When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the majority of the sports world in the spring, Texas A&M’s wrestling team was mostly unaffected, as it had already completed its 2019-2020 season.
This season has been a different story. Right now, the team is only conditioning twice a week, sophomore member Clay Morrison said, but is hoping to start competing soon. They just need to have their physical contact request approved by Rec Sports and then their preparation for next season will be allowed to begin.
“We are all hoping for January, [but] it all depends on what [the National Collegiate Wrestling Association] releases on what they are allowing,” Morrison said.
The team’s season, which usually starts in November and ends in March, is currently postponed until January at the earliest. The status of nationals is also currently “up in the air,” junior Vice President Sophie Stegenga said.
“We’re really hopeful for next semester, but that really depends on the state of the pandemic in College Station and what the Rec allows us to do,” Stegenga said.
Before the pandemic, the team was planning to attend tournaments in North Carolina and Oklahoma they hadn’t attended in the past, senior member Tyrae Carter said. Now they’re just looking to build a foundation for next fall.
“The thing is our membership is eager and people want to wrestle, so that’s why we’re waiting on this contact request,” Carter said.
To comply with CDC and Rec protocols, the team practices in cohorts and requires masks and social distancing. Cohorts usually have between three and four people, Morrision said, and the team is planning to use the same groups whenever they are allowed to start contact wrestling.
“[It’s] just to decrease the risk of spreading COVID[-19],” Morrison said.
Carter earned his second consecutive NCWA Championship and his second consecutive NCWA Most Outstanding Wrestler Award last season. However, he said the entire experience was crazy because the tournament took place right when the coronavirus pandemic began in the U.S.
“It’s a three-day tournament and every morning the board and coaches were having meetings over whether they were going to cancel the tournament,” Carter said. “Some teams ended up leaving because their schools were saying they had to come back immediately.”
COVID-19 has also forced the team to adjust how it recruits new members. Before the pandemic, they relied heavily on Rec-a-Palooza and MSC Open House, as well as refereeing at local tournaments in the Bryan-College Station area, Stegenga said. It has now transitioned to an online format, as the team now relies on social media, cell phones and email, Carter said.
“Now there’s that communication barrier, we’re seeing less people in person,” Carter said. “You’re not getting that face-to-face or one-on-one interaction that you would [get with] a potential incoming freshman as you would in a normal circumstance.”
The team wants to be able to have a season so they can continue the momentum they’ve built over the last couple of years, Carter said.
“Right now [COVID-19] kind of hasn’t [affected membership], but I think people are kind of playing that waiting game but eventually I feel like it will because people will get tired of waiting,” Carter said.
Stegenga said her main goal for now is to have an opportunity to compete, but she has bigger dreams for the team once the pandemic passes.
“My personal goal within the club is to make sure there is an established girls’ team or that there is a female presence within the club and that there are some underclassmen committed enough to go into the officer role,” Stegenga said.