The return of “moderate risk” sports for the Merrimack Valley Conference will have to wait at least one more week.
The MVC announced on Thursday that it has postponed games for boys and girls soccer, field hockey and girls volleyball for one week and has changed the structure of cross country meets due to a spike in COVID-19 cases in several member cities. Methuen, Haverhill, North Andover and Lawrence were all designated as in the “red zone” this week due to the number of COVID cases.
Soccer, field hockey and volleyball were postponed because they are designated “moderate risk” sports by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association.
“It’s disappointing,” said North Andover field hockey coach Liz Day. “Obviously everyone’s safety is first and foremost. But my heart goes out to these athletes. They’ve already made so many sacrifices. Then, to be so close to playing games and have it pushed back really hurts. This took the wind out of our sails, but we will keep focusing on the positive.”
The MVC said in a press release that it plans to reassess the situation on Oct. 7, when the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) releases its weekly COVID-19 Public Health Report.
“We are definitely disappointed,” said Methuen girls volleyball coach Matt Twomey. “Our girls worked so hard in the offseason, and have been practicing six days a week. We had an intrasquad scrimmage with referees, and we felt like the girls were ready to play. To have the rug pulled out from under us really stinks.”
Most teams were scheduled to open their regular seasons by playing games this weekend.
“We understand the decisions are made to keep everyone safe,” said Andover field hockey coach Maureen Noone. “We’re obviously disappointed, but we will try to change practices to keep the girls motivated until we get a chance to play. With this group of players, I think we can adjust and make it a productive season.”
Added Haverhill athletic director Tom O’Brien in a press release: “The decision whether or not to continue with the fall sports season was a difficult one. ... I know how disappointing this will be to our student-athletes. They have worked extremely hard to prepare for the season and sports play such a huge role in their lives.”
The fall season is scheduled to run until Nov. 20, when the winter season is set to begin.
“I’m glad they decided to let the teams keep practicing,” said Andover boys soccer coach Jim Saalfrank. “I know everyone is proceeding with caution and following safety protocols. But we really hope the players can have some semblance of a season. If we have to wait for games, we’ll wait.”
If sports cannot resume this fall, they would be moved to “Spring II” which is scheduled to play from Feb. 22 to April 25. “High risk” sports football and cheer along with girls swimming have already been moved to that season. But some coaches are concerned about the challenges the season, between winter and spring, will bring.
“I’m not optimistic about ‘Fall II,’” said Twomey. “With the flu mixing with COVID, it would make things very difficult. I would rather get in a few games in the fall, so the kids can get some season.”
Golf and cross country — designated “low risk” sports — are being allowed to continue. But North Andover cross country coach Rick DelleChiaie said that, instead of running against the opposing teams, the schools will run separately on the same course.
“One school will send out its top 10 runners, then three minutes later the next school will send out its top 10,” said DelleChiaie. “The competition is being radically altered. We can compete, but you really aren’t competing because you’re just running against your teammates for times. It’s better than nothing, and we are counting our blessings, but it takes the competitive nature right out of things. It’s just not the same.”
One MVC school that will play its upcoming games, against non-league opponents, is Central Catholic.
“About a month ago we were informed by different communities that they could not play schools that were located in ‘red cities’ at that point and that affected the first three weeks of our schedule,” said Central athletic director Ernie DiFiore. “In an attempt to give our student-athletes the opportunity to play, we — with the understanding of our league partners — scheduled some non-conference games. We will be honoring those commitments that we made prior to this decision being handed down (by the MVC).”
Follow David Willis on Twitter: @DWillisET.