NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt bowling’s offseason program has officially begun amidst an abundance of safety precautions necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“At this point in time, we are just focused on managing today and tomorrow – things we can control – as we await SEC and NCAA decisions on the bigger picture,” Vanderbilt head coach John Williamson said. “Until we know if and when there will be a competitive fall schedule, no one can speak with any certainty.”
Bowling is by NCAA definition a winter sport and the NCAA recently announced that basketball, also a winter sport, would begin games Nov. 25. The NCAA has yet not announced if that date would pertain to other winter sports.
Williamson said the Commodores are easing back into the saddle since many on his team have not been able to play or practice for months due to the pandemic.
“During the off-season, the NCAA allows each individual a maximum of eight hours of activity per week,” Williamson said. “That can be no more than four hours of skill instruction and four more hours of conditioning and/or meetings. In our first sessions, we are just letting the girls throw some balls and get the kinks out.”
Before the first ball was thrown, there were COVID protocols. Masks are required at practice and everyone has their temperature taken before entering the Williams Student Recreation Center.
Sanitizers and cleaners are everywhere. All Vanderbilt undergraduate students are COVID tested once a week and student-athletes might be tested more often depending upon circumstances.
Williamson and associate head coach Josie Barnes have broken their nine-woman team into threesomes and those trios practice together.
“To limit the potential interaction, roommates are always paired together along with the same third person,” Williamson explained. “We spread out the best we can – roommates might be on lanes 1 and 2 with the third person on lane 4. The roommates also work out together as lifting partners.
“All of our department’s training table meals are to-go and they often eat together on the outdoor tables near the tennis center.”
Former Commodores have harrowing stories about the infamous Spare Test and Stadium Stairs Run in which the coaches established specific markers each individual must achieve before joining full-fledged practice sessions. With COVID-19 closing down bowling centers this summer, this fall’s expectations have been relaxed.
“Some of our kids haven’t thrown a ball in months so it would not make sense to expect them to have practiced over the summer,” Williamson reasons. “We are still doing the tests but we’re going to evaluate them differently.”
Williamson said forecasting a potential fall competitive schedule is virtually impossible.
“If winter sports are lumped into the same time line as basketball with a Nov. 25 start date, it would probably eliminate the fall NCAA season,” he says. “Right now there are just four tournaments tentatively planned in the country and perhaps about 20 schools that might be able to meet the COVID protocols if we did get the green light for a late October-early November start.
“But things are far too fluid to even mention the possibilities. We hope to learn specifics soon.”
Right now, the Commodores are just simply thankful to be back on the lanes.