously. Pool play brackets have been devised to determine the women’s champion April 18 at King University.
UMO did not qualify for the postseason in 2019.
Newly-minted head coach Emma Celentano had a heart-to-heart with her players about accountability toward the virus. She stressed that partying and large gatherings could increase the case load and shut down athletics altogether.
“The team has taken that reality to heart and is making the necessary choices to keep us on the court,” Celentano said. “And then our training has been awesome. We’re getting on the same page with system, and starting to build the necessary chemistry and trust to compete this spring.”