Mustangs are back: Athletics resume practice on campus as San Joaquin County moves to red tier

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Head men's track and field coach Les Anthony watches as athletes practice sprints at the Merv Smith Track Complex on Delta’s campus in Stockton, Calif. on April 1, 2021.

More than a year after the COVID-19 pandemic halted in-person training, Delta’s sports teams returned to campus for practice on March 29 in preparation for the Spring II season of the California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA).

The long anticipated return has filled coaches and players with optimism as they reunite with each other after months of uncertainty.

“Athletes are excited and so are coaches, we all need this for physical and mental health,” said men’s track and field head coach Les Anthony.

Track and field sprinters Jaxen North and Savannah Shadrick are excited to return to practice.

North is glad that he’s once again able to practice alongside other members of the track and field team.

“It feels great. I feel blessed to have the opportunity to practice with my teammates again,” said North.

Shadrick claims returning to campus with her teammates helps her regain motivation.

“It feels refreshing and exciting,” said Shadrick. “It’s hard to stay motivated when you’re training separately from your fellow teammates.”

Even though she would’ve preferred returning to prepare for a longer season of competition, Shadrick still wants to make the most out of this spring.

“I think it’s kind of sad that we’ll have to compete in a short season, but at least it’s better than nothing,” said Shadrick.

Although some sports teams won’t have the opportunity to compete this year after the athletics department opted out of the CCCAA Spring I season, returning to campus will help them stay in shape and keep their emotional wellness intact as they prepare for competition next fall.

Women’s soccer assistant coach Dominic Figueroa said the return gives the players and coaches a sense of relief despite the fact they won’t participate in competition this spring.

“It’s exciting, I feel optimistic about coming back,” said Figueroa. “Fitness is our focus right now. We won’t be playing any games until August, but practicing together on campus will keep our players fit and help them with their mental health.”

Despite not having a season, women’s soccer player Haley Molinari is grateful for the fact practice is transitioning back to campus after having to train remotely during the lockdown.

“I’m happy to come back and practice with the team, very thankful for getting back to something I love doing,” said Molinari.

The athletics department attempted a return to campus in November of 2020, but a spike in COVID-19 cases forced it to suspend its return plan.

The return plan for this spring is similar to what was laid out at the end of last year, and is limited in scope.

Practice consists of athletes training in different groups and in split sessions during the day with COVID-19 safety guidelines in place at all times.

“Pods of 10 people [athletes] per coach at different practice times,” said Anthony. “Six feet distancing whenever possible, no touching or sharing equipment and only one person in the bathroom at a time.”

To return to campus, athletes and coaches must be cleared through a process that involves COVID-19 preventive measures.

Once on campus, they must follow a check-in protocol.

“Before the athletes and coaches return, they’re tested ahead of time and must complete paperwork to be eligible to return to practice,” said Anthony. “The process requires us to park in a certain area, check in at a certain area and practice with the same group and coaches for the whole semester while limiting contact with others. Masks are highly recommended and mandatory for most of the practice.”

Sports medicine staff member Kevin Anderson is in charge of making sure the athletes have gotten tested and follow check-in procedures.

“When the student-athletes check in, we take their temperature and check for symptoms,” said Anderson. “We’re following county public health protocols and we’re even separating something as minor as pens used to check in for practice. If the athletes check in early, they can’t leave the parking lot until their coaches arrive.” 

Several student-athletes still need to be cleared and not all teams are practicing with a full squad.

“So far a fourth of our team has been cleared to practice on campus. We’ll have more of our athletes returning later on.” said Anthony.

While the athletics department has allowed all teams to return to campus for training, it’s still unknown when the Mustangs will engage in CCCAA competition.

The start date for the Spring II season is April 10, but Director of Athletics Tony Espinoza said Delta may have to hold out longer before its athletics program can begin competing.

“At this point we haven’t discussed competition and travel. If things continue to run smoothly, we hope to increase the number of days and hours we are working out on campus. A lot depends on how our return progresses. We should know more in the next two to three weeks,” said Espinoza.