Orion Rottman lines up with the defensive line during a game in the 2019 season. Courtesy of Orion Rottman

While New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has allowed for sports to start now that schools can begin in-person learning, the past 11 months have taken a huge toll on the student-athletes.

“Mentally, if I think about it, it’s sad and definitely frustrating,” said Marysa Ocampo, a volleyball player for Socorro. “I just feel like whenever you talk to older people or my parents, their senior year was like their highlight year, not even including sports, just academics, being around your friends and stuff. I had trouble with that in the beginning too. Now, it’s just a routine. I’m getting used to it. It’s pretty hard and frustrating.”

Ocampo, being a volleyball player who also runs track, will be one of the first athletes allowed to start competing again.

According to the New Mexico Activities Association calendar that was approved at their Board of Directors meeting on Feb. 1, cross country, football and volleyball can start full-team practices on Feb. 22.

“At this point, we are going to do 4:1 until the 22nd,” NMAA Executive Directory Sally Marquez said in a Q+A. “We are hoping to expand those pods. That question is up at the governor’s office with the medical team.”

Cross country and volleyball competitions will start on Feb. 27 and football games start on March 4.

“We are kind of the guinea pigs,” Ocampo said. “If we go first, I think they will let us have a season. If it’s that bad, then they won’t let the other sports have a season or if it’s good, then they do get to have a season.”

In the Q+A, Marquez said that the NMAA is currently focusing on fall sports as schools can opt-out of playing if they wish. Before schedules can be created, schools have until Feb. 15 to determine if they will be competing in the fall season. To compete, a school has to be either hybrid or in-person. Marquez said that if a student is an online student but their school district is hybrid or in-person, that student is still eligible to compete.

According to Marquez, everything that goes on within a school district is going to affect athletics.

“We have to remember there is a virus and there is a quarantine period when there is contact tracing involved,” she said in the Q+A. “We will work with the public education department and the local school. The school is going to be working with their nurse and the PED and let us know if a team might have to shut down for two weeks or if a school has to shut down for two weeks. We will get that information from the school, the DOH and we will act accordingly for what has to be done.”

If a school has to shut down an athletic program(s) due to the coronavirus, that could have an even greater impact on the athletes than what they are already facing.

“It’s definitely going to be different and difficult,” Gavin Spitz, who plays soccer, basketball and track and field, said. “I’m really glad and hopeful that we do get spring seasons because I know how much sports mean to so many of the kids here. Just really hurting without sports.”

For some athletes, having that time with other teammates in-person is what they need to help them focus in school or stay in shape.

“Sports really helped me to stay engaged and gave me a reason to go to school,” Spitz said. “Without sports, I’m missing a big part of my regular school life.”

Multiple athletes have said how being able to do in-person practices and then having to go back to virtual practices has impacted them negatively.

“It’s the fact that you are just getting in your groove again and practicing and then you have to go back to remote,” Socorro football player Edgar Perez said. “It’s not always the same. It feels different when you are together on the field conditioning together, safely of course, due to the pandemic. Doing it remotely where you’re doing it in a room or outside, the terrain is not well enough to work out in or it’s not enough space.”

Not all athletes have space at home to do the workout that is required of them. Perez said that he and a few of his teammates have been going to a local physical therapy clinic to use the machines in order to get the workout that is needed for football.

From left, Marysa Ocampo, Elise Madril, Garee-Celine Apodaca and Lola Apodca hold their relay baton before a meet in the 2019 season. Courtesy of Elise Madril

Other athletes are able to get the needed workout at home as Elise Madril, who participates in soccer and track and field. She has an at-home gym and now feels faster and stronger. She runs two miles every day and does a workout each night.

Orion Rottman said he has spent a lot of time preparing for the upcoming football and wrestling season.

“I’ve learned a lot of technique,” he said. “I’ve gotten bigger. I’ve put on a lot more muscle. I’ve just been preparing.”

For Rottman, the upcoming seasons will be challenging due to the overlap between the two sports.

According to the NMAA, the format for the football state championships is not set for this year. Marquez said that it will be determined by how many schools decide to compete in football this year and that doing football playoffs is a challenge because each playoff round has to be a different weekend. That prolongs the season and could increase exposure to COVID-19 for the players and coaches.

Wrestling practice is set to start on March 29 with meets starting on April 5.

Rottman said his biggest challenge is having to be bigger for football due to being a tight end and being smaller for wrestling. This year, he might have to go up a few weight classes so he can be a proper weight for football.

“It’s the same as long as I’m wrestling guys my weight, but wrestling at different weights really differs,” he said. “Wrestling at lower weights means that the guys are a lot quicker and wrestling at higher weights means they are a lot stronger.”

Other athletes say they are concerned about the amount of overlap this season and the impact that will have on their bodies.

Soccer is the only fall sport that cannot start practice until March 1, with their games starting on March 6.

The winter season will start on March 22 with basketball, spirit and swimming and diving practice.

The cross country state championships will be held on March 26 and 27.

Competition for basketball and swimming and diving will start on April 1, while spirit can start competing on April 3.

State volleyball will be held April 1–3 with state soccer championships April –10.

Spring sports baseball, golf, softball, tennis, and track and field can start practicing on April 5 with competitions starting on April 10.

The state basketball championships will be held May 3-8 and state spirit on May 14 and 15.

The winter season will conclude May 27–29 with state wrestling.

Golf will be the first spring sport to have their state championships which are slated for June 7–12.

The tennis championships will be held June 14–19 with class A–3A state track and field June 17–19.

Baseball and softball will conclude the athletic year with their championships June 21–26.

Samantha Chewiwi is guarded during a game during the 2020 basketball season. Besides basketball, Chewiwi is also on the softball team. Courtesy of Samantha Chewiwi

Savannah Chewiwi, who plays basketball and softball, said she is used to having to miss the first few games of softball season due to basketball. This year, there will be five weeks of overlap.

“I know I’ll be really tired and exhausted, but I think I’ll be ok,” she said. “Just have to keep my body right and do all the right things for it. I would say just getting enough sleep, eating right and ice and taking care of any injuries I have.”

Madril said how she isn’t over-concerned about the overlap between soccer and track and field because track practice starts the week of the soccer state championships. In previous years, she has played club soccer and run track at the same time and will be using what she learned during that experience this year.

“My body will probably eventually tell me to chill out because I have done that before,” she said. “I have ran track and played club soccer together and my body was just like, ‘give me a rest,’ or I didn’t play good because my body was tired or I wasn’t giving it enough water or eating enough food.”

Athletes such as McKayla Fassett and Harley Richardson who play one sport, also have concerns for the upcoming season. Richardson said golf is a pretty safe sport since the athletes can social distance. However, their season could get canceled if it is determined unsafe for winter and spring sports to happen.

The Socorro High School golf team has not practiced together in months, but Richardson said she has been going to the golf course every day.

“I want to play with my team because ultimately that’s what’s going to make us better,” she said. “Right now, not everybody wants to be in contact with people. It’s different and something that we will have to get used to and re-used to once we actually start the season again.”

Fassett, who is on the swimming and diving team, said the team was allowed to be in the pool for two weeks in November and hasn’t been in the pool since.

This could lead to injuries from being unable to practice their sport for a long period of time. Besides injuries, the swimming and diving season will have fewer meets this year which means fewer opportunities to qualify for the state championships.

“I feel like it’s going to be a lot different, a lot smaller,” she said. “Honestly, we aren’t as prepared as we normally would be. Even though we have more time, we haven’t been able to get into the pool and do work together.”

Spitz said how the team chemistry could be lacking this year for team sports. In most years, the first few weeks of practice are getting to know each other and how to work together as a team. This year, the athletes will have one week of official practice and then competitions begin.

School was also a big factor in building that team chemistry as teammates would have classes together. Since students can choose what format they want to learn this year, some athletes might choose to do online classes.

“I think for sports like soccer and team sports like that, I think it will be a lot of time building team chemistry with the new players and seniors players because they won’t have that extra time to connect during classes and school,” Spitz said. “I think it will be a lot different.”

All athletes have been impacted mentally over the past 11 months — either positively or negatively. For Madril, not having a season this year has been beneficial for her mental health due to how much she went through last year.

“I had a really tough year, like my family and everything else going on, I had a really tough year,” she said. “Just like the break from school, the stimulation of everything going on was really good for me because I could focus more on myself and getting mentally stronger.”

Richardson said that for her not having a season is “mentally draining” but since she switched to playing only golf last year, she has seen an improvement in her mental and physical health.

Similar to Richardson, Fassett said she used the possibility of having a season to keep her head up.

“Just like knowing that we have, it’s almost like having something to look forward to,” she said. “My swim season, we aren’t 100 percent sure that it’s going to happen, but it’s just something to look forward to and something that I know I need to stay in shape for.”

During what would have been football season, Perez said he wasn’t feeling himself because each weekend he would think about how they could have been playing a playoff game.

He said what would have been state championship weekend was very difficult since they were 3A runner-ups last season.

“It’s a lot of sadness that goes into it,” he said.

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