Inter-Ac Decides to Return to Fall Sports

After Malvern distinguished themselves by returning to play fall sports independently, the Inter-Ac has reversed their original postponement.

Chris Ayres, Sport's Editor

The return of fall sports began October 9th, when Malvern released a statement that fall sports would be played independently because the Inter-Ac had not decided to pursue a fall sports season at that point. 

“Since we started allowing teams to practice on September 14th, we’ve noticed that coaches and players have done a great job of following the social distance guidelines, and we felt strongly that we would be able to play in contests safely,” said Mr. Jim Stewart, Malvern’s Director of Athletics. “Giving spring athletes a full season was one of the reasons why we decided to give this a go when we did because it takes that 7 week box that we were looking at in the spring and puts it in the fall.”

However, on October 16th, just a week later, the Inter-Ac decided that fall sports would be played throughout the league.

“They continued discussion about getting started the week after we made our decision, and there were two or three discussions late that week,” Stewart stated. “Then the heads of school of the other Inter-Ac schools decided a week after us to give it a go.”

While the opening of Inter-Ac competition is positive news, Malvern unfortunately will not be allowed to participate in league competition because of the teams’ independent schedules.

“The Inter-Ac decided they want to form their own bubble and they don’t want Malvern to inhibit that bubble. They’ve decided not to schedule with us for fall sports, but if that changes, we’re happy to put anybody on our schedule,” said Stewart. “We’ll move a game that’s already scheduled with a non-league school and replace it with an Inter-Ac School. We’ve communicated that to them several times.”

Despite being unable to face off against Inter-Ac rivals, the coaches from each fall sport are glad to be able to compete against any opponent.

Soccer

“When it got to a point where the school was committed to knowing we would be safe, that we had a protocol in place to play, and we were going to have a season, we were thrilled,” said Coach Susan Barr, the head coach of Malvern’s varsity soccer team. “At that point we were really committed to getting 10 to 12 games, whether that was in the Inter-Ac, or if there were opportunities, going outside the Inter-Ac.”

Barr admitted there was some disappointment amongst the players that there wouldn’t be league competition, but that they are excited to face new opponents.

“We were feeling really good about the team. We had already demonstrated that we had something special this year and they were certainly sad to not be able to play against these known competitors in the Inter-Ac,” Barr stated. “Having said that that’s just something we have to move through and we are playing competitors that are very strong and forming new rivalries. We know we can really compete in everything we have between now and the end of the season is going to be a hard game. We are thrilled to be competing against these kinds of teams.”

The soccer team has been sure to follow all safety protocols put in place in order to make sure they follow the social distancing guidelines.

“We don’t have handshakes, we don’t have celebrations, we keep hand sanitizer available and when sitting on the bench players must be masked,” said Barr. “When they go in the game, the masks come off and then they can go in. When the game ends, we always sanitize, we don’t shake hands, and masks go back on as they leave the field.”

Coach Barr credited her players for their commitment to following the guidelines and staying safe both on and off the field.

“Every athlete signed a document that said they would commit to the protocols and part of that is that on weekends and downtime, they commit to not be in close social settings. We as coaches hold the student athletes to the document that they signed,” Barr stated. “Our team hasn’t had any cases and we feel really committed to our protocol so that we can get the rest of these games in.”

Being able to play a fall season, even though it is abbreviated, has made Coach Barr excited for the future of the program.

“We’re playing really well and I think that the guys are committed. The young guys are coming in and making an impact on the program and I also think that the JV team is a very well-connected group, as well as the freshman,” said Barr. “We’re hoping to add more games and hopefully all these players who have been training since June 1st will have a chance to compete.” 

Football

Coach Dave Gueriera, Malvern’s head varsity football coach and Associate Director of Admissions, expressed joy for his players after hearing the decision that Malvern would return to fall sports.

“I was thrilled for our guys. My heart has been going out to them since March when we started the lockdown. We were all uncertain about where this was going to go, so I was thrilled for them,” said Gueriera. “I know what it’s like to have a senior year and to have a full junior year and they’re some of the best times of my life, so my heart went out to those guys who didn’t get to play in the spring as well. I was thrilled when we decided to come back and never more proud to be a friar.”

Without an Inter-Ac schedule, Malvern’s football team has been trying to schedule as many games as possible.

“We don’t have any games against the Inter-Ac. I don’t know if that’s going to change in the future but as of right now we don’t have any games,” Gueriera stated. “For our out of league schedule, we have some confirmed games and a few others on the horizon that we are hopefully going to schedule.”

Despite the unfamiliar circumstances this football season, Coach Gueriera emphasised the importance of enjoying it.

“This is the craziest year in my 21 years of coaching. It’s going to be unpredictable this year and I think a lot of things are going to be tentative week-to-week, but I’m just excited to play,” said Gueriera. “I’m excited to have those guys go out and play and have fun. I want all Malvern guys to just feel normal and enjoy life again after a tough couple of months. I want to play some good football, to have fun, and compete together with the Brotherhood.”

No matter the outcome of their season, Gueriera believes his players have worked hard and earned a lot of respect.

“I’m really proud of how hard our guys have worked since March and April. We’ve had Zooms twice a week and done in-home challenges with lifting and our guys have stayed there for one another throughout this whole time,” Gueriera stated. “I’m proud of how they handled their pandemic offseason. I think they’re really ready to compete and have worked hard for this and I think they deserve a whole lot of credit even before our first game is played.”

Water Polo

For the water polo team, being able to compete brought excitement and a change in how practices were conducted, according to head coach Jay Schiller.

“We as a team were thrilled out of our minds because throughout the end of the summer and up until we got that news, we were just doing swimming. Our guys were in great swimming shape and we weren’t allowed to do any contact,” said Schiller. “We are following protocols and guys had their own ball and were doing individual ball drills and working on their leg strength. It was nice to flip the switch a little and play some real water polo.”

Coach Schiller felt that the work his players had put in during practice was part of why they were able to switch from training to competing so quickly.

Our guys were in pretty good shape coming in so I felt pretty strongly that we could go 100% when we got the word,” said Schiller. “In a normal situation we would have had water polo camp in August where we’d spend a lot of time getting them into shape and introducing base concepts.”

Without the Inter-Ac teams, water polo has had some difficulty finding teams to schedule games against.

“All of the public high schools are already into their seasons and have started their district playoffs. We have had difficulty getting those schools, so really the only school we have right now is LaSalle,” Schiller stated. “We’re searching high and low. We might have to go play some collegiate clubs and some other club teams later in the season.”

Coach Schiller said that he is happy for the seniors who get to compete, but is also excited for the younger guys as they prepare for the future of the program. 

“I’m most excited for the seniors. We have a great senior group but I’m also glad they have the opportunity to play during their senior year,” Schiller stated. “We have a good group of new kids and those guys excite me for the future of the program. This is the largest freshman class we’ve had in years. They’re young and they have a lot to learn but I’m very excited for the future.” 

Additionally, Coach Schiller expressed his gratitude to Malvern’s administrators for the chance to compete this fall. 

“I’m thankful to the administration of the school for this opportunity and for realizing the importance of athletics to a student-athlete, not just from a physical standpoint, but also from the mental standpoint,” said Schiller. “I feel confident that if we follow all the protocols and guidelines will be able to do this safely and have some fun at the same time.”

Golf

According to Coach Gary Duda, Malvern’s head varsity golf coach, playing matches against other teams is an unexpected, but welcome opportunity.

“I was really happy for our guys and all of our players on all the teams. Our guys couldn’t wait to be together as a team on the golf course so we were happy that we were able to finally play against other teams,” said Duda. “But to be quite honest, all of our guys were just grateful to be able to play and practice together. Being able to play an independent schedule feels like a bonus for us at this point.”

Coach Duda is glad his team is able to play at their normal courses even with the effects of the pandemic.

“We’re fortunate that we still have access to the courses that we’ve had in the past like Waynesboro and Applebrook. There’s other schools that haven’t gotten access to courses the way we have,” Duda stated. “So many members of courses went out and started playing golf more because you could follow the social distancing rules. We’ve been really lucky that we’re still able to get onto the courses that we have and to be able to play.”

The golf team plays out of league opponents every year, so they have been able to compete in matches even though they cannot face Inter-Ac teams.

“We won our first independent match against St. Joe’s Prep and began scheduling some of our usual out of League opponents,” said Duda. “We’re hoping to get anywhere from 5 to 6 non league matches. If we can do that I think it’s a homerun.”

 Coach Duda felt that golf playing golf in the Inter-Ac was possible, but understands the concerns of the other schools.

“I was hoping we would have more schools that would be onboard allowing us to play and Inter-Ac golf season,” Duda stated. “Unfortunately that wasn’t case and I understand both sides, but I feel like golf is a sport where you can successfully socially distance and follow the safety protocols and guidelines.”

Coach Duda appreciates the time and effort put into the return of fall sports by Malvern’s administration.

 “Our school and our administrators have done a great job listening to the coaches because the coaches all want to play and the coaches want our players to be able to compete and play,” said Duda. “The administration really listened to all the coaches and did as much as they possibly could to get our players back on their fields.”

Cross-Country

After 20 years of coaching cross-country at Malvern Prep, Coach Mike Koenig reflected on the transition to a new fall season and the factors that need to be considered during this pandemic.

“We have to balance 2 things, first being the safety of the team. Second is the idea that we really needed to return to some sense of normalcy in the form of fall sports. However, how far we can push those limits can sometimes be tricky. While we don’t necessarily need sports to live, as a coach, I am very biased to having the idea of playing again.”   

 Koenig explained some of the new responsibilities that come with being the head coach of the cross-country team during this situation. 

“One of the main responsibilities is enforcing all the safety protocols here at Malvern, and communicating with the families of the players about them,” said Koenig. “Everyone has a different theory on how to approach the season, but it is our job to make sure that the team and the families are on board with what we are doing.”

Koenig also explained his plans for the season and how he would approach training, meets, and the other components of the team.

“Training can be very tricky, particularly in this season, because coming into the season we were uncertain of what our goals were,” Koenig explained. “Usually our goals were built into the Inter-Ac and to States, but without them, it can be tough to focus training around these goals.” 

Even though it has been difficult to return to a sense of normalcy, Koenig was happy in being able to return to fall sports. 

“I feel great about it, and I am very thankful and proud of the school for making this decision and sticking with it. I think that it is great for the students to be able to have fall sports, even though it is not the season that we initially expected to have and wanted,’’ said Koenig. “Anything we do right now is water in a desert, and we are all aching to come back to competition.”

In addition to hosting games, meets, and matches, Malvern has been able to host fans at all of their home sporting events.

“It feels great having fans at games. We’ve had four sports on campus in cross-country, water polo, football, and soccer, and all of those programs have had home contests,” said Mr. Stewart. 

Mr. Stewart also added that the protocols for allowing fans changes from sport to sport.

“Cross-country is the easiest because it is outdoors and there is plenty of space to spread out,” said Stewart. “Water polo is different because it’s indoors so we try to maximize that space with parents. We gave each athlete on the team two wrist wristbands to give their parents priority. We just don’t have the space to add some students.”

While students are unable to attend the water polo games, they have been able to attend and show support at both soccer and football games.

“If it’s an event that’s during the week like soccer, I send an email out on the day of the game asking students to sign up so I can see how many want to come over. We’ve had as many as 15-20 guys come out to support the soccer guys for their home games,” Stewart stated. “Football is a little different because of the space capacity we have in the stands. We are able to allot for 50 students starting with seniors, and then the rest usually being juniors. We’re giving each athlete two wristbands that they can give to family members to come watch the game.”

All of the fans and players have had to follow the school’s safety protocols in order to play or attend games on campus.

“Family members have to fill out a health assessment form. If it’s a Saturday all of the students whether they’re on the team or coming to watch have to complete the Magnus Health assessment like a regular school day,” said Stewart. “The parents of players have to fill out a visitors health assessment so everyone is accounted for and everyone acknowledges that they’re healthy when coming to campus. They all have wristbands for check in at the ring road.”

With all of the unexpected changes and precautions that have come with trying to play sports during this pandemic, having fans on campus watching games feels like a victory for the school.

“It’s been quite an effort but I’m very grateful to Mrs. Frankenheimer, Mr. Harmatuk, Mr. Lestrange, our athletic trainers, Mrs. Malone, Mr. Algeo, and everyone who has been involved,” Stewart stated. “We spent countless hours trying to do this right and just watching games happen and actually having people here to watch them, we look at these things as huge successes right now.”