SEARCY, Ark. – From cancelled seasons to modified practices, college coaches and athletes are trying to find ways to keep their team strong during the pandemic. Now, add international players to the mix.
Harding University has 12 athletes who call somewhere other than the United States home. Seven of those players were stuck in their home countries for almost ten months.
The Bisons are back in action and gearing up for the spring season. Head coach David Redding started getting his team back in the swing of things this fall, but not everyone made it back to the court.
“Just knowing that they weren’t here, it was tough,” Redding said. With COVID-19 travel restrictions, seven international players were stuck in their home countries.
“It’s like being away from your second family,” Sophomore Ashley Nilsson said.
Nilsson was the closest, more than 2,000 miles away in Alberta, Canada.
“I want to go play tennis, but the indoor facilities were closed. You can’t train outside because there’s like five feet of snow on the ground,” Nilsson said.
Not only did the student-athletes have to worry about staying in shape, but staying on top of their studies.
“To be eligible for the spring they had to pass their classes in the fall,” Redding said.
“Completing the whole semester online you’re kind of removed from everybody else. It’s really difficult,” Sophomore Rachel McCrae said.
McCrae is from England and was in constant communication with her coach and teammates to keep motivated while away.
“I feel like it’s a team effort to get through it,” McCrae said.
Starting mid fall, several countries started lifting their restrictions. Nilsson was the first to make it back to he states.
“As soon as I got my passport, I booked my flight that night,” Nilsson said.
For others, it was still up in the air until the wheels hit the ground.
“There were some players that their countries were getting ready to lock down again,” Redding said. “I come back to Harding like two weeks ago,” Sophomore Dani Ortiz said.
After ten months in Chile, Ortiz was the last to take the court for the Bison’s. “I am so happy to come back here again,” Ortiz said.
Although COVID had the advantage for ten months, these students can now get back to what they love.
“Just to have everybody here you can just see the energy and the excitement and the enthusiasm,” Redding said.
The Bisons will compete in their first tournament this weekend in Dallas.