More than 10 month after the CIAC became the nation’s first state governing body for high school sports to cancel its winter postseason tournaments, many teams returned to practice for the first time Tuesday.
The CIAC approved a winter plan that permitted practice as early as Tuesday. Games can begin as soon as Feb. 8.
Here’s a look at how some teams started their seasons:
“YOU SHOULD’VE SEEN SOME OF THE FACES”
New Canaan girls ice hockey coach Rich Bulan had his Rams on the ice at the Darien Ice House, and at one point paused to take in the scene.
“As careful as we have to be, and we’ve got to be diligent, it was like ‘Oh God, did I miss this’,’ Bulan said. “You should’ve seen some of the faces.”
Navigating rinks is an added challenge with COVID-19 protocols this season. Bulan said his players wore masks coming into the rink and the Darien Ice House had designated a large area in the front lobby for them to change.
Once dressed, players proceeded, one at a time, to locker rooms C and D, which are furthest from the front door, and left their bags in the hall. When they left the ice after practice, players changed in that area and then exited the rink via the side door next to the locker rooms.
With 19 returning players, Bulan decided to split up this week’s practices to limit the number of people at the rink. Tuesday was for juniors and sophomores who played junior varsity last year, Wednesday is for freshmen, and varsity players will practice later this week.
Social distancing is difficult in ice hockey, so Bulan said while he’ll likely carry up to 25 players on the varsity roster, fewer will be available for each game.
“The most I want to suit up for a game is 20,” Bulan said. “We’ll have six players on the ice at once, you can spread out the other 14 pretty good on the bench.”
“OVERALL IT WAS A GOOD DAY”
Xavier, which won the Class L indoor track state title in 2019, practiced outside at the school’s track facility. While indoor track teams were permitted to begin practice Tuesday, meets won’t be considered until March, and could include outdoor events, under the CIAC winter sports plan.
“There was a lot of positive energy today at the first day of practice,” Xavier indoor track coach Chris Stonier said. “The athletes were excited to come together as a group again. They all kept up with some activity coming into today, so they were all in good shape. One negative was the major disruption between seasons, it was specifically rough for newcomers on the team who were adjusting to the team procedures.
Stonier said COVID-19 protocols were followed to a tee, including social distancing prior to warmups and with all the athletes wearing masks. He added the majority of his athletes understand they have to be flexible, especially with meet competition on hold until at least March and maybe even competing outside.
“They are taking a long-term approach,” Stonier said. “Normally in an indoor season we would go right into meets and racing right away. But now the athletes are focused on the future and what might happen two or three months down the road.”
Stonier said Matt Conyers, the coach at Mercy with the girls indoor track team said he had a similar first day of practice as well.
“Overall, it was a good day,” Stonier said.
“YOU COULD FEEL THE ENERGY”
The feeling one gets when they walk into a hockey rink had a different feel on Tuesday.
“That cold air feel, for me personally as a coach, it felt good to be home,” Hand coach Brian Gonsalves said after his team’s first day back at the rink.
Teams across the state were allowed to hit the ice for the first time in preparation of the winter season.
Players wore masks on the ice and were separated into cohorts.
“We have 12 or so kids in one end (of the rink) and the others in the other end,” Darien coach Mac Budd said.
With more kids trying out than previous years, Budd said they had to get two separate ice times at the Stamford Twin Rinks. One for returning players, seniors and juniors and the second one for sophomores and freshman.
“We had more guys play on a fall team than we ever have,” Budd said. “Likely because there wasn’t a lot to do.”
For the Hand team, which takes a bus from the high school to the Northford Ice Pavilion, they wore masks and took every safety precaution, Gonsalves said.
While teams are just getting going, Gonsalves said the first day felt different than others.
“You could feel the energy, even on the bus ride,” he said. “It was getting a feel for everything, wearing masks on the ice, coaches wearing masks.
“But it still had that same feel of high school hockey.”
“IT WAS LIKE CHRISTMAS DAY”
The Immaculate boys basketball team last took the court during the South-West Conference tournament final against Kolbe Cathedral. The Mustangs have played in the SWC tournament final each of the last three seasons.
“Without question, it was like Christmas Day all over again for the kids to get back in the gym. Some of these kids hadn’t seen each other for a very long time,” Immaculate coach Nelson Mingachos said.
Mingachos, also the school’s athletic director, said girls basketball practice began on Tuesday, hockey will begin this week and the indoor track teams held practice outdoors Tuesday.
Two starters are back from last year’s team. Immaculate has not lost a league SWC game since Jan. 30, 2018.
The Mustangs will have to try to extend that streak while wearing masks, a mandate for all athletes who play moderate-risk winter sports.
“We did some conditioning and ball-work, nothing heavy. The kids seemed to go with the flow. There were no mask slippages tonight. We’ll see what happens when (practices) get more serious,” Mingachos said. “It was tough to scream out and communicate to kids with the mask on. I’ll have to scream a little louder to get my point across. Overall at Immaculate, everyone is happy to get back to a little normalcy rather than what we’ve been used to.”
“IT’S A BLESSING”
The first three days of practice for the West Haven boys basketball team will be conditioning only, no ball. Head coach Ty Sullivan said everyone needs to get back into both physical and mental shape, including the coaches.
He also provided the players with several mask breaks.
“It’s tough. I’m very vocal,” Sullivan said. “It’s going to be hard to play the way we like to play with masks. I’ll have to ease up a little on the guys, do what we can under the circumstances. It’s a blessing to be able to take the court again. Whatever we have to do within the guidelines, we will do the best we can.”
“GO OUT THERE AND ENJOY IT”
Wilton boys basketball coach Joel Geriak said his players have modified their goals a bit this season.
“The kids always come in and have their own goals, but this year honestly, the goal is let’s play as many games as we can and have fun,” Geriak said. “As we’ve learned this year, nothing’s guaranteed anymore, so just go out there and enjoy it.”
A few Wilton players play multiple sports and have already lost seasons, so being back together on the basketball court was a welcome feeling.
“They had their eyes lit up for the first time since the fall league,” Geriak said. “A lot of the kids play a couple of sports, so they didn’t have real football and they weren’t sure about lacrosse (this year) because it’s high risk, so they were happy to get on the court.
“Even though we didn’t do much today – we did conditioning and a couple of shooting drills – just the fact they had a basketball in their hand, they were definitely excited to be out there.”
— Rob Coloney (@robcoloney) January 19, 2021
“WE WANT TO BE HERE TOMORROW”
Coach Rob Coloney’s Ridgefield girls basketball team won 14 of its final 17 games last season, including the FCIAC championship against Staples with a memorable 50-46 double overtime victory.
Coloney said it was thrill for him to be back coaching, but that he couldn’t imagine how important it was for his players.
“They know that people are going to great measures to allow them to play and that there are teams not playing,” Coloney said.
Coloney said his players were in masks, with less socializing in downtime. The team is spaced out in chairs and players do not go into the locker room. Other than that is was mostly normal basketball stuff. Except, of course, for the masks.
“It will take some time to see which masks work best, but the girls get it and will do whatever they have to,” Coloney said. “Not only are we obeying by the rules, but we are taking them even further. We are sanitizing balls between drills and cleaning the gym in between the girls and boys practices. We are being very cautious because we want to be here tomorrow.”
Didn’t realize how much I missed the squeaking of shoes on a gym floor…
— Dane Street (@RidgefieldAD) January 19, 2021
MORE OF OUR FAVORITE FIRST DAY TWEETS
So happy to see our athletes back!! pic.twitter.com/Y5VP4qY0zb
— BrookfieldAthletics (@BHSBobcatSports) January 20, 2021
— Waterford Athletics (@lancer_sports1) January 19, 2021
Day 1 of pandemic 2021 practice in the books! Things went better than expected, girls were happy and worked hard. We’ll go 1 day at a time but a little sense of normalcy felt great! #ctgb #chargerpride
— AHS_Girls_Hoops (@hoopsahs1) January 20, 2021
— NF Athletics (@NFSports) January 20, 2021
— Shelton Athletics (@sheltongaelsAD) January 20, 2021
Was great seeing students back at school today & we are extremely thankful for an opportunity to get back to work tomorrow in the gym, pool, rink, hallways, & weight rm!! We can get through the season if we all follow the rules, together, in & out of school! #StaySafe #TitanPRIDE
— Sheehan Athletics (@MTSAthletics) January 20, 2021
It was great to see our winter student-athletes and coaches at all our virtual team meetings today. Look forward to getting going with in-person activities starting tomorrow. @LymanHallPRIDE @LHWOBMOB
— Lyman Hall Trojans (@LHHSAthletics) January 20, 2021
Senior goaltender @ryansolomon31 gives us a thumbs up to finish day one of tryouts. Felt good to be back on the ice with the boys, can’t wait to do it again tomorrow! #Xhockey#TraditionMatters pic.twitter.com/ETlTaDqejE
— Xavier Hockey (@Xavier_Hockey) January 19, 2021
— Hawks Girls Basketball (@wrhsgbball) January 19, 2021
And we’re back!! pic.twitter.com/megZt276TU
— Hopkins School Girls Basketball (@HopkinsGBBall) January 19, 2021
Winter season officially underway as our new girls basketball coach Angelica Ariola runs her 1st practice pic.twitter.com/6MM3D5kvHY
— CHS Athletic Office (@CHSRamPride) January 19, 2021
The day has come, we get our chance to practice and play. We will not take one day for granted! We will practice and prepare like its our last. Good luck to all #ctgb players and coaches, be safe and stay healthy and enjoy the ride. #Believe #StayHealthy #StaySafe #GoBears
— Granby Girls Basketball (@granbyhsgbb) January 19, 2021
She had to wait 343 days, but it took jr. captain Meg Croyle only 5 secs to notch our 1st small games goal of the season. @EastCatholicAD @GburyAthletics @SWHSBobcats @RHSRamsAD @CHSGHA @GameTimeCT @HNIBonline pic.twitter.com/SEw91fuyk1
— ETB Storm Girls Ice Hockey (@ETBStormhockey) January 20, 2021