Athletics Team Practices Signal New COVID Protocol Phase

With a portable basketball hoop and an empty parking lot, the Dominican University of California women’s basketball team staged its first practice since March this week by separating student-athletes into groups -- or pods -- to conform with social distancing guidelines.

“I haven’t coached in six months,” said Penguins coach Tim LaKose, obviously cracking a smile beneath his mask. “I couldn’t sleep last night thinking about it.”

Dominican’s NCAA Division II athletics teams have started to resume practice outdoors, albeit with COVID-19 safety restrictions still in place. It is a welcomed sight to see the University’s physical campus opening and members of the campus community being able to fully access campus and utilize services, such as the Alemany Library and Caleruega Dining Hall.

“This is super exciting. It’s like ‘Finally!’ ” says Dominican Director of Athletics Amy Henkelman. “We are trying to find a good balance. We are taking all the precautions that we need.”

Dominican is following NCAA guidelines for testing by conducting baseline and surveillance COVID testing for all of its student-athletes on campus and in the local area.  The Penguins’ athletics training staff also conducted drive-by physicals outside the Conlan Center and team physician, Dr. David Goltz, volunteered his time to assist.

Earlier this month Penguins student-athletes were voluntarily meeting informally on campus outdoor facilities from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. They had to check in with an attendant at the main gate leading to the John F. Allen Athletics Complex, submit to a temperature check, and record their names and time of entrance in the event contact tracing was needed.

That procedure is still in place as Athletics moves into its next phrase. However, with this second phase, coaches are submitting practice plans that must meet COVID policies and acclimation back into sport requirements. A field monitor is walking around the athletics complex to observe new rules being followed.

In addition, coaches, who have resumed on-campus visits for student-athlete recruits, are separating student-athletes into groups – or pods – for practices. Rest time and breaks between drills are being instituted.

“It’s acclimation back into sports so they are starting out at 50 percent of what they typically would do because students have been off for so long,” Henkelman explains. “By Week Five, we should be back into our full swing of practices if we don’t have any setbacks.”

For now, each head coach is responsible for having each student-athlete complete and submit an attestation form before each practice. Coaches also administer temperature checks and organize sanitation stations.

“These student-athletes are used to structure. Getting into routines is always a positive thing, but again I understand there is some hesitation and some nervousness around the pandemic,” Henkelman says. “We will not require any student-athlete to participate. They do have the option of opting out.”

Henkelman is keenly aware of the challenges Athletics faces with the pandemic. She is one of 29 members of the NCAA Div. II Management Council, which reports and makes recommendations to the NCAA Div. II Presidents Council.

“I am so appreciative and thankful to all of our coaches, our administrators, our athletic trainers who have been phenomenal in helping with this process,” Henkelman says. “The University has been so supportive with the testing with the help of (Vice President for Advancement & Public Affairs; Campus COVID-19 Response Lead) Marly Norris, Nursing faculty Noreen Kimelman and Barbara McCamish, and the nursing students. That was huge. And the $1 million gift. Without that gift, we wouldn’t be able to do the (extensive) testing that we are doing or have been able to add the additional training room or the outdoor weight room space.”

The University has implemented some changes as outlined in the Penguin Prepared plan. Below is a list of what is available to the campus community:

  • Library: Open to students, faculty, and staff (reduced hours),
  • Bookstore: Open with significantly reduced hours.
  • Conlan Rec Center: Outdoor spaces open and accessible for recreation and fitness. Indoor facilities are currently closed, but may open with limited capacity in the coming weeks.
  • Campus Dining (Caleruega): Open with social distance dining restrictions.
  • Student Activities: All programming currently virtual/online.
  • Edgehill Mansion: Available for student lounge/study space (masks required).
  • Chapel/Mass: All services being offered via Zoom (no in-person gatherings)

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