Long Beach State spring sports are back on track to return to practice and competition on February 15 after the lengthy COVID-19 shutdowns. The Big West Conference announced two weeks ago that it would allow it’s 11 member schools to compete in the spring, but the Beach had to wait for Long Beach health officials to approve their plan.
“The real tipping point was reinforcing our testing protocols and cadence,” Long Beach State athletic director Andy Fee said. “Obviously we can’t guarantee anything, but we felt our data showed that we can keep people safe. Our student-athletes are safer under our activity than they are off in the city on their own.”
LBSU men’s and women’s basketball has been practicing and competing since November as a sort of test case to bring back other sports. The first positive test from a student-athlete on the basketball teams came last week after over 1,300 negative tests in almost four months.
Fee said all of the baseball, softball, men’s volleyball, women’s water polo, women’s tennis, beach volleyball, both track and field and both men’s golf teams will be tested for COVID-19 at least three times a week.
“There’s probably not too many schools out there that are doing more testing than we are,” Fee said. “We’re really grateful for the support from donors and others who have helped make that happen.”
Fee added that strong COVID-19 related fundraising has his department pretty confident they’ll have the funds to test rigorously, and that he could see a situation where some teams are tested more than three times a week due to travel.
University President Jane Close Conoley was on the Zoom call Monday to deliver the good news to the rest of the LBSU athletic department.
“On the Zoom call we had people cheering and air high-fiving everybody, but it’s a little surreal because it’s been so long that it’s almost weird to think about actually playing,” Fee said. “Obviously in the COVID world there will be some different things, but in terms of practicing and competing, I think we’ll get there pretty quickly.”
LBSU will continue to work with the city if and when positive tests happen, and spring sports could be forced to pause their season if there are cases on campus. That’s already happened twice to the men’s basketball team.
“We’ve worked through (a pause) with basketball and we’ll work though it with any other sports,” Fee said. “We will certainly remain committed to complying with the city and the county and the state. We’ve been able to build a good relationship in terms of working with the city.”
Because of the short timeline, most of the LBSU spring sports will use Big West action to fill the schedule. Usually there’s almost a month of practice for Beach squads prior to non-conference competition beginning.
“Honestly at this point we are focused on competing and trying to win the Big West championships as our path to the postseason,” Fee said.
Obviously, all 10 spring sports teams and more than 250 student-athletes are chomping at the bit to get back to competition as soon as possible. Dirtbags head coach Eric Valenzuela said his program will be ready to hit the ground running once they get the green light.
“If (the players) stayed to the plan we shared with them, we should be in outstanding shape when we come back,” Valenzuela said. “Everything is against us and we will still find a way to be successful.”
Valenzuela and his staff have been in constant contact with their players, and are using the obvious distractions as a learning opportunity.
“All of our guys want to play Major League Baseball and I tell them about that grind that is minor league baseball,” Valenzuela said. “This is exactly what minor league players do because they’re on their own until spring training. They’re finding catch partners and places to stay in shape. That’s why we usually have a lot of minor leaguers come out to Blair in the offseason because they’re trying to find anywhere to workout. So, our guys are getting a sneak peak.”
Of all the Big West baseball schools, LBSU and Cal State Northridge have been hampered most by COVID-19 restrictions within Los Angeles Country.
“We’re going to do things the right way,” Valenzuela said. “I’m sure there’s a lot of other programs that are doing things that they shouldn’t be when it comes to rules. We’re not doing that stuff. We’re going to go by the rules, and we’ll be rewarded for that.”
Valenzuela admitted he’s concerned his team won’t have enough time to hone in on the detail of communication during a game, but that he’s going to rely on his veteran returners.
“We have a very talented older group that we can count on to take charge and help the young guys,” Valenzuela said. “They’re setting a good example when it comes to our Zooms, asking questions and communicating. I think they’ve done a good job being safe as well.”
The Dirtbags are scheduled to start their season on March 19 at Hawaii, but there’s no way to predict what the rules of interstate travel will be in a month.
Fee said the next two weeks will be filled with a lot of activity including facility preparation, medical clearances, eligibility audits and NCAA compliance checks to make sure the LBSU teams can hit the ground running.
LBSU fall sports had their rescheduled seasons cancelled earlier this month, but are cleared to return for non-championship offseason practice and competition as early as April 1.
This week on the show we’re reporting some good news and talking to Long Beach Poly football coach Stephen Barbee about how he’s communicating with his players during these strange times. 01:00 We’ve got good news! 12:00 Interview with LB Poly Football Coach Stephen Barbee 25:00 Local 17-year-old professional soccer player 30:30 Green Schools Campaign […]