After the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) announced the postponement of all 2020 fall sports Aug. 14, the future of those seasons was initially unknown. However, men’s and women’s soccer are now slated to begin their seasons in the coming weeks.
The start of the 2021 season will bring back MVC soccer for the first time in more than a year. It will also bring some adjustments as the outdoor-sport teams now adjust to playing in the Midwestern winter.
Senior defender Jenna Ross said the season will be a change from what her team is used to, but she’s glad to be back in action after the Ramblers’ last game Nov. 16, 2019 — about 14 months ago.
She said she feels blessed to be able to have a season amid the pandemic at all.
“I think we’re all just excited to get back into it,” Ross said. “Obviously [with] it being so cold we really don’t know what to expect and then with COVID we definitely don’t know what to expect.”
Loyola soccer teams are currently practicing in an indoor facility north of Rogers Park in Evanston instead of at their normal home of Loyola Soccer Park. Women’s soccer head coach Barry Bimbi said although the facility isn’t as large as their usual field, the team is able to practice as it normally would.
“It’s a good space,” Bimbi said. “It’s not full-field, outside air but it’s a good compromise for sure.”
Men’s soccer head coach Neil Jones said this facility is where his team usually trains at this time of year due to the cold weather, but now practice is happening much more frequently to prepare for the winter season ahead.
Bimbi and Jones both said their teams’ schedules will each include four home conference games, which will be played at another indoor facility in Rockford or back at Loyola Soccer Park, if weather permits.
The women’s team’s last two home games — the final two games of the regular season — are scheduled to be played at Loyola Soccer Park March 28 and April 3. The men’s team’s regular season schedule has yet to be released.
Loyola’s women’s soccer team will begin MVC play Feb. 28 with an away game at Missouri State University — a team Bimbi said will probably be training outside for the whole season, unlike the Ramblers.
“At that point … unless something weird happens in Chicago, we’re training inside,” he said. “[We’re] just trying to prepare the best we can for that trip.”
Although Loyola has the ability to practice and potentially play indoors, Bimbi said he thinks most other teams have probably been playing outside. He said coaches will be watching the temperatures before games and setting criteria for what constitutes as “too cold” to play outdoor games.
Bimbi said one of the benefits of practicing inside is not having to worry about inclement weather canceling practices, but players’ lungs may not be as adjusted to the outside environments they’ll be playing in.
“We kind of call them our ‘game lungs,’” Bimbi said. “It’s hard to replicate [outside air] when you’re inside. If the weather’s a little bit warmer or it’s a little bit colder, that’s a different feel on your lungs.”
Jones said by the time his team is expected to play at Loyola Soccer Park in March or April, the weather will be comparable to past November games and won’t be anything the team hasn’t faced before.
Jones said his team is planning to only play two non-conference games before heading into MVC play, a big difference from the nine non-conference games the team played in 2019. However, he said he feels prepared heading into the 2021 season considering the Ramblers have had more time to practice due to the postponed season.
“We probably had the most preparation we’ve ever had for these games because we got to train for the entire fall,” Jones said. “There’s a large development phase, usually the freshmen arrive [in the] middle of August and we’ve got a game at the end of August with conference play starting in September.”
Ross said she’s interested to see how her team adjusts to a reduction of non-conference games in its schedule and how players will adapt to MVC play after only one competition beforehand — a Feb. 14 matchup at Marquette University. In the 2019 season, the Ramblers played 13 non-conference games.
Bimbi said with all the changes and adjustments for this particular season, he and the team aren’t focusing on details too far ahead. He said he’s grateful for the group he has and the players’ mindset to compete at their best level no matter what.
“We really talked to the team and said, ‘Hey, one day at a time, one week at a time,’” Bimbi said. “In the times we’re living right now, we don’t know what tomorrow’s going to bring.”