(Sept. 18, 2020) With safety protocols in place, Worcester Preparatory School student-athletes stepped back on the field, court or course late last month for practice and are gearing up for competition.
“The kids are doing a great job. Everyone’s doing what they’re supposed to,” said Worcester Prep Athletic Director Matt McGinnis.
The theme for the season is respect, McGinnis said. Student-athletes should respect the current times we’re in, respect the process, respect each other and “we’ll get through this,” he added.
“Everyone’s adjusting to what is the current norm,” he said.
Team training sessions could begin as early as Aug. 17, but not all squads started that day.
The training sessions were not mandatory, but participation was highly encouraged. Sessions lasted for 60 minutes and focused on physical conditioning and individual sports skills training.
Worcester Prep students begin in-person instruction on Sept. 1 for students in grades 9-12, with everyone returning by Sept. 8.
With students now back in school, normal team practices started right after Labor Day.
McGinnis said these are more “traditional style practices.”
“They’re happy and excited to have a bit of normalcy in their lives,” he said. “They get to hang out with their friends; it’s good socialization for everyone.”
Even the officials are excited for the season, McGinnis, who is also the president of the Eastern Shore Independent Athletic Conference, said.
To keep athletes safe, a number of protocols have been set.
They include limiting the number of people in the locker rooms, wearing masks inside the school and until participants get to their practice spots, no congregating, social distancing and cleaning and disinfecting equipment.
There are marks on the fields and each player has his or her spot six feet apart to place their water bottle, bags and equipment.
During water breaks, each player goes to their designated spot.
“We’ve taken a lot of great steps to do everything right and keep everyone safe,” McGinnis said.
Athletes do not have to wear masks during activity, but some do, he said.
The main factor that made heads of schools and athletic directors comfortable to host a season was following the Maryland Department of Health’s guidelines of operating without fans.
For at least the first competition for each team, no spectators will be permitted.
“The focus is on the event for the student-athletes,” McGinnis said. “Athletic directors and heads of schools have been working together and are all on the same page to make the season happen, especially for the senior class.”
After the first matches, McGinnis said the Eastern Shore Independent Athletic Conference will reevaluate the situation.
“It’s a challenge to monitor [fan] social distancing,” he said. “We’d rather be safe than sorry … [and] parents are staying open to this.”
McGinnis said the conference is looking into broadcasting games via YouTube channels. Some schools’ fields are also viewable from their parking lots.
Worcester Prep teams are playing half, or less than half, of the competitions they would during a regular season. The squads will only be competing against conference opponents. The Berlin private prep school would normally also compete against Maryland public school teams, but their fall and winter seasons were postponed during the first semester.
Middle school teams began practice on Monday. They will also play only conference games.
The Worcester Prep varsity golf team kicked off its season on Wednesday. The boys’ soccer, girls’ soccer and field hockey teams’ first games are Friday, Sept. 25.
The first cross country meet is Oct. 1 and the volleyball team’s season opener is Oct. 2.
The golf team has been practicing since Aug. 17. For one hour a day the players worked on their skills. The last few weeks the group has been on the course.
“It’s going well. When we meet as a group the kids are wearing masks and social distancing,” said Coach Don McMullen. “It’s been good. We want to make sure everyone stays safe and healthy this season.”
There are 16 players on the team, and eight of them are seniors. The group is also made up of one junior, three sophomores and four freshmen.
“I’m excited about the year. Six or seven kids are shooting in the 40s, which I like seeing before the season begins,” McMullen said. “The kids are having fun and happy to be out playing. They’re glad to have something.”
Worcester will play in six matches this season, followed by a conference championship.
The first competition took place on Wednesday at GlenRiddle Golf Club in Berlin.
Worcester came in first place, shooting a 174.
The team was led by freshman Vanesska Hall, who scored a 42. Senior captain TJ Bescak and sophomore Griffin Jones both tallied 43s. Senior Mason Brown carded a 46.
Sophomore Harrison Humes and senior captain Kaden Mault also played. They shot 46 and 48, respectively.
Gunston finished in second place with a 203, followed by Salisbury School (216) and Salisbury Christian (246).
“Overall, the team played very well. I was very pleased,” McMullen said. “[A] 174 overall is good, [and] I know they’ll do better. It’s going to be a good year.”
McMullen said the goal is to win the ESIAC championship.
“We’re going to field a competitive team. That’s what we’re striving for,” he said.
During the 2019 season, the team recorded 19 wins and five losses. The group finished runner-up in the ESIAC tournament.
The boys’ soccer team also started on Aug. 17.
“So far, it’s going well. They look good,” said Coach Jon Adkins. “With only two seniors, we’re a young team. They’re getting better every day.”
Adkins said the first few weeks of preseason were different – with more drills set up and small group stations – but now practices are back to normal.
“The first day they came out with positive attitudes. They’re ready to play,” Adkins said. “They’re a great group of kids. They all want to get better. They’re all buying in. I just can’t say enough about them.”
Adkins has 26 players on his roster, a majority of them are underclassmen.
“We have a big talented group of freshmen,” he said.
The Mallards will play only five games this season, four of which are on their home field. The top two teams will battle for the ESIAC championship.
“Last year we got off to a slow start … We want to start off great. This year we have to have our best foot forward from the jump,” Adkins said. “It’s a five-game playoff. That’s how we’re looking at it.”
Adkins said the goal is to improve each day.
“So many other schools are dying to play this season, so they know not to take it for granted,” he added. “We just want to play the best soccer we can every Friday. Hopefully, we’ll have a successful season and win another championship. I’m excited about the team and I’m excited about the season.”
The team’s first game is against Gunston Day School on Friday, Sept. 25 at 4 p.m. in Berlin.
Worcester finished the 2019 season with eight wins, three ties and five losses. The Mallards captured the ESIAC title in a shoot-out.
The girls’ soccer team returned to action on Aug. 24.
“We had no interest meeting, I didn’t have a list, so I didn’t know what to expect,” said Coach Carol Hartnett. “The first day every girl I thought I would see there was there, and some additional girls.”
Hartnett said preseason was pretty much the same as it typically is as far as training goes.
There are 25 girls on the team this season. A bulk of the team is made up of juniors (15). Waverly Choy is the lone senior. Five freshmen have joined the squad.
“It’s going really well. They’re excited to be on the field and at school – all smiling faces all over the field,” Hartnett said. “Sports are a tricky thing. Professional teams have not gotten it right, so if [Worcester Prep] was going to do it, we’d better darn well get it right. We have to be a model.”
Hartnett said on the first day she had a conversion with her players about their comfort level and concerns.
“Not everyone is at the same level,” she said. “If they have anxiety about the situation, I told them it’s OK, we’re all here to support each other.”
The team has always been more than just about soccer. The girls build a bond with each other and become a family unit each season.
Three of the team’s four game will be played in Berlin. The first match is slated for Friday, Sept. 25 at 4 p.m. against Gunston Day School.
The Mallards finished the 2019 season with a 6-2-1 record.
“We have less games, but it’s fine. They’re just happy to be out here,” Hartnett said. “It’s something they’ve been hoping for since March.”
Hartnett said the goal is for the girls to be safe, healthy and to have a great year.
Each players also has their own goals, which they post on the team board facing in. On the outside for all to see are words how they can be the best team member, such as sportsmanship, empathy and kindness.
“I’m super excited about the season,” Hartnett said. “The girls will remember the experience not the end game, so whatever we can do to make it the best experience possible.”
The field hockey team began training sessions on Aug. 25.
“The first couple weeks we were mostly just doing individual drills and some conditioning,” said Coach Katie Oxenreider. “We limit scrimmaging and try to keep them out of gathering in big groups. We are just having to adjust and look at things a little differently now.”
Oxenreider has 10 players on her roster, two of whom are seniors. Game are played 11v11, but the team will play its four games 7v7 this season.
“This gives us some options for the few games we have and allows subs,” she said. “The kids are happy and positive and just glad to be able to do a sport and activity after school. The goal for our season is to grow and learn more about the sport.”
The team’s first games is Friday, Sept. 25 at 4 p.m. against Gunston Day School in Centreville.
“The girls all have a good attitude and are happy to be there,” Oxenreider said. “We are very young overall with only two seniors, so I’ll need them to step up and be leaders for the younger girls who may only have one or two years’ experience.”
The Mallards went 3-11 last year.
The cross country team got started on Aug. 31, led by new Head Coach Jenn Corron. She was an assistant to Keith Geiger last season.
Corron is excited to take over the program. She is joined by Assistant Coach Cater Williams, a runner for Salisbury University.
Four girls and 19 boys are participating this season, seven of whom are seniors. Most of the runners competed last year.
“So far it’s going great,” Corron said. “The kids are super positive. They’re excited to be out there running.”
She was pleased to say the runners came into preseason in good shape.
Since cross country is not a contact sport, it is easy for the participants to social distance.
The first meet is scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 1 at 4 p.m. in Salisbury.
“It will be good for the kids to get back into competing,” Corron said. “The goal is to create a cohesive team, support the underclassmen and build from there.”
Both girls’ and boys’ cross country teams brought home Eastern Shore Independent Athletic Conference championships last year.
Worcester will participate in four meets, followed by the ESIAC championship this season.
The volleyball team returned to the court on Aug. 24.
“It’s going really great,” said Coach Cheryl Brown. “They’re all building each other up. There’s smiles and laughs. For their mental health, it’s been amazing. It’s been so nice to have all of them.”
Twenty-three players showed up on the first day. Eighteen are still playing.
“It a good amount for training purposes and building for years to come,” Brown said.
Normally there would be a varsity and JV team, but this year there is only one squad. Only 10 can suit up for games.
There are nine seniors on the team – seven players and two managers.
Mike Kelly returns as an assistant coach. Jim Jung from Towson University joins the coaching staff as an assistant.
Brown said practices are more competitive this season. Stats are begin kept, the players are training in their ideal positions and the girls are lined up with who they play well with.
“We want to make sure we’re pushing them to the limits, but we’re also only as strong as our weakest player,” she said.
Since the team only has four games scheduled, Brown said there will be intra-squad scrimmages during practice, where scores and stats will be recorded.
“We’re going to treat it like a game situation,” she said.
The first match is Friday, Oct. 2 at 4 p.m. against Salisbury Christian in Berlin.
“Our main objective, to make sure number one is a mental health avenue, that they have fun and something they can look forward to every day,” Brown said. “And for the seniors, to give them the best, most fun experience.”
The Mallards finished the 2019 season with a 3-10 record.