It certainly won’t be remembered as a typical spring for Pitt-Bradford women’s soccer head coach Melissa Graham.
With the outbreak of COVID-19, UPB canceled its spring seasons and practices as athletics across the world have screeched to a halt.
With that stoppage have come some major changes to the typical spring for both Graham’s team and the coach herself.
“Recruiting is huge this time of the year, and we would’ve started our spring season,” said Graham, who is entering her fourth season at the helm for UPB. “We would’ve been practicing and doing different team stuff. It’s less than a traditional fall season, but we still normally come together in the spring.”
Graham indicated the Panthers would have been practicing three times per week, and would have added in some team-building exercises, leadership sessions and meals.
To adjust to the situation, Graham’s team has utilized technology -- especially video conferencing through Zoom.
“Thankfully, we have technology and we still try to do these things, but it’ll just be different,” Graham said. “I think from the get-go, we’ve all been in contact. As soon as we learned about everything, I had a conference call with assistant coaches and captains to just make sure everybody is on the same page and following what they need to be doing.”
And that contact -- even if not in person right now -- has been important for the team. Graham says the stoppage has put a major strain on the players, and each of them is processing everything individually.
“My biggest thing is to make sure (the players) don’t have to process everything alone. Even though they’re secluded, they don’t need to feel alone,” Graham said. “I try to make sure they know that I’m still there for them, and that their teammates are there.”
With those tools in place, Graham hopes the team can “keep growing stronger” even through this unprecedented time.
That’ll be a challenge, as the players can’t work out together. Still, Graham wants her charges to remain in good condition for when things can restart.
“That’s something I’ve been trying to stress is we never take this huge gap of time off,” she said. “Over summers when (the players) go home, they have access to a gym, they can work out on a field and play on a club team. They can’t do that right now.”
To adjust, the Panthers have worked out through a free Nike app using in-home strength and conditioning routines.
“It’s about taking advantage of anything and everything we can, even if we can’t go to the gym,” Graham said. “It’ll definitely be different. I hope the girls come in fit, but we don’t even know what the next few months will look like.”
The coach has had a lot to process and figure out herself: spring is when Graham is traveling to find future members of her team.
But with high school tournaments and showcases postponed or canceled, she isn’t able to get out to evaluate and meet any prospects.
“This is one of the busier times in recruiting, at least at the Division 3 level,” Graham noted. “I’m still working to get final 2020 recruits and I’m working hard to get 2021 started. It’s a big overlap time. Within the next couple of weeks, there were tournaments every weekend and then weekday games were starting up, too.”
As for in-home visits, the UPB coach doesn’t tend to utilize them anyway, but would feel especially uncomfortable doing so during the pandemic.
Still, there are a couple silver linings for Graham.
The first is that other coaches are in the same situation, and so she’s not at a competitive disadvantage. The other is that she was mostly squared away with her 2020 recruiting class, and so this stoppage doesn’t put much of a strain on her.
However, it does put her behind for 2021, and will decrease her odds of finding under-the-radar recruits while she’s out and about.
“Fortunately, I have a good feel for 2021, so hopefully this summer, things will get back up and going and I can get out and see (prospects) then,” Graham said. “A big hit would be that usually if I go to these tournaments, I see or find players I had no idea about but they’re interested in Pitt-Bradford and reach out when they see I’m there. They’re good finds I would’ve not seen otherwise.”
Once play and recruiting can resume, they’ll blend into a hectic schedule for Graham.
The changes once again begin with finding prospects.
“Usually, over the summers, I can pick and choose what tournaments I want to go to,” Graham said, adding that she usually attended one tournament a weekend and stayed for its duration.
“Instead of one tournament a weekend, I’ll go to one Friday, then Saturday to another, and then Sunday to a different one,” she said. “It’ll probably end up being split.”
Additionally, it makes for an even busier fall season.
“Luckily, a lot of my 2021 (prospects), I’ve seen play, but (recruiting is) more than that. It’s getting out there to see them play and how they develop, and to build that relationship. It’s going to definitely be hard,” Graham said. “It’ll also carry over into the fall, which is already busy with the regular season. I’m always on the road during the fall, and I think that’s going to double because I’m still going to have to see the 2021s plus the 2022s.
“It’ll be a lot, but everybody is going to be in the same situation.”