Andrew ElKadi ’23 (he/him), Sports Co-Editor
When the whistle blew on George Washington’s 4-1 victory over Davidson on April 10th, the most unusual season in Davidson men’s soccer history came to a close. “Everything was just so strange,” said Head Coach Mike Babst. As with all campus athletics since last March, COVID completely changed the fabric of the season. Most notably, the men’s soccer team competed entirely during the spring, a change from the usual fall schedule. “Everything just felt very new and different [this season],” Babst continued.
Athletics guidelines surrounding the pandemic were an added inconvenience. The team was not allowed to use the locker room throughout the fall as they trained, and training was limited to individual technical sessions at the outset of the fall semester. The college slowly lifted restrictions until the team was finally cleared for full contact. “It was like Christmas, it was so exciting. Everyone was happy. It was literally like bringing everyone’s joy back to the game,” recalled midfielder Jake Myers ‘22.
Early in the spring season, the team met a similar fate to many others on campus. “We went the entire fall and the beginning of spring with zero COVID positives. And then over a span of two weeks, we had a flare up […] eight positives and like 18 guys in quarantine for two weeks,” explained Myers. The result was the cancellation of five games in February, wiping out the opportunity for the team to gel and get into a rhythm prior to the beginning of conference play. In their first game back from the long pause, Davidson faced third-ranked Wake Forest, losing 1-0.
Myers reflected on the abrupt pause: “It’s hard whenever you come in in the spring, and you’re doing the fitness test, and you’re preparing for preseason. And then you have the preseason games, and you have your first regular season game. And then you just stop for three weeks. And then you hope to take on [a top-ranked team] in the country [like] Wake Forest and do well. So that three week dead period was definitely unfortunate. I wish it hadn’t happened.”
In order to limit travel this year, the Atlantic 10 conference was broken up into three pods consisting of 4-5 teams each. VCU, George Mason, and George Washington made up the rest of Davidson’s group. Following a traditional “group stage” format, Davidson faced each of these three opponents twice during their conference schedule. Coach Babst spoke on this unique format: “I don’t think anyone played more than two games going to conference, because every team in our pod dealt with [COVID] issues. So it was a little bit of like, unknowns going in to plan these teams the first time, and then […] getting ready the second time, you’re just more familiar with the team.”
A highlight of the season was Davidson’s 2-0 win on the road against rival VCU. “Historically, [VCU] is such a dominant team, and to beat them in that fashion was awesome,” said Myers.
The ‘Cats went into their season finale against GW with a 2-1-2 conference mark and would have reached the conference semifinals had they won that game.
The conclusion of the season also means that the Wildcats will be saying goodbye to their current group of seniors. “Our senior class was awesome. They’ve been leaders since the day I stepped on campus […] that entire class was everything that the program stands for. And we’re definitely gonna miss those guys,” said Myers. Coach Babst fondly remembered the impact that the departing class had on his team’s culture, “We’ve got some pretty big personalities in the senior class, and I think that they really just did a great job of bringing the team together.”
Myers is well aware of the big shoes that he and his class will need to fill next season, “My class, the junior class, definitely will need to step up next year. Figure out who’s gonna lead the way, and hopefully we can get an A10 Conference championship.”