Zika Derails Preseason Plans

Photo courtesy of Lizzy Mitchell

Members of the Girls’ Varsity Lacrosse Team go for a team hike during their preseason trip to Arizona.

For many students, Spring Break provides an opportunity to rest and relax after a grueling winter term, but for athletes, those two weeks often mean the sweat and blood of preseason training. This year, both the boys’ and girls’ lacrosse teams, as well as the baseball team, went on preseason trips, while the girls’ water polo team had a short preseason at Choate. However, unlike past years, no team went to Florida.

According to Ms. Sarah Boisvert, the Director of Global Studies and a member of the committee that decided to move the trips out of Florida. The move was made in early September because of concerns surrounding the Zika virus.  At first, the committee only strongly encouraged teams to avoid Florida, but after further investigation, it banned trips to the state altogether. 

While Zika raises major health concerns, it is harder to avoid than many other viruses because it is carried by a daytime biting mosquito. Ms. Boisvert said, “Thinking about that with sports trips, it is really hard to enforce lacrosse players running around on a field with long sleeves and long pants, and even though at that point it was fairly contained in Miami, it was really hard to know the predictions.”  At the time, Zika was much more prevalent in Florida, and many predictions had it spreading north out of Miami, compromising any preseason site in Florida.    

Once the decision was made, teams were left scrambling.  While three teams were able to relocate, the crew and tennis teams were forced to cancel their preseason trips this year.  Coach Pat Guelakis, head coach of the boys’ crew team, said the team was unable to find a new site because of both logistical issues and availability.  “We found out about the ban on Florida travel in September, and at that point it is very difficult to find a place to row out of” he said. He later mentioned that many sites were also eliminated because either they were too far to drive the equipment to, or it would have been too difficult to move the team around.

Availability was also a problem for the tennis team.  Coach Ned Gallagher said, “There was nothing that really fit in the window we had.  Either they couldn’t set up a program that would be good for our teams, or they could do it.”

For the teams that did travel, there were mixed reactions on the new sites.  Baseball moved to Atlanta hoping for warm weather but ended up playing in near freezing temperatures.  This caused a few game cancellations, but the team was still able to practice. Captain Jake MacKenzie ’17 said that while it was nice to start playing, the circumstances were not ideal.  On whether the team would like to return to Florida, MacKenzie said, “I think the move is going back to Florida for sure.  It’s definitely warmer, and everyone is just a little happier down there.”

Both lacrosse teams, though, had good experiences.  The boys’ team went to Alexandria, Virginia.  Captain Bobby Goggin ’17 said that while the weather cancelled some games, the team came together nicely.  Coach Mike Velez loved the trip. “We were able to work in some film review, some chalk-talk, and I think it just kept  the guys fresh,” he said. “We also had everybody come back relatively healthy, which isn’t always the case.” 

Coach Velez added that he was happy with how the team adapted when the weather did not cooperate, and that the off the field options in nearby Washington D.C. made the area exceptional for a preseason trip.  Coach Velez even said that he is strongly considering returning to the D.C area next year.

The Girls’ Lacrosse team was another team that was satisfied with their move.  They went to Arizona this year and came back raving about the trip.  Captain Claire Marshall ’17 said the trip was a great change from Florida, and commented on how much more “lacrosse-oriented” it was.

The team’s coach, Ms. Courtney Destefano, said, “Florida has been great, but it was definitely a spring break trip within a preseason trip because it was in a place near the beach and there was a little more downtime.”  She went on, “This spring break trip was just focused on the development of players, working on skills, and that kind of base knowledge of the game rather than a trip to go somewhere nice and sunny.”  She said she would love to go to Arizona again in the coming years.

Clearly, the decision to keep teams out of Florida this past March was met with mixed reviews. However, even for those teams that didn’t necessarily enjoy their experience, there is certainly silver lining in their alternate trip. For teams like Boys’ and Girls’ Lacrosse, they may have found their new preseason spot that will be utilized for years to come, whereas Baseball will enjoy returning to their warm and consistent weather in Florida next March. No matter which end of the spectrum the teams fell on, the Florida Ban was an experiment that may be utilized in coming years, and teams may be more willing to try new places for preseason training if places like Florida become unavailable again.

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