UChicago's women's volleyball team celebrating a win in 2019

The women’s volleyball team celebrates a win against Calvin College in 2019. This year, just being together is cause for celebration. (UChicago Athletics)

Pandemic athletics

How UChicago’s student-athletes are keeping their spirits and heart rates elevated amid COVID-19.

In July the University announced the cancellation of intercollegiate sports competition for Autumn Quarter, with decisions on Winter and Spring Quarters still to come. But whatever the fate of their seasons, UChicago’s student-athletes haven’t lost their drive. Five Maroons, interviewed in September, told us how they were keeping their spirits and heart rates elevated amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Their comments have been edited and condensed.

Women’s Basketball: Ashley Gao and Peyton Van Soest, both Class of 2023

Gao A week before everything started hitting, we had just lost our tournament game. I don’t know if it was better or worse that our season ended in a natural way.

Van Soest For the first couple of weeks, everything was so discombobulated, but then our coach started sending workouts. I did not have weights at home, but I looked around and was like, “Those are two good-sized V8 juice bottles.” I did the arm circuit using those, and honestly, it was fine.

I joke that we kind of became a cross-country team because all we could do was run.

Gao At the beginning of the pandemic, it was hard to stay motivated without coaches and teammates there. But reconnecting with the team and having small challenges reminded us why we were there.

Van Soest Now we also have accountability groups, so we check in every day. If I go out for a run, I take a picture and say, “I ran two miles today,” and someone is going to see that and say, “Oh, I should do something too.” When I see my teammates working to get better, that gets me up and going as well.

Gao We also play silly trivia games to keep our competitive juices flowing.

Van Soest I’m just looking forward to the first time we can play some three-on-three—something where it’s competitive and not me shooting baskets by myself.

Gao I’m living vicariously through watching professional players in their little bubbles.

Van Soest I live with another basketball player, and we often rehash games we already played, to the point of feeling like we’re playing them again.

Gao There have been ups and downs for everyone, but I think our team did a really good job of staying in touch and finding ways to make the best out of the situation.

Van Soest I think we’re going to come out of this stronger. With a season, without a season—I think we’ll be closer, and hopefully better.

Men’s Diving: Logan Sherwin, Class of 2023

Once I got home in March, I relaxed for a little bit, and then when Spring Quarter started up again, I was doing class and got a part-time job. I was working out here and there—lifting weights, some bodyweight workouts, and stretching.

In June my club diving team started hosting practices a few times a week at a local country club. It’s always rough getting back from taking a break—especially going from training six days a week at school. It felt like I’d never used my legs before.

For the fall, we might be able to have some practices—dryland workouts outside, socially distanced. We know we can’t get on the boards until at least November.

We haven’t heard anything about the season yet. If we can’t compete, having that long period of practicing without having meets might be nice to work on some new dives—things that you wouldn’t be able to train for during the season. And having friendly competition within your team can be fun.

Women’s Volleyball: Emma Griffith and Autumn Mitchell, both Class of 2021

Griffith Volleyball is a hard sport to play on your own—you can’t just shoot around the way you can with basketball. So in the spring we were feeling a little bit lost at first. But we were still positive and excited about the opportunity to work out. We had a program that we were all following, and on Fridays we had team Zoom workouts. Our coaches and strength coach would watch and give pointers and keep us motivated. Those were some of my favorite moments of quarantine.

Mitchell Realizing that I wasn’t going to be able to go to the gym and was going to lose muscle mass was difficult. I had to re-strategize, so I’m doing a lot more cardio, and I’ve been focusing more on my nutrition. I’m in a different type of shape than I was before, and I had to get comfortable with that.

Griffith I was staying with a friend who had dumbbells, and that was really nice. We made a ladder out of tape in the hallway for agility drills. I also did a lot of awkward workouts right outside my front door. You know how people were doing those car processionals for birthdays? One time I was in the middle of a workout and I swear, 50 cars drove by.

Mitchell We have group chat and we’re always sending each other the most random things or just complaining about classes. It’s a community that I always know I have. If anything, this experience reaffirms that this isn’t just a volleyball team. It’s like a family.

Griffith For fall, there’s no competition at all. We’re hoping to start working out at the end of September. It’s probably going to be working out socially distanced outside and playing in masks inside.

Mitchell Our coach, Sharon Dingman, met with the seniors individually and stressed that this isn’t hardcore practice—it’s more about enjoying the time together, especially for the seniors.

Griffith We have nine seniors, which is a crazy retention rate. Our coaches were super clear that if anyone didn’t want to play this fall, it isn’t a reflection on you or your commitment to the team. But right now, all of the seniors are still part of the team, except one person who can’t come back to campus. Even in this time when we’re probably not going to get to really play, all of the seniors want to be here.

Mitchell My senior year of high school I tore my ACL [anterior cruciate ligament] and missed the whole season, which was so heartbreaking. I didn’t think I was going to play competitively again. Going through that helped me recognize that volleyball will always be with me, all my life—I’ll always be able to play pickup games. Even if I’m done competitively, that doesn’t mean I’m done with it.

Griffith I think it’s a testament to how much we all like playing and like each other that it’s been six months and people are still working out and showing up to team meetings and just being really resilient. It makes me feel lucky to be a part of this particular team.Sherwin in high school. His first college season ended early due to COVID-19. (Photo courtesy Logan Sherwin, Class of 2023)