Fall Athletes Find Balance in Preseason

As recently as early August, the St. Davids campus of Eastern University was filled with little more than sunshine and stillness. It was summertime and the students were home, leaving hollow dorms and vacant parking spaces. The fitness center was gently used and new grass was able to grow where students had cut corners on the way to class. Returning students would not make their ways back to EU until late August, but the summertime calm of the St. David’s campus would be disrupted a few weeks early. Collegiate fall sports require athletes to sacrifice the end of their summer breaks by returning to campus nearly two weeks before the rest of their classmates. For many student athletes, this early departure means leaving summer jobs early and giving up precious time at home with family and friends. The transition from summer break to college living can be difficult for any student, but the struggle is only exaggerated by an early wake-up call to the fall preseason. For most athletes who crave the thrill of competing in games and races, preseason feels like an endless battle against one’s own body and mind.

On Tuesday, Aug. 16, the Eastern Men’s and Women’s Soccer teams were the first of the fall athletes to move back to campus. The following day, the Volleyball, Field Hockey and Cross Country teams moved into their dorms. NCAA regulations prohibited the start of official fall practices until Friday, Aug. 19, but these guidelines did not keep Eastern’s teams from beginning some important work. In the couple of days before preseason began, each sport engaged in a variety of team-building activities to set the foundations for their upcoming seasons. The EU Volleyball team took a trip to Gretna Glen, an outdoor camp and retreat center in Lebanon, Pa. The Cross Country team ventured to the Pocono Mountains for some hiking, swimming and relaxing in a hot tub. Opting for something less strenuous, the Field Hockey team hosted a craft night where each player painted a wooden Jenga piece with her name and number; the exercise symbolized the importance of team unity as a Jenga tower becomes more and more unstable as each puzzle piece is removed. The Women’s Soccer team enjoyed a pool party at a teammate’s house and even worked on some team fitness. Men’s Soccer used this time to get acclimated to Olson Field by putting in some tough skills work and team conditioning.

When Aug. 19 rolled around, EU sports (quite literally) hit the ground running. Both Women’s Soccer and Field Hockey were challenged by the “beep test,” a fitness test used to assess an athlete’s endurance and speed. While athletes are expected to train and condition during the summer months, there is a certain level of difficulty for which athletes simply cannot prepare. Coaches push athletes to both their physical and mental limits to cultivate teams that will stay strong throughout the long season. Since preseason takes place before the school semester begins, fall teams held two to three hard practices a day, with the addition of a cool-down session with Strength and Conditioning Coordinator Ryan Saltzman. Several athletes have commented that the stretching and low-impact workouts with Saltzman have sped up their recovery time after long days of conditioning.

While most athletes would probably prefer to spend their entire days playing their sport, the start of the semester also signals the start of regular season. Starting Sept. 1, fall athletes will take the field and officially start their regular seasons.

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