Timothy Belin, Campus Carrier sports editor
After being appointed as the new head women’s soccer coach in late July, Kathy Brown knew her first semester in charge would be unusual. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, fall sports did not have their usual seasons, but Brown saw this setback as an opportunity for her team and herself.
“It was kind of a unique special time to be training in the fall and not have the stress of playing games,” Brown said. “I got a chance to get to know the team and they got a chance to know me. Being a new coach, it was kind of a unique and probably a positive situation for us to be in.”
Now at the end of her first semester as head coach, Brown said she could not imagine what a regular season would have looked like.
“I kind of hate to say this out loud because it sounds selfish, but I think because of the situation that we were in, I can’t imagine having to start playing games when I’m just now getting to know my girls,” Brown said. “So I think that that COVID situation was almost a blessing in disguise in our situation, to have this time to come in and train and do a lot of training.”
Brown is not the only one who saw this delayed season as a positive, as freshman midfielder Maeve McDougal said it gave her an opportunity to settle in.
“It’s nice to get to know everyone on a personal level instead of just on the field,” McDougal said. “Also, as a freshman, it’s been a lot better to be able to transition easier since we’re not playing more games, we’re just practicing. So that’s also been a silver lining for me, to be able to focus on academics more since I have more time.”
Brown said that the lack of games gave her an opportunity to catch up on other aspects of the job her late hire put her behind in.
“I’m probably a little bit behind in recruiting, so this has given me time to do a lot more with that,” Brown said. “Because of the situation, there’s players I just hadn’t seen yet that might be seniors this year that we have had a chance to go see. If we were in a season right now, it would have been very difficult to go catch a game on a Saturday when we’re playing games. So I think in my situation, it’s just given me a chance to get to where we want to be so that we don’t miss a beat.”
It has not been all positive, however, as Brown has still had to deal with the difficulties brought on by the pandemic.
“Being flexible, I think, is certainly a challenge,” Brown said. “I had a plan coming in; I had this plan to go four weeks, four weeks, four weeks. In the beginning, it was just going to be technical, getting their touch back, and then we were going to evolve our sections throughout the season. So I had that plan, and then we get stopped for two weeks. My plan had to be able to change. So you have to be very quick on your toes and ready to adjust.”
For McDougal, this stop-start nature to the semester has also been an obstacle to team bonding, though she is happy with where they are at now.
“We couldn’t really practice in the beginning of the year and then we got shut down, so it’s been hard to grow as a team, like team bonding, so it’s kind of delayed,” McDougal said. “But once we got to this point at the end, then we’ve been able to be as a team and become like a family and everything. So that’s probably been the hardest thing for the team itself.”
Brown said that despite these challenges, she has been impressed with the attitude of her players and is now excited for the tentative spring season.
“It’s difficult right now for student athletes and I’m so proud of them coming to training sessions and working so hard and giving me everything I’m asking for when there’s no games,” Brown said. “They’re not doing it to impress me to get in the line-up, they’re just working hard. That’s so hard to do mentally, and they’ve done very well. And because they’ve done so well with that in the fall, imagine what it will be like in the spring when we do have something to look forward to.”
Brown said the objectives for the spring are to finish in the top four of the conference so that they can go on to play in the post-season championship. One concern she has now, however, is winter break, as her players have never had to maintain fitness levels over the festive period before.
“We will have a season, hopefully, in the spring, so going into this winter break I’m planning on a workout packet,” Brown said. “I’ve never in 22 years sent out a workout packet at Christmas time. When you leave and you have a break, it’s not time to just celebrate and eat and enjoy your family. You also have to prepare for a season that we’re hopeful to play in the spring.”
But Brown said it should not be a problem as she trusts her players are excited to finally get to play and will do everything they can to make the most of it, as will she.
“Every once-in-a-while I sit around and I think about what our first game is going to look like,” Brown said. “For me personally to be back at Berry, that’s obviously special to me, but also just for these girls that have had no soccer games for over a year to finally get back out there. It gives me goose-bumps just thinking about how much fun that day is going to be.”