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Two Sports, One Season

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At this time of year, Sinclaire Infusino would usually be playing softball–without a mask.

“After one of us has a good play, all I want to do is run over and give her a high five,” says Sinclaire Infusino. “That’s what’s hardest of all, and it makes wearing a mask while sweating feel easy.”

Infusino is wearing a mask because she’s playing volleyball during a pandemic. But usually, at this time of year, the senior would be playing softball–without a mask. This year, she’s doing both at the same time: COVID-19 means that several Verona High School athletes, like Infusino, are playing one sport at an unusual time of year and trying to juggle two sports at once.

The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) had to postpone the volleyball season last fall because of state restrictions on indoor activities. It then made wrestling start later than usual, which means that the season-ending competitions like Regionals are happening now and not the end of February as they usually do. Volleyball was rescheduled to a March 18 start, which in years past would have been when softball players were breaking out their gloves. To safely introduce these athletes to their second sports season, the volleyball athletes have been practicing softball in a pod separate from the rest of the softball team until the volleyball season ends.

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“Scheduling is much different this year,” says Bob Merkler, Verona’s athletic director. “We have wrestling and volleyball taking place during a time when their seasons are usually long-over. “These are very hardworking, conscientious student-athletes who feel motivated to do their best in both sports.”

“The biggest thing for me is not having a break between the sports more than the overlaps,” says Infusino.

The major concern for these athletes on a revised pandemic schedule is of course, the pandemic. Coaches and athletes must take proper social distancing protocols to avoid a transmission of COVID-19 that could end two sports seasons if a crossover athlete were to become infected.

“In the general sense, we follow all the same rules everyone else follows anywhere: mask up, social distance, be mindful of each other,” Merkler says. “We take temperatures and complete COVID-19 screenings prior to each practice or game. Because of direct contact involved in wrestling, the assessments are done daily, and the other sports followed suit to keep everyone as safe as possible.” The wrestlers, some of whom also play lacrosse, were also focused on keeping their season going so that senior Dean Palmer could achieve his 100th career win, which he did on Friday, April 9.

“At first, I was worried I’d have to choose between the sports I play, but now I know that it is doable, and still fun, even with a different schedule,” says Megan Meehan, a senior volleyball and softball athlete. “Our coaches go easy on us the weeks we have overlap and everyone is still performing well.”

Meghan Meehan is glad she didn’t have to choose between sports.

Volleyball finished the regular season with a 10-2 record and are first in the county. The girls won the N2G1 quarterfinals on Thursday and will playin the semis on Saturday.

“It’s so exciting to see such great performance even during such a different time of year to play volleyball,” says Sara Bochicchio, a junior who also plays softball. “It’s added to my energy that I plan to take to softball, a silver lining of such a busy schedule that I normally wouldn’t have.”

While the athletes are happy to make up the lost time of their previous seasons and still play their spring sports, there are many changes that they had to adjust to quickly.

“We are just thankful that we can play both sports,” says Jessie Loudon, a senior. “We keep focusing on that and all the accomplishments so far, and it makes us smile even behind our masks.”

While Jessie Loudon waits to smile without a mask, she is key to volleyball’s defenses.

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