Winter sports navigate through new COVID-19 variant

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Webster Athletic Director Scott Kilgallon said the Omicron has made things a little difficult for Webster athletics as student athletes return from break.

Student athletes all over the country are now entering the fifth semester of a pandemic infused college experience. Since the first shut down in 2020, student athletes have faced cancellations of entire seasons and shortened seasons.

Now, with the introduction of the Omicron variant, athletes are forced to take a little more precaution while competing in winter sports and preparing for spring athletics. According to Webster Athletic Director Scott Kilgallon, the biggest problem with the Omicron variant was having all the student athletes come back from winter break.

“The Omicron variant has been a little trickier because we know it’s highly contagious,” Kilgallon said. “What we have noticed while tracking cases is that positive cases usually show up when students come back from break. So our strategy was to test all the teams that are currently competing when they came back, whether they were vaccinated or not, just to make sure that they aren’t carriers and to prevent spreading.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), viruses constantly change and mutate, which can result in different variants. Each new variant is placed under one of four categories by the CDC. These categories include variants being monitored, variants of interest, variants of concern and variants of high consequence. Placement of a variant is determined by how easily it spreads, how severe the symptoms are and how the variant responds to treatment.

Along with this, determining how well a vaccine protects against a variant helps place a new variant into a certain category.

The CDC placed Omicron under the variant of concern category. This is due to Omicron being more transmittable and more severe. On Jan. 18, when Webster students returned back to class, St. Louis County had over 18,000 positive COVID-19 cases. Dr. Brian Hainline, National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Chief Medical Officer, predicted the Omicron variant would die down by the end of January.

“[COVID-19] probably isn’t going to go away. It’s probably something we are just going to have to manage,” Hainline said during a NCAA conference meeting.

Despite the spike in cases, Kilgallon said he wants to stay cautiously optimistic.

“We are now seeing [cases] are starting to trend downwards,” Kilgallon said. “I hope it keeps going in this direction, but what I am cautious of is if another variant pops up. I am certainly encouraged by our results in testing our athletes but we still have to double down and keep our guard up because we don’t want a false sense of security here.”

On January 22, 2022, sophomore Bryce Woolridge attempts a 3-pointer at the home game against Principia. Photo by Vanessa Jones.

According to Webster’s athletic training and health services, since returning back to school, the athletic department has had two positive test results among student athletes. However, the men’s and women’s basketball teams canceled six games due to positive tests from either Webster’s team or the competing team. Along with those cancellations in basketball, a few indoor track athletes have missed competition due to positive test results.

Sophomore guard Bryce Woolridge described Omicron as something the team has had to adjust to this season. He said with the possibility of anyone getting COVID-19 at any time, they have had to be flexible and adjust to any changes.

“Last semester, we weren’t affected by [COVID-19] as much,” Woolridge said. “The past month really started to hit us. Everyone went home for break and people were coming back testing positive and forced to quarantine for ten days.”

Woolridge, however, isn’t concerned about the virus interfering with his season anymore since positive cases are starting to slow down.

Woolridge and the men’s basketball team are hoping to win the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SLIAC) conference tournament. He believes building up on team chemistry and getting adjusted to each other will help them get on track to win a conference championship.

According to Woolridge, this pandemic has taught him to take things one day at a time.

“Planning for the future honestly doesn’t do much because things change so rapidly these days,” Woolridge said. “I got COVID myself and it kind of just changed my whole season. I think personally, you just have to take it day by day.”

According to Woolridge, he was forced to sit in his dorm for ten days without touching a basketball or working when he tested positive for COVID-19. He said when he left quarantine, he was no longer in shape and had to work back to find his rhythm while in season.

Kilgallon said he has recognized how tough this time has been on the students and student athletes. He said he hopes more people recognize this and become more compassionate.

“One of my coaches was saying how frustrated they were, and we have to realize that everyone is frustrated,” Kilgallon said. “We just have to continue to protect our student athletes, each other and the community. We have to stay composed and we can get through this together. This is an extra burden on people and how they are feeling so just having more compassion and patience with each other is the biggest thing for me.”

 

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Sports Editor | + posts

Kaelin Triggs (he/him) is the sports editor for the Journal. He is a journalism major pursuing a career in sports writing. He also runs for Webster's track and cross country team, and he enjoys playing piano and hanging out with friends and family.