Travel buses, testing and masks: DePaul athletics continues to adapt to Covid-19

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Marquette Athletics

DePaul’s volleyball team gets ready to face Marquette in its season opener

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced everyone to adjust in the last 11 months, including all college athletic departments around the country. DePaul’s golf team is part of those changes, as they have had to change how they travel to tournaments outside of Chicago.

In normal times, teams besides the men’s and women’s basketball programs would take commercial flights to road games. Now, teams are traveling by bus to limit exposure to outside people. 

In the case of the Blue Demons’ golf team, they traveled by bus all the way down to Florida for their first two tournaments in February.  

“They are not a huge team so it’s a little bit different,” said Sue Walsh, associate athletic director for sports medicine. “So, and the other thing is, they stayed there for two weeks and they rented a Vrbo. They kind of isolated when they first got there a little bit. It’s such a different sport than like soccer where you are all running around spitting at each other, basically. Its risk is pretty low, it’s probably our lowest-risk sport that we have.”

During the golf team’s two-week stay in Florida, they took Covid-19 tests multiple times. When the team returned to Chicago last week, DePaul tested them again to make sure nobody came back with the virus. The team had to quarantine until all the results returned, so they didn’t have access to the weight room or the ability to enter the Sullivan Athletic Center. 

The testing protocols have slightly changed at DePaul with more sports starting up their seasons in January and February. Men’s and women’s basketball still test three times a week, but the NCAA requires that low-risk sports — which are golf, cross country and tennis — test every other week, while intermediate-risk sports — which are volleyball, soccer and tennis — test once a week.

The NCAA is also allowing athletic departments to split up testing for intermediate testing, which allows programs to test 25 percent of the team one week and the other 75 percent the next week.

DePaul junior forward Darious Hall celebrates during the Blue Demons’ 77-58 win over Valparaiso on Saturday at Winturst Arena. (Alexa Sandler/The DePaulia)

 DePaul, however, has decided to test all the sports at least once a week, with men’s and women’s basketball remaining at three times, according to Walsh. 

“Our physicians wanted us to just do everyone because that’s safer, and it creates a bias when you start [testing] just 25 percent and you could miss people,” Walsh said. “Our physicians just basically made it a little more robust. We test everyone every week, all the olympic sports. Our facility is small and the student-athletes are around each other to a certain extent, although we limit access to different spaces so that we follow the capacity that space can handle with six-feet of social distancing.” 

If a student-athlete does test positive for Covid-19, then they now have to isolate themselves for 10 days compared to the previous 14 days. DePaul will still test them at least one or two more times to make sure it wasn’t a false positive.

For larger sports, like soccer and cross country, they have to go in groups of three or four to the weight room because only eight people are allowed in at one time. Both soccer teams are also currently practicing at an indoor facility off campus because of the winter conditions, and they will have to take multiple buses if the travel party exceeds 23 people.

Thankfully we have a big roster so we’ve been able to play a lot of big-number situations,” DePaul men’s soccer head coach Mark Plotkin said. “In the fall we got up to a lot of 8v8, 9v9 and a couple of times we got to play 11v11. So just putting them in those situations helps, and we have such a great group of older guys that have really just brought them in. It seems like these guys have been together forever already.”  

The volleyball team began its season on Friday and Saturday at Marquette and wore masks for the entire competition. Even though men’s and women’s basketball aren’t required to wear masks, volleyball and potentially both soccer teams will have to wear masks during games this season.

“So far, our team physician is trying to get all the teams to wear them except, like, golf, cross country and track because those are really low risk,” Walsh said. “But like men’s and women’s soccer and volleyball, they are masking and so that’s easy. I think as a conference right now they are not going to mandate that men’s and women’s soccer wear masks, so we will have to see what happens with that.”

The Big East also split up the conference into two different regions, Midwest and East, for sports like volleyball and soccer to limit travel. DePaul will only be playing Creighton, Xavier, Butler and Marquette in volleyball and men’s and women’s soccer this season. 

Walsh said that the city of Chicago has granted all the Chicago universities exemptions on the travel orders, which forces people coming from high-risk Covid-19 states to quarantine for 14 days. 

“There are some opponents that require, because of the state city they live in or the state, more testing,” Walsh said. “For instance, even Marquette, Milwaukee requires you to test three times in a week on non-consecutive days for any athletic events, not just men’s and women’s basketball. So, any of our teams that play them will have to go through that testing protocol.”

For the most part, only volleyball and softball use the courts at the Sullivan Athletic Center to practice, while men’s and women’s basketball do most of their practices and lifting at Wintrust Arena. Both soccer teams continue to practice off campus until the weather improves. 

I was a little bit scared there for a second we weren’t going to get a season, but [I’m] super grateful that the Big East was able to put it all together,” senior midfielder Tim Iscra said. “I know there’s certain conferences that still aren’t playing and even though we switched up our schedule a little bit, and split it in half, I’m glad that our conference was able to pivot and make it work for us, which is great.”