On March 13, 2020, the entire concept of athletics was shut down at The College of New Jersey, and there was no sign that it would return. Trust me, I looked everywhere.
A year later, I found myself back on the campus courts alongside my teammates and coaches, and for those few hours a day where our masks are tucked away in our tennis bags and new cans of balls are ready to be opened, everything is as we left it.
But not everything was as it seemed.
For so long, we dreamed of the day we’d receive an email blast from the College’s president announcing the return of athletics that when the email finally arrived, it was almost too good to be true. Now the uncertainty was no longer about whether or not we’d have a season, but whether or not we were prepared for one.
For starters, preseason gave us a run for our money. When I tell you that after the first round of conditioning my teammates and I were all lying on the courts in defeat because our muscles were giving out, I’m not exaggerating. It was as though we were on a beach off the coast of Bali, incapable of moving because we were so at peace and content with the summer sun and all of the sounds of the ocean just yards away from our lounge chairs;except that instead of that beautiful vacation, we were actually on the verge of immobility, unable to move because our muscles went on strike and our feet were on fire from the friction of the soles of our tennis shoes pressing into the steaming court.
I like to think that we all knew this would happen, though, because during the months of hoping that our season would return we were aware of how difficult it actually would be to return. Returning to tennis after a nine-month cool down period is a very difficult task, as is returning to other sports or active hobbies. It was no easy feat, but by the end of our preseason practices and workouts, we were comfortable with our hitting and were back into shape. The question now was if we were ready for the competition.
All tennis players know that practice and match play are two VERY different concepts. We can hit thousands of forehands crosscourt past the service line, overhead smash like there’s no tomorrow, and serve until our arms are numb, but come tournament time, we find ourselves in a whole different arena. This year was going to be especially interesting as matches weren’t finalized until the final hours, and not every school would have the luxury of competing.
Since freshman year, Coach Dicheck has always had a match schedule worked out before the first team practice. This year, though, he was unable to promise anything as there was always the chance matches could be postponed or even cancelled due to Covid cases. Some schools even had to shut down their programs for the remainder of the semester because of the high number of cases.
I’m not saying that at my school everything’s been peachy with Covid as we did have a few players get kicked off our team for putting themselves at risk of getting the virus and risking the rest of the team getting infected. I am saying that we’re doing our very best to limit exposure and be mindful. So while I had no idea who I was playing against until an hour before warmups began, I did know that I was back in shape, mentally prepared, and Covid-free for the match.
Our match play began the first week of March with a team we had never faced before. Another first for me was playing second singles.
Remember how I told you that not everything was as it seemed upon returning this spring? Well, it seemed as though my teammates came a little better prepared than me.
I wished and dreamed and hoped that our season would return so badly that I forgot to include somewhere for me to still be at first singles upon return. More importantly, I underestimated the physical, mental, and emotional demand of returning to such competition.
It might’ve taken me a few days to accept the fact that I would no longer be first singles -- okay, maybe it took me a few weeks to truly get over it -- but not once did I question whether or not my teammate deserved the first singles position, and never did I make her feel bad for my demotion.
It actually worked out for me to be second this year. While most of my athletic goals are unachievable now that Covid knocked out significant playing time for me, one thing that I can still achieve is joining the “100 Win Club.” Not only would I still be competing against the top players on the opposing team, but I have a stronger chance of winning against them.
By the way, this club comes with its very own banner that would be draped over the fence of the court alongside those who previously won 100 matches, just in case you were wondering what’s really at stake here.
So yes, I won’t be able to achieve everything I had my eye on since freshman year, and yes, I am no longer the first singles player on my team, but does that really mean my dream never came true?
I think it did.
Maybe I wasn’t prepared for everything that it demanded when it did come true, but I’m learning to love a different side of the sport. I didn’t quite realize how much I hoped for the season to return until I was hitting with my teammates, hanging out with them, and struggling through workouts with them. Not only did our wish come true and we’re back on the courts, but we got to fall in love with the sport all over again.
Part of wishing for something is realizing that it just might come true. Will you be prepared for when it does?
Liya Davidov is an undergraduate student-athlete at The College of New Jersey. She studies journalism and professional writing as well as creative writing, and will be graduating in December 2021, a semester early from the rest of her class. She plays first singles and doubles on the varsity women's tennis team, and was also named captain at the start of her sophomore year. Off court, she is a board member for multiple organizations on campus, and working two ongoing internships. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.