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Women’s soccer team prepares in quarantine to be the first returning athletes in the fall

Alena Talbot
Sports Writer 
[email protected]

Photo provided by UNCA athletics
UNC Asheville’s women’s soccer team celebrate Courtney McCluskey’s goal against Charleston Southern during last season’s Big South match.

UNC Asheville’s women’s soccer team continues to find ways to improve and train for their upcoming competitive fall season, according to Head Coach Clifton Bush.
“At the end of the day, women’s soccer, in general, is the first sport to report so I think we’re probably going to see the effects sooner than anybody else,” Bush said.
The team has 24 players with no senior players and therefore no players are leaving this semester, according to Bush.
“We don’t have anyone leaving the group. All of our leaders are staying and it’s a great opportunity for us, even in this climate to have a slight advantage over some other teams that are losing both quality and leadership in the transition,” Bush said.
According to NCAA and Big South regulations, coaches may only require two hours of soccer-related work per week during the pandemic.
“We have hard workers and that’s one of the best things you can have on a team. That’s something that’s going to push us forward. Everyone’s kind of at an impasse,” said Molly Dwyer, an assistant coach.
According to Dwyer, the team has strong chemistry and many players have willingly put in voluntary hours for practice. 
“Quarantine has been an adjustment for me as I am someone that loves to be around people. Online training has been a bit different than what I am used to, but I am glad that there is still a way I can continue to connect with my team,” said Courtney McCluskey, a redshirt freshman.
The team continues to meet virtually for study halls to keep up academics and social chemistry, according to Bush. 
“As a women’s team, the social aspect can’t be lost or left behind. These players are going to be far better on the field when they trust each other off the field and when they have those relationships built,” Bush said.
According to Dwyer, much of the success for the next season hinges on how much the women work to stay fit throughout the extended break.
“One of the hardest things for us is that everything is really accountability-based on the girls. It’s really about making sure that they’re working by themselves, getting fit because we don’t have the face to face interactions that we were hoping to have this spring,” Dwyer said.
According to Dwyer, she schedules team meetings, academics meetings and player position meetings to keep their athletes engaged.
“I owe a lot of staying in a routine to my coaches and teammates as they have all been sharing different ways we can be able to train and providing me with resources I can use without having the normal equipment,” McCluskey said.
While the team continues to meet online, the coaches are aware virtual meetings cannot replace face to face interaction, according to Dwyer.
“You’re always going to have the connections and service issues over the phone, there’s never a way to fully replace being in person and being with the team and creating that chemistry but the positive thing about coming back early in the fall is that we do get to be back with each other and the workouts that they have been doing themselves will be paying off,” Dwyer said.
Many of the players have shown exceptional competitiveness and commitment throughout the quarantine, according to Dwyer.
“We have a really good rising senior class who just wants to win right now. They’ve been through a lot the past three years and they do very well to push each other. I know the team has been working and talking about it in their own personal group chat and talk about it in our team meetings. This is a team that works hard and pushes each other because they just wanna win,” Dwyer said.
Trying to coach a team sport during a time of social distancing brings its own unique challenges, according to Bush.
“All teamship sports are going to suffer more than potentially individual sports where you can get out and do your workouts alone,” Bush said.
Many of their practices and lessons require multiple players to understand strategies, according to Bush.
“Soccer is such a tactically integrated sport, so everything we do is dependent on at least ten other people and oftentimes requires looking at opposition with another 11 people. So if you’re trying to plan for a game that has 21 variables and it’s just you, that does make it difficult,” Bush said.
One of the most difficult things about the quarantine is being unable to be with the players, according to Bush.
“I think we’re all at a point we maybe took from granted what your team means to you or what your teammates mean to you. I think the biggest thing that I and everybody else will be looking forward to is just getting back into an environment that we love,” Bush said.
According to Dwyer, the team and coaches are more excited than nervous for the impending fall season despite the circumstances.
“I’m just excited to be back. There’s always going to be an underlying bit of nerves just because soccer is our lives and we want to be successful, but with the positive place that we left it in the spring, there’s only going to be more success in the fall,” Dwyer said.
According to McCluskey, she looks forward to being back with her team in a competitive environment next semester.
“I miss seeing my teammates a lot. They are my best friends and a funny group to be around. Our entire team misses games. We are glad we got to play one of our spring games, but wish that we got to play more,” McCluskey said.

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