Jilly Mehlman/Staff Photographer

As COVID-19 has upended the traditional routines that define college life at Yale and beyond, student-athletes on Yale’s varsity teams are finding new avenues to keep up camaraderie.

In July, the Ivy League announced the cancellation of all fall-semester competition. While Yale invited a majority of students back to campus, the University asked enrolling sophomores without extenuating circumstances to learn from home, leaving sophomore athletes with no real opportunity to train with their teams. In spite of the physical disadvantages COVID-19 has posed, Zoom has replaced several in-person events, allowing Bulldogs to stay connected with one another.

“Our team is scattered across the globe at this point, so a lot of our meetings have been via Zoom, and training varies from location to location,” said Patrick Frith ’21, the captain of the Yale men’s swimming and diving team. “Some of our teammates [who] are in countries that have COVID under control have been able to accelerate their return to the pool, but others are still quarantining at the moment. As for those of us in New Haven, we were all meeting via Zoom during our 14-day quarantine and have since been able to work out in small groups while socially distant and masked.”

Members of the men’s swim and dive team “can’t wait to get back to it soon,” Frith said, but have been doing their part from home, training and staying in contact with teammates. Frith said the absence of a structured schedule has been difficult this fall, but he has found other ways to stay busy, including spending time preparing applications for law school.

Removing that structured schedule means that athletes spend less time together in practice, team lifts, film sessions and competitions. However, the lack of structured team activities means athletes have more free time on their hands to strengthen their off-the-field relationships. 

Yale women’s basketball captain and guard Ellen Margaret Andrews ’21, who is a former staffer at the News, said that members of her team have been able to keep in touch by living together off campus in New Haven.

“Five current members of our team live in a house together, so it’s been great getting to bond through conversation, eating meals together and watching shows,” she said. “For those that aren’t in New Haven, we stay connected by getting on FaceTime or Zoom calls regularly and just communicating throughout the day in our group chats.” 

Yale women’s basketball captan Ellen Margaret Andrews ’21 lives with four teammates off campus. (Photo: muscosportsphotos.com)

Women’s basketball forward Erin Hill ’22, who lives with Andrews, said she never really has to catch up with teammates since they are constantly together. Andrews added that veterans in the program are trying to generate excitement among younger players, who are entering Yale with the prospect of no winter season and without the Bulldogs’ normal preseason practice routines.

Some athletes, like Andrews, Frith and Hill, have been fortunate enough to return to New Haven, allowing them to be in the presence of their teammates. For most sophomores, however, their circumstances this fall have kept them separated from both teammates and classmates.

For Yale football defensive lineman Marcus Mauney ’23, the abrupt end to in-person activities last spring left a social gap that friends and teammates used to fill. Although he is one of the few sophomores living on campus this fall, most of his peers are away from the Elm City.

“I missed my teammates and friends that I’ve made on campus, and that feeling was reciprocated by many of them as well,” Mauney said. “It was a regular thing for many of us — teammates and friends — to get on a big Zoom call and play online games, talk about life and deepen our connections with each other. We also have various group chats that we text in at least once a day, so even though my teammates may seem distant, they’re always a call or text away.”

In addition to team and position meetings that occurred on Zoom, Mauney and his teammates often found themselves hopping on Zoom to simply chill out with friends. Mauney believes the pandemic has allowed him and others to “experience personal growth.” During quarantine, Mauney said that he learned more about his identity and his desire to be a better person through a summer course he took called “Men, Manhood and Masculinity.”

Although the Ivy League has not yet announced definitive plans for spring-semester athletics, some seniors may have lost their last shot at achieving an Ancient Eight championship due to the pandemic. But those like Yale men’s soccer captain and midfielder Mark Winhoffer ’21 want to keep the torch alive for the classes below him.

“Make the most out of the situation you have,” Winhoffer said. “I hope in these situations that the team stays motivated and while other schools are taking a break, we aren’t stagnated but propelling forward. 

“Being on a team applies to everyday life after college — you have to maintain hope within the squad, keep motivated and work to the best of your ability. It is sad that I won’t have a season and the younger guys don’t have a season, but I know it will make all of us stronger.”

There are 35 Yale varsity athletic teams.

Rehan Melwani | rehan.melwani@yale.edu 

Ben Scher | ben.scher@yale.edu