Right now is when Chapman University athletes will finally get a chance to put that extra long, pandemic off-season’s work to the test.
Sports are back.
Senior baseball outfielder Hank Zeisler is glad they kept working, even if it was in the backyard.
“It was a pretty optimal situation,” Zeisler said. “We were all looking to keep playing and getting better, so we wanted to be ready for the upcoming season.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, Zeisler and his housemates on the baseball team — Mack Cheli, Cody Turner, Trevor Marrs and MLB draftees Nick Garcia and Joe Jimenez — created a training area in their backyard. It sported a batting cage, home plate and portable pitchers mound.
Now, all those skills they worked on in their training facility will have to translate onto the field as a spring sports season — which kicked off Feb. 26 with golf and will see six more sports get underway at the end of March — looms on the horizon.
“If we get to start when we’re thinking, we could get 25 games or so,” said Scott Laverty, head coach of Chapman’s baseball team. “It might just be us, Redlands and (California Lutheran from the SCIAC)… We could go out of conference and play local Division II and Division I schools if they’re following the same testing protocols as us.”
(This competition is limited to spring sports. Fall and winter sports — football, basketball, soccer and more — are limited to weekly, non-contact conditioning, where they will continue to stay in shape for the 2021 fall season).
While players aren’t accustomed to facing DI and DII talent, Brad Shimabuku, a junior center fielder, is excited at the challenge the defending World Series champions could face in the coming weeks.
“We are one of the top teams in DIII,” Shimabuku said. “It’s a good test to see where we stand against other colleges in the nation and see where we rank on a (division-less) scale.”
The comeback isn’t just limited to baseball. The first sport that got the green light to return to competition was Chapman’s golf team. They participated in their first tournament, the SCIAC #1 regional tournament, Feb. 26 to 28 at Olivas Golf Links in Ventura.
While waiting for his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, Ming Lao, the head coach of Chapman’s men’s and women’s golf team, reminisced over his team’s performance after their first tournament in nearly a year.
“For as rusty as we were and for some of the conditions, we did great,” Lao said. “It could’ve been better, but with the limited number of teams playing and how (much less) often we will be playing, I think we did well.”
Lao wasn’t the only one excited. Brooke Leet, a senior competing in her final season, was ecstatic at a shot to play her final rounds of college golf.
“It was the best feeling in the world,” Leet said regarding her return to the course. “Stepping onto the tee of the first hole and just taking it all in was surreal.”
Other spring sports returning to play include Chapman’s softball, women’s water polo, tennis and women’s lacrosse teams.
Erin Coogan, a senior left fielder on the softball team, is excited at a chance to take her final trips around the bases.
“As a senior, I’m really appreciative of the effort that is being made schoolwide to let us have a season,” Coogan said. “It’s awesome to have this opportunity to go out one last time and be with my teammates. I’m savoring the last year that I have here.”
While the softball team doesn’t have a solidified schedule for competition, they’re closing in on a 12-game slate starting at the end of March.
According to head coach Janet Lloyd, the softball team will face California Lutheran University and University of Redlands six times apiece, as they are the only two other teams in the SCIAC participating in the shortened season.
Similar to softball, the women’s water polo team received positive news Feb. 15 regarding their season. Head coach Eric Ploessel says since their sport requires more contact, it will be a little while before they can fully resume practice.
“We can’t do any contact for two weeks,” Ploessel said. “That puts us around March 15 when we can start doing contact… scrimmaging and having everybody be together. ”
No matter when, how, or at what capacity sports restart, athletes all across campus are elated to reunite with their teammates.
“Although it’s not a typical season, I’m very grateful and thankful that we are able to have anything this spring,” said Camille Chiang, a sophomore utility player on the women’s water polo team. “Being able to be in the water with our new freshmen and working out our team chemistry is very exciting.”