San Diego State student-athletes return to practice after two-week sports pause

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On Sept. 2, San Diego State athletics announced a two-week pause for all practices and workouts due to a spike of positive COVID-19 cases within the SDSU community during the first week of school (64 at the time).

Two weeks later, that number increased more than tenfold, with the current number of confirmed and probable positive cases at 749.

Despite the increase in COVID-19 cases at SDSU, various student-athletes have returned to practice on the field or court as of Sept. 17 — with some limitations still in place.

Student-athletes returned to campus as early as July 7 to prepare for their respective seasons before the Mountain West Conference announced all fall sports would be put on hold until the spring.

Competitions were canceled or postponed, but team workouts continued in hopes of playing in the spring.

When those practices started, student-athletes were limited in what they could do: all practices were non-contact, socially-distanced with guidelines in place to protect student-athletes, coaches and trainers.

With athletics given the green light to return to practice, select teams are now allowed to practice with a ball again. For women’s soccer senior defender Jordan Girman, it’s the first time she’s practiced with her teammates and a ball in seven months.

Women’s soccer senior defender Jordan Girman posts an Instagram story on Sept. 17 with a face covering featuring an SDSU logo. According to Girman, it’s the first time she’s passed a soccer ball to her teammates since the COVID-19 pandemic began. [Courtesy of Jordan Girman (@jordangirman)/Instagram]

Women’s soccer head coach Mike Friesen said he was “bummed” about the two-week athletics postponement but looks forward to resuming a training routine.

“We want to be able to play,” Friesen said. “We’ve been, you know, playing going for eight weeks, mostly just running and a little bit of individual ball work, and so not only am I excited to coach and train the team that way, they’re beyond excited to play soccer. We want to get to that spot where we can actually actively play the way we’re more used to.”

Football head coach Brady Hoke echoed the same sentiment as Friesen, as his desire to play games again became the theme of his press conference on Wednesday. 

“We want to play,” Hoke said. “I mean, let’s face it.”

Football returned to the practice field Thursday at 5:30 a.m. for strength and conditioning. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, football was able to practice with a ball before the two-week pause began on Aug. 31. Hoke said the team is going to pick up where they left off in practice Thursday despite the short hiatus.

“It’ll be the same where we left off,” Hoke said. “The good thing is, we had just gotten able to start using the ball, and in football, that’s kind of important.

“We’ll be doing that, sleds, bags, be socially-distanced on some things like we were.”

Hoke said he and other MWC head coaches held a meeting with conference commissioner Craig Thompson Monday, and cited rapid testing as a difference-maker in possibly playing a season in the fall.

“Hopefully we, as a conference, can move towards getting rapid testing,” Hoke said. “If that happens, I think that’s a real game changer for us in the Mountain West.”

Hoke also said the conference discussed fall-winter and winter-spring modeling for a football season. For now, the team is focusing on what they can control.

“We’re just waiting and we’re gonna keep working as hard as we can to prepare our football team and to prepare for those kids, and that’s the biggest thing. Our players, they’ve been through a lot when you look at it from a mental health standpoint. They’ve been really, really good, and we’ve just got to keep them positive and keep moving forward.”

After the Big Ten was able to develop a plan to return to football the weekend of Oct. 23, the Pac-12 also made efforts to target a season start in late October or early November.

Some Pac-12 schools in California like USC and UCLA have begun efforts to start practices.

“Nothing in the state guidelines deny the ability for the Pac-12 to resume,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said during a press briefing Sept. 16. “Quite the contrary, that has been a misrepresentation of the facts.”

With other west coast conferences starting their seasons, the Mountain West Conference started efforts to target an eight-game football season ending on Dec. 19 with the conference championship game. This comes after the Mountain West originally announced fall sports would pinpoint a spring 2021 return.

If the recent proposal is approved by the MWC Board of Directors, the season would presumably begin on Oct. 17 or 24, pending the addition of a bye week.

While football waits for a possible fall start date from the MWC, SDSU men’s basketball just learned the scheduled starting date of its season: Nov. 25. Schedules will be reduced by four games, from 31 to 27.

Head coach Brian Dutcher and his team returned to practice Thursday morning after the two-week break.

“We’re excited to get started again,” Dutcher said. “(Thursday) morning, we’ll have strength and conditioning followed by individual work at the JAM Center and hopefully heading toward basketball season and not to a distant future.”

Dutcher said he feels positive about the team’s chances to play this fall but also recognizes the challenges the pandemic might pose.

“I think we’ll play college basketball,” Dutcher said. “Things, they change. They change every day with COVID… I’m optimistic we’ll play, but I’m also a realist to know anything’s possible in this day and age.”

The NCAA ruling said no exhibitions or scrimmages will be held before the season starts.

That might be one of Dutcher’s biggest concerns entering the season.

“I don’t think we’re anywhere near any kind of game shape,” Dutcher said. “You need game reps against five-on-five to not only get your conditioning where it needs to be, but as a team, it’s a team sport. We have to play together chemistry-wise, so we have to play five-on-five.

“To build the team, five-on-five is critical for that to happen for us to be as competitive as I would like to be.”

Arts and culture editor Devin Whatley contributed reporting to this story.

Kyle Betz is a senior studying journalism. Follow him on Twitter @KyleBBetz.

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