After 'unprecedented' pause, Navy coaches contemplate how to return to play
By BILL WAGNER | The Capital | Published: March 24, 2021
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Tribune News Service) — On Monday morning, Tim O'Donohue found himself working on a practice plan for the Navy men's soccer team. It was an exercise the fifth-year coach did not need to perform for almost a month.
Navy men's soccer had not been together as a team since beating Colgate in its season opener on Feb. 28. Later that day, Navy athletics announced the pause that lasted three weeks. Now O'Donohue isn't sure where to begin.
"It's unprecedented to have a 21-day break in the midst of a season," O'Donohue said. "It almost feels like the first day of preseason."
O'Donohue and his staff did what they could to keep players engaged during the restriction of movement order imposed at the Naval Academy ever since March 1. Midshipmen were permitted to spend a few hours per day doing exercise, and members of the soccer team were provided with strength and conditioning drills.
Every Saturday, the players were put through a timed three-mile run to determine whether they were maintaining fitness.
Players were also allowed to come individually to the Glenn Warner Soccer Facility to work on ball skills, which were monitored by the coaching staff from a distance. Starting goalie Ian Bramlett is roommates with starting defensive midfielder Toni Adewole, and thus was able to take some shots to keep sharp.
"I won't really know where we are until we get through practice today," O'Donohue said Monday morning. "We have to be really careful with the intensity of our practice sessions as we build the team back up."
Navy athletics announced a schedule adjustment Monday afternoon that moved a Wednesday home game against Bucknell to Saturday at 4 p.m.
Meanwhile, the Navy women's soccer game at Bucknell was also postponed and will be made up at a later date. That means the women's soccer team, which lost to Colgate in its season opener on Feb. 28, is not due to play again until March 27.
All Navy varsity teams are behind with regard to meeting the Patriot League mandate for minimum number of games. Navy soccer is part of a South Division along with American, Bucknell, Lehigh and Loyola Maryland.
O'Donohue said it's imperative to play those divisional games to have a shot at qualifying for the Patriot League Tournament. At present, those four schools are the only remaining opponents on the schedule.
"What I've told the players is that this is like group play at the World Cup. We need to find a way to advance out of the group," O'Donohue said.
Navy baseball was off to a 4-0 start when the pause went into effect. The Midshipmen swept a doubleheader against George Mason on Feb. 27 and have not taken the diamond together since.
"Our entire coaching staff is motivated to get these midshipmen athletes back on the field and get a season going for these guys. We want to see some smiles on their faces," veteran Navy baseball coach Paul Kostacopoulos said.
Wednesday's games versus Mount St. Mary's was postponed, and now Navy baseball will try to get ready to for a three-game series against Bucknell this weekend. The Midshipmen and Bison will play a doubleheader in Lewisburg on Saturday then meet again in a single game on Sunday in Annapolis.
Kostacopoulos conceded it would be "naive" to think the Midshipmen could reach peak competitive level with four days of practice after such a lengthy layoff. The 16th-year coach estimates it will take at least two weeks for that to happen.
Navy baseball had 13 games, six of which were against Patriot League opponents, either canceled or postponed during the pause. There are 23 conference contests still remaining on the schedule, plenty for the Midshipmen to meet the Patriot League minimum of 15.
Kostacopoulos was hopeful his squad could make up the six postponed Patriot League games and said mid-week nonconference contests against the likes of Coppin State and Towson may need to be sacrificed in order to do so.
"I still think we have an opportunity to make this a viable season," he said.
Navy hitters have not seen live pitching since Feb. 27, although they have been able to take batting practice in the cage at Bishop Stadium to stay sharp. Navy pitchers have tried to keep their arms in shape through various individual drills, but Kostacopoulos is concerned about their stamina.
"Where are the pitchers in terms of what they can do? We'll have to be careful with pitch counts until we figure that out," he said. "I'm sure it's going to take a few games for the hitters to get their timing back."
Starting with Monday afternoon's practice, the Navy coaching staff will demand players work at their own pace. "Each player has to be smart about how they approach this," Kostacopoulos said.
Football coach Ken Niumatalolo initially said Navy spring camp would begin as soon as the restriction of movement order was lifted. However, Niumatalolo has reconsidered that decision and will now conduct a few days of strength and conditioning before holding a practice.
"We will assess our conditioning level then move forward accordingly," he said.
Navy men's lacrosse was included in the schedule adjustments announced Monday. Instead of hosting Holy Cross on Saturday, the Midshipmen will now welcome Bucknell to Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on Sunday, as divisional games take precedence at this point.
Navy lacrosse will wind up having exactly one month between games, and second-year coach Joe Amplo acknowledged it will be a challenge getting his team ready for Sunday. Bucknell has played each of the past two weekends.
"My entire team received an invitation to Navy lacrosse camp that starts at 5 p.m.," Amplo said Monday afternoon. "It's back to the basics. We are going to start from ground zero and focus on the fundamentals."
Navy men's lacrosse has been forced to replace a May 1 nonconference contest versus Virginia with a makeup game against Lafayette.
Navy men's golf has yet to take the course this spring as two weekend tournaments were canceled because of the pause. Varsity golfers have not allowed to leave the Naval Academy grounds to cross the Severn River to practice at the Naval Academy Golf Club.
Longtime coach Pat Owen was looking forward to finally starting practice and planned to do so every day this week in advance of the Battle at Rum Pointe. He plans to bring two separate squads to the tournament in Ocean City that features 11 other schools.
Navy golfers were provided with what Owen termed as "jail cell" workouts that could be performed in their rooms at Bancroft Hall. Those mostly involved flexibility and isometric exercises.
Practice this week will initially focus on ball striking at the driving range along with chipping and putting at the practice facility designed for those skills. Owen will put the players on the course Thursday and Friday to get acclimated to competition.
"I'm taking the positive approach and telling them it's like riding a bike. You've been playing golf your whole life, so you'll pick right back up," he said.
Navy picked up a competition when Owen was asked to oversee a 12-team tournament at Rolling Green Golf Club in Springfield, Pa.