Split seasons allow spring sports to flourish

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Kristin Leblanc (sophomore) and Ariana Granda (junior) go through drills at Bell Field at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Sept. 26, 2019. Dominic Massimino/The Occidental

While most spring sports reserve their competitive season for spring semester, softball and golf kick off their training as early as September. Although Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) competition does not officially start until January, both softball and golf partake in “split seasons.”

For four to five weeks between September and October, these teams practice, train and compete exactly as they would in the spring.

According to head golf coach William Morris, the length and intensity of the fall season provide an apt taste of what the athletes should expect during the spring season. During their fall season, the golf team typically has three to four competitions.

“It’s the best of all worlds: they get some competitive experience, but without a lot of pressure,” Morris said.

For both softball and golf, the fall competitions do not factor into SCIAC standing for the spring, according to Morris.

The NCAA sets strict guidelines for each Division III sport regarding allowed practice time during the preseason. According to NCAA rules, preseason contact is limited to minimize interference with the academic demands student-athletes face.

The split season for golf and softball affords the teams the opportunity to meet and train seriously in the fall while respecting their time for the remainder of their off-season, Morris said. One of the alluring aspects of participating in Division III athletics is that it allows for the integration of academic, athletic and social life, according to Morris.

“I’m an Oxy educator,” Morris said. “I believe wholeheartedly in things like studying abroad. Student-athletes should do what is best for their sports life and Oxy experience.”

For golf, the NCAA allows the team to have a 19-week-long season that can be divided up and used any way the team wants. This is so the NCAA can accommodate Division III schools that do not benefit from the sunny Southern California weather as Occidental does, according to Morris.

“The problem is that the majority of Division III schools in the country are on the East Coast and Midwest where the weather is very dicey,” Morris said. “Some of those kids are not able to get out until March, or even April. For most of the country, fall is their primary season, with the national championship still in May.”

Golf captain Nicole Henderson (senior) said the fall season commences around the same time school starts.

“When we come back in the fall, it’s a full month and a half, so you are just put right into it,” Henderson said. “The first practice is the same week we start school.”

Both Henderson and Morris said starting early in the fall allows ample time to prepare for the upcoming spring season as well as time for team bonding, especially for new members of the team.

“For our new players, first years and transfers, it gives them a chance to come in and start playing golf, meeting the other members of the team,” Morris said. “I want them to come in and feel like they’re a part of the Oxy golf family, get used to the team and understand how we run things.”

According to Henderson, one of the biggest transitions she recalled from her experience entering the team from high school was going from playing nine holes to an 18-hole match.

“The first year is definitely a big adjustment,” Henderson said. “To be a new college student and start a full practice schedule right away is hard, but as you go on it gets a lot easier. Now I am used to balancing everything.”

Softball outfielder Nyla Gatison (senior) said “Fall Ball” is intended to closely resemble spring training to better equip the team for the structure of the upcoming season.

“It’s just how we start our spring season,” Gatison said. “We practice four times a week, we have conditioning three times a week, cardio two times a week and certain positions also have added practice with other coaches, just like the spring.”

According to Gatison, starting early allows the team to bond from the start while also getting used to the coaches.

“Fall Ball allows you to get to know the coaches and know everyone on the field,” Gatison said. “It is also good to get the kinks of your schedule worked out because it is demanding, so it prepares you for how you want to plan your class schedule for the spring, how you balance your student-athlete life.”

Fall Ball training started Sept. 10 and will continue until Oct. 5, when they will play two games. Once Fall Ball is over, captains and senior leaders will host practices without coach supervision for the remainder of the fall semester.

“We are still getting acclimated to each other, but everyone’s friends and it seems like everyone’s having a great time,” Gatison said. “I’m looking forward to the season. The fall has been going great so far.”