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Club Athletes Report Mixed Experiences with Return to In-Person Club Sports

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The return to in-person activities has drawn mixed reviews from Harvard club athletes, who report facing new team dynamics created by the pandemic and related safety protocols.

Club sports returned in fall 2021 as campus came back to life for the first time in nearly two years. But club athletes were greeted with markedly different Covid-19 policies than varsity competitors, who are not required to wear masks while competing.

Morgan K. Sokol ’24, a women’s club soccer captain, said there have been no major Covid-19 outbreaks this year, even as the team has traveled across the country for games.

“We didn’t really have any Covid issues in the fall, which was great,” Sokol said, adding that players were required to take tests before and after competing at away games.

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Cynthia Chen ’24, who joined the women’s club volleyball team this year, said an influx of new members following the virtual year helped her to feel more welcomed to the squad.

“A lot of us are new and there were not too many returning players, so I definitely think that it was an interesting opportunity to bond with everyone,” Chen said. “I honestly really liked the fact that there were so many new players on the team because [it] created a really welcoming environment.”

But Matthew Z. Mu ’22 and Maia J. Alberts ’23, the club swim team captains, said team bonding amid Covid-19 protocols has proven to be difficult.

“One of the biggest things that we love about club swim is that it’s so community-oriented and really inclusive,” Alberts said. “But it’s just harder during Covid, because what can we do to keep socials safe, keep our community safe at the same time?”

“There’s definitely a challenge of us knowing what old club swim traditions were prior to Covid and figuring out ways to adapt them to make them Covid safe and in line with the Harvard Club Sports policies, and still keep that essence of what the club sport is,” Mu added.

Mu and Alberts said club swim practices prior to Covid-19 were open to all members. But now, the group requires signups to meet Harvard’s pandemic-era pool capacity limits — two people per lane — and make sure members get equal opportunities to pool space and time.

Jaylen C. Wang ’22, captain of the men’s club tennis team, said scheduling practice spaces has been difficult because of a surge in interest after the return to in-person activities.

“There have been people who haven’t played in a while and got back onto campus and saw the opportunity and so I think even from that we’ve had a lot of demand,” Wang said. “Just from scheduling courts, it’s been a little difficult because the amount of people we’ve had coming out to practice. But that’s kind of a good problem to have.”

Still, Wang said that club tennis “feels really normal right now,” with consistent practices back in place and high underclassmen engagement.

Nia S. Warren ’24, a captain of the club dance team, said Covid-19 policies required the group to abide by club athletic rules for practices but follow different requirements when performing at varsity games.

At the beginning of the semester, as Covid-19 cases were surging due to the fast-spreading Omicron variant, club sports weren’t allowed to practice, Warren said — but the club dance team was still expected to perform at some varsity contests.

“We could go and support athletics — which like we like to do, it’s great — but we just didn’t get to practice before,” she said.

—Staff writer Justin Lee can be reached at justin.lee@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Jennifer L. Powley can be reached at jennifer.powley@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @JenniferlPowley.

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