Athletics returns for spring semester

Cory Sparks, Sports Editor

For the first time in 11 drawn-out months, UW Oshkosh held a Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) sporting event in the Kolf Sports Center when the wrestling team hosted a match on Feb. 2 with no spectators.

April Lee / Advance-Titan | The UWO men’s basketball team warms up for their Friday-night match against UW-Platteville. The men’s team won their second
match against Platteville 77-68, after losing 88-75 on Feb. 3. The women’s team similarly lost their first game against UWP 74-68, but
bounced back with a dominant performance, winning 81-64.

UWO’s wrestling team did one better than hosting the duel against UW-Platteville; they won by a 23-15 score despite having an unorthodox fall practice schedule.

“It was pretty incredible to finally see us on the mat and competing again,” UWO wrestling coach Efrain Ayala said. “It is difficult to continually practice without any sort of outlet like a competition.”

With the usage of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to combat COVID-19, along with the stunted positive test rate on campus, Oshkosh was able to resume their NCAA competition along with the rest of the WIAC.

According to UWO Police Chief Kurt Leibold, the campus’s positive percentage rate for the first full week back from winter break was 0.7%. He also said that regardless of the mask mandate changes at the state level, the UWO campus will maintain its current indoor mask requirement.

UWO’s men’s and women’s basketball teams played games on Feb. 3 and Feb. 5 for the first time since both the 2020 March Madness tournaments were suspended indefinitely due to the rising number of positive COVID-19 cases.

On Feb. 3, the men’s and women’s basketball teams lost by scores of 88-75 and 74-68 respectively against Platteville. Both teams would go on to even their records out at 1-1 on Feb. 5 when the men won 77-68 and the women won decisively 81-64.

UWO’s track and field and swim and dive teams both made their 2021 debuts on Feb. 6 at Kolf the Albee Hall and Pool facility.

The track and field team faced off against UW-La Crosse; the men won their first meet of the season 82-70, and the women lost their opener 57-87.

The swim and dive team faced off against UW-Stevens Point to wrap up the first full week of sports. The meet was unscored, but the event was seen as a valuable experience that can be used to track the team’s progress over time.

“Competition plays a real important role in our training,” UWO swim and dive coach Christopher Culp said. “We use many of the meets we compete in as a benchmark to see where we are at and what we need to continue to work on as a team and individually.”

With the WIAC voting to resume winter sports back on Dec. 12, UWO athletes suddenly had something that they haven’t had in over a year regarding their season: a clear purpose to practice. Since late March 2020, many teams were planning or practicing from a distance with tons of uncertainty regarding the possibility of competing against other schools again.

“Swimming is a sport that takes major commitment. We workout two times a day,” Culp said. “It is hard to maintain that level of commitment without knowing that you will have a chance to compete.”

The six weeks of preparation following the WIAC’s announcement no longer had that uncertainty, and there is a large sense of gratitude from UWO’s coaches knowing that they can watch their teams compete in meaningful matchups once again after what has been a frustrating year.

“There were many days I just wanted to hit control, alt, delete and reset for next season, but it was the team’s attitude that kept me focused,” Culp said. “The UWO swimming and diving team has never complained this year. They have clearly been challenged physically, mentally and emotionally and they have continued to strive for excellence.”
With a scoring event like the wrestling match, a lot of hard work went into pulling out a win after such a long period without competition. The practices, although sometimes unusual in comparison to pre-COVID times, came in handy for this team.

“I think the key to the win was endurance and preparation. Due to the changed procedures, many of our practices focused on cardiovascular [endurance],” Ayala said. “I could see this helped them tremendously during their matches. I also think the guys were just really ready to compete.”

Coaches were also very impressed by their teams’ abilities to roll with the punches during a year that has brought many surprises. Being able to adapt to the situation is something that has helped the teams grow a lot as athletes and people.
“They have done a stellar job in the pool and in the classroom during all this,” Culp said. “If anything, they have inspired me to push harder and adapt to this year.”
Some coaches have also noticed that the pandemic has pushed some athletes into a discovery of purpose. With the time frame of their next match being uncertain, many UWO athletes had to muster up their own organic motivation.

“The change in procedures and the way our season looks different this year has caused each athlete to really dig down and find out their ‘why’,” Ayala said. “The reason they are there day in and day out.”

With the virus still being a relevant every day topic, and with events running without spectators, there is still some ground to make before normalcy in sports can truly be achieved.

“This upcoming season will be interesting,” Culp said. “I hope we can go back to normal.”