Jana Morning, Campus Carrier staff writer
Although Berry is a NCAA DIII institution that doesn’t offer athletic scholarships, there are many student athletes who are attracted to Berry because of its program’s competitive reputations. This year, however, newcomers, whether freshmen or transfers, have had to adapt to and consider what life at Berry would look like in the absence of athletics. Student athletes Zoë Wooten, McKenna Lentych and JP Perry are three new arrivals who have decided that taking part in the Berry COVID-19 experience is better than not taking part in the experience at all.
Zoë Wooten – Volleyball
Freshman Zoë Wooten, who said she was used to being challenged her whole life, decided the academic rigor paired with the athletic intensity offered at Berry would be the perfect fit for her. She committed before COVID-19 and expected a different start to her college career, but said Berry still checked all the boxes.
“I needed to go to a school that was going to prepare me for life after graduation,” Wooten said. “Berry just kind of fit all the requirements, and then after that I found the team, and we have a top-10 team DIII-wise, so that was great.”
This fall, sports teams have had to lessen their training and competition schedules due to health and safety guidelines meant to reduce the risk of possible COVID-19 exposure. This is a much different look for student-athletes than previous years. Coming into her first semester in college, Wooten anticipated a full academic load, workouts and practice that would take up all her free time. The idea she imagined was much different than the reality that she ended up facing.
“A year ago, I was thinking about this fall semester like ‘I’m going to be booked, my schedule is going to be packed every single day, and I’m going to be super close with my teammates,’” Wooten said. “I was really excited to be a part of a team and spend a lot of time with these girls, and build those kinds of relationships that we’re known for. I understood I wasn’t going to have a life and I didn’t hate it. So, this is different.”
Upon learning about the cancellation of fall championships, Wooten contemplated taking a gap year to figure things out. She prioritized being a student, but she also wanted to be an athlete. Despite the adversity, Wooten decided Berry was where she wanted to be.
Wooten has decided to look at the extra time off in a positive light, saying it just gives the team and herself more time to prepare for what’s to come.
“This extra time has given us time to rest, recover, and recuperate our bodies and build the muscles we need to prevent injury,” Wooten said. “I’m excited for the next three years knowing that my body is actually prepared. We’re getting ready these next couple months and I’m ready to see how we grow physically and mentally.”
McKenna Lentych – Women’s Basketball
Sophomore McKenna Lentych, a newcomer who previously attended Young Harris College, decided to transfer to Berry because of its athletic programs and sense of community. Lentych says she loves pushing herself and enjoys being surrounding by others who do the same.
“I chose Berry because of the unique community of people who push you to work hard and achieve your goals,” Lentych said. “It really is a community of people who want to see you succeed.”
The sophomore guard made the decision to transfer after the COVID-19 outbreak , but expected everything to be back to normal by the time fall semester rolled around.
“I expected everything to be back to normal by this time,” said Lentych. “So, expectations were that we would have a season, we wouldn’t be wearing masks, and there wouldn’t be social distancing rules.”
Lentych has not been discouraged by the new regulations and said she and her teammates have been able to adapt to the constantly changing COVID-19 guidelines and restrictions. She said that no matter how the season turns out, she is still glad to be at Berry and would not have changed her decision if you told her what was to come.
“I’m looking forward to the possibility of having a season,” Lentych said. “That’s my biggest hope. Maybe we will get to actually play some kind of a normal season, even if it’s not a lot of games, at least we still get to play a few.”
JP Perry – Football
Freshman defensive lineman JP Perry was immediately attracted to Berry’s atmosphere and football program. Although he committed to playing for Berry before the pandemic began, he was still committed to the program.
“I choose Berry because of the welcoming coaching staff, great program and football team,” Perry said. “It felt like an environment that I could see myself living in for the next four years.”
Like many athletes, Perry had expected a season much different than the state of athletics he is experiencing now. With such a large roster, it has been difficult for the team to get together and connect with one another as whole. The team has been doing small-group workouts, with scheduled 7 vs. 7 competitions, but with a lack of contest with other teams, focuses have been shifted from physical to mental preparedness.
“Coming into college, I expected working hard in the weight room, you know, trying to earn that spot on the field,” Perry said. “But due to COVID, right now I’m just trying to stay positive, because you can only control what you can control.”
Perry said he never considered not playing due to the cancellation of fall championships, and said he has faced hardships throughout his athletic career. He views this football season as just something else he can overcome, saying, “I considered it adversity, and when adversity hits, you just got to strike back.”