Ohio State’s fall sports coaches eye spring season despite challenges
Lori Walker-Hock has developed a theory during a soccer coaching life that has taken her across the country.
It involves I-70, the interstate highway stretching for more than 2,000 miles horizontally across the country, from Baltimore in the east to Cove Fort, Utah, in the west.
Walker-Hock grew up in Albany, New York (north of the highway), played collegiate soccer at North Carolina (south of I-70), began her college coaching career at Maryland (just south) and eventually made her way to Ohio State, in a city that straddles I-70.
It’s a life that has made her uniquely qualified to assess the Big Ten’s plan to move its canceled fall sports to the spring as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. And while she enjoys the thought of being able to coach her team, the realities of living here make it a hard possibility to realize.
“It’s a terrible plan,” she said. “I’ve always said you should not try to play soccer north of I-70 before April. You might get a beautiful day in March, and the next day it could be snowing sideways and blowing a gale. It will be a challenge.”
The weather is just one of myriad issues that will make playing a competitive spring season a challenge for Ohio State’s traditional fall sports teams.
Except for women’s volleyball, all of the other affected sports are played outdoors, which would put a strain on the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, the lone indoor facility at Ohio State large enough to host practices.
Most college fall sports do have the benefit of a spring session during normal conditions, so assembling teams at that time isn’t a foreign concept.
Last spring, the women’s volleyball team held five practices under first-year coach Jen Flynn Oldenberg before sports were shut down due to the pandemic. But holding real competition at that time of the year, rather than focusing on offseason skill development, would be an adjustment.
“It’s a different mentality because it’s our offseason,” field hockey coach Jarred Martin said. “That’s the next puzzle that people have to work through. There’s a lot of moving pieces with scheduling, weather, facilities.”
Each sport has its own scheduling conflicts. Khadevis Robinson, the coach of both the men’s and women’s cross country teams in the fall, is also an assistant track and field coach in the spring. Some of his runners compete on both teams.
“Maybe there is a way that it can be done. We’ve never thought about it because we’ve never had to,” he said. “You take (into account) the weather elements and all these things, but given how things are so different, who knows?
“Track and field and cross country, the dynamics are a little bit different than moving soccer and other sports to the spring.”
Then there are personnel issues that would need to be resolved. Not all seniors were planning on being in school come spring. Seven of Walker-Hock’s eight seniors will graduate in December.
OSU men’s soccer coach Brian Maisonneuve said his seven seniors are all at different stages in their lives, as well. Oldenberg has a fifth-year senior who will graduate in December.
Other challenges include the weather, of course. Walker-Hock said she’s concerned with the damage that would be done to the field at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium if multiple teams were playing games during a time of year before the grass even starts growing.
Oldenberg said her Big Ten counterparts have been working on plans and holding discussions on the best course of action for their sport.
“We want this,” she said. “I feel like all the coaches in the conference, everybody wants to play. It just wasn’t safe right now.
“There are too many unknowns, but in terms of a spring season, I think we’ll play whoever and whenever you let us play.”
There are lots of conversations to be had between now and then, but hope remains.
“I think we can make it work, I definitely do,” Maisonneuve said. “There’s a lot of unknowns there, but through the right type of leadership and communication, I think we can make it work — and I think we have the right leadership and communication to make it work.”