In mid-March, Fordham student-athletes, coaches, managers and other Rams ended their training and playing to “wait out” the coronavirus pandemic. Six months of waiting later, these same passionate individuals are preparing to return to campus, yet their organized sports dreams are delayed once more.
However, a major change in administration and dedication by the COVID-19 Athletics Task Force made up of various sports staff has made this homecoming safe and practical. Interim Athletic Director Ed Kull took over in July, and in a recent Athletics Town Hall relayed heartfelt sentiments: “I want to express my deepest love and care to everyone … this has been very difficult for all of us. For all of our student-athletes that train so hard, so long, and have committed hours of their days to their love and their craft. I know being told you cannot play is extremely difficult.” Kull also reiterated the leading role of safety in their decision making, as revisions revolved around reforms put in place by New York state and Fordham University.
For many seniors, preparation for the fall season did not just begin months ago; it is something they have been looking forward to since they fell in love with the game. For senior McKenna Lahr, Fordham Volleyball’s leader in both kills and aces last season, her agility on the court has led to dexterity in outlook. She says that she has adapted her training style to sustain and succeed next season: “With all of the updates and uncertainty regarding our chances of playing, preparation for me has looked more like recovering, while still maintaining strength and endurance. This time in quarantine has allowed me to take a step back in terms of quantity of work, and push for more quality with training smaller muscles and focusing on rehab. I believe that this little ‘break’ will actually help improve performance by allowing the body to recover and be ready for full training again.” Lahr and the rest of the volleyball squad are squaring up to be back in the Rose Hill Gymnasium and Walsh Varsity Training Center in September, to grow as players and develop as a team.
Fellow fall athlete and senior football player Glen Cunningham, named to first-team all Patriot League for football last season, expressed similar grit and motivation: “This has obviously been an extremely tough situation for everyone. What we thought was going to be a minor setback to spring ball ended up being the end of our 2020 fall season. That hasn’t changed how we’ve prepared for it though. We’re taking it one day at a time making sure that we’re going to be ready to hop on the field and play, whether that be in the spring of 2020 or the fall of 2021.”
While the fall season is suspended, possibilities for winter competitions are up in the air, and Fordham Women’s Basketball head coach Stephanie Gaitley has been able to put her championship mindset to the test as she enters her 35th season as head coach. “It’s been a challenge to prepare since the virus. However, it’s also made us recommit as individuals and a team,” she says. “First, we are all apart and need to physically work out on our own. If you didn’t have a basket in your driveway you had to find a neighbor or friend with a hoop. Mentally we were able to stay connected through numerous zoom calls. My assistants did an incredible job with video content that we reviewed and discussed. We made the best of a tough situation but that is how you win games!”
For recruiting the future of the program, Coach Gaitley notes that it has been difficult yet remains optimistic for the young talent coming in: “We have a solid 2020 class and have completed our 2021 class. That class may end up being one of our best. We have made the best of a tough situation. We’re excited about the future of Fordham Women’s Basketball.” Although younger student-athletes have not been able to visit campus, she emphasizes Fordham’s unique advantages: “Here at Fordham we can offer a world-class academic experience in the capital of the world! Historic Rose Hill Gymnasium is a unique environment. Our loyal fan base is awesome. Our on the court basketball success in the A10, NCAA, and WNIT is easy to sell. One area we have had to overcome is tangible facilities such as state of the art locker rooms, lounges, practice facilities, etc. The pandemic has eliminated on-campus visits for recruits and we have been able to emphasize our positive selling points without battling the bells and whistles our competitors offer.”
As Coach Gaitley uses her vast and abundant experience as head coach to have her team ready to return, and McKenna and Glen endure efficiently, spring sport athletes have to stand by a couple more months to compete.
Senior Atlantic 10 Pitcher of the Year her junior year and three-time Atlantic 10 Champion Madison “Madie” Aughinbaugh of Fordham Softball is pursuing a fifth year to complete her ring collection. The decision to return to Fordham was not difficult in the slightest: “I was already planning on pursuing a masters, post-grad. When the NCAA said we’d get the year back I immediately told Coach Inouye there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. Fordham is home.”
Aughinbaugh looks forward to being back in the competitive environment her team provides, even if organized competition is delayed: “I’m most excited to get after it with my teammates both on the field and in the weight room. One of the best things about Fordham Softball is the energy the girl next to you brings to the table. We are always elevating one another and making each other better.” She also recognizes the importance of appreciating the game every single time you play: “I’m hungry to compete again. Fordham Softball has unfinished business left to attend to and I can’t wait to get back to work with my girls. I feel blessed to have been given another year to play the game that I love so much. I feel like I speak for every athlete COVID has impacted when I say I will never take another moment on the field or with my teammates for granted ever again.”
With only days left until a return to campus, Fordham student-athletes, coaches and staff have been putting in long hours to return safely and resume practicing as soon as possible. The motivation in all of these members of the Fordham Athletics community is uplifting and unwavering. They do everything they can to follow all the necessary rules to create a safe (yet competitive) community.