By Lana Sumner-Borema
While many Barry students are grateful for the switch back to in-person learning, Barry student-athletes are especially appreciative to be able to get back to their normal sports seasons. Although practices continued throughout the pandemic, team numbers shrank since some decided to take remote classes during the 2020-2021 school year. Now, whether on the field, on the court, or in the water, fall sports have made a welcome comeback.
This fall, in-season sports include men’s and women’s soccer and women’s volleyball. The head coaches for these sports gave The Buccaneer some insight on how their teams are doing and what they hope to accomplish in the first season back after COVID.
New to Barry, head coach Tafadzwa Ziyenge of women’s soccer said that the team is itching to compete. According to Ziyenge, he and the athletes are grateful to be back on the field.
“More than ever before, I am very aware and appreciative of how blessed I am to be able to step on the soccer field,” said Ziyenge. “Everything I took for granted I now am very thankful for.”
Women’s soccer began their season on a high note against Florida National University on Sept. 3, with a win of 5-0. The Bucs then went on to beat the Embry-Riddle Eagles on Oct. 2, which Coach Ziyenge considers to be a major success.
“[Embry-Riddle] are preseason favorites to win the conference,” said Ziyenge. [They are a] very well-coached team [with] a rich history of success.”
The wins continued on Oct. 30, when the Bucs beat Eckerd College 2-1.
While the players are excited to be on the field, Coach Ziyenge claims the players do it for the fans—that is, the more support they have, the greater the wins.
"A major reason why we love what we do is because of who we play in front of,” said Ziyenge. “We get our energy from the fans and they are our most important ally.”
Men’s soccer coach, Stephen McCrath, agrees with the importance of the fanbase. However, he feels that the environment in the stands has changed since the pandemic.
“Over the past number of years, including the year we won the national title, the fan upport has been [lower],” said McCrath. “There is less concern by the student body now to build awesome relationships.”
Still, McCrath notes that player relationships and morale have maintained their course. In fact, these connections earned men’s soccer impressive wins against Florida Tech and Embry-Riddle.
While the wins have been exciting, McCrath feels the team still needs to get used to playing again since returning from the pandemic. One thing the team needs to work on is limiting their hesitation, he said.
“[The guys] are very close as people and they are passionate to succeed together, but as a team that gets it done there needs to be no hesitations. We hesitate just often enough that we let other teams get away with [the win],” said McCrath.
At the end of the day, however, McCrath knows his team has what it takes to succeed this season.
Volleyball coach Steve Hendricks also predicts success, especially after eleven successful years coaching at Barry. By mid-October, the team was in the middle of the pack in Sunshine State Standings.
While the team is excited to be back on the court, there have been a few setbacks, including the loss of valuable senior, captain, and All-American middle blocker Anastasiia Samokhvalova who had to retire from the sport in her senior year.
Samokhvalova, playing as an MVP on Barry’s volleyball team since 2017, had to step down after leading her team through half of the fall 2021 season due to athletic injuries that intensified over the past few years.
Still, the team pushed through this hardship. By the end of October, they competed at the South Region Crossover Tournament in Winter Haven, Florida. At this tournament, Barry won three games against Valdosta State, Union University, and the University of Auburn, Montgomery.
These wins demonstrate the excitement of fall sports teams to get back to doing what they love. All coaches encourage Barry students to bring excitement to sporting events throughout the school year. While the pandemic kept the Barry community apart, players and coaches hope fan support will come back stronger than ever in this post-pandemic year.