Pat Smurla ‘22 describes how the team has stayed connected with an uncertain future ahead
By: Jason Grant
On March 1st, 2020, the Muhlenberg men’s track and field team was in full stride, securing a 4th place finish in the first of two Centennial Conference Championship meets of the season, improving upon their 8th place finish at the end of 2019. Sam Morgan ‘22 won the 800 meters to take the gold, the first Mule to do so in the event since 2008. Jason Richwall ‘20, in his final season, took home the silver in the 3000 meters. Along with Ben Arehart’s ‘22 bronze in the high jump, the Mules looked poised for a big season, as did the women’s track team, who finished 5th. It was the first time since 2010 both teams finished in the top five since 2010. The second and final Centennial Conference meet of the season was slated to be May 1st, 2020, but by that time all students from Muhlenberg’s campus had been sent home, and the conference postponed all sports in the spring season.
The abrupt change brought about by the Coronavirus pandemic has spelled uncertainty for the future of many, including college athletes. Every Muhlenberg sports team is waiting to hear back from the Centennial Conference regarding their announcement on whether spring sports will be played. However, Muhlenberg announced on Wednesday, November 11th that students would be allowed back on campus for the spring 2021 semester. That is a promising sign for Muhlenberg teams, but nothing happens without the approval of the Centennial Conference.
Pat Smurla ‘22, who is now entering his third season with the Mules, admits that this fact is daunting to him and his teammates, “Having the season possibly canceled again is definitely hard for us for training purposes, since we are not sure when we are going to compete next,” Smurla said. But, he is still optimistic about the team’s dedication, “Staying connected with friends on the team is definitely important to me. Some ways that we have done this is by having weekly Zoom core sessions where we start off with core and then some people stay after to chat. I think that this is a fun way for us to stay connected as a team.”
Although Smurla sees the core sessions over Zoom as a useful tool to maintain team chemistry, the attitude of the team seems clear. The group hopes to be back out there as soon as possible, and Smurla has some big goals both individually, and for his team. “If we have a spring season, I have some big goals in mind. Personally, I want to place in the top 5 for the 10k at conferences and crack the Muhlenberg top 10 list. As for the team, I think that it is realistic to do what we did last winter, which was a place as a top 4 team in the conference championship.”
The confidence displayed by Smurla indicates that the squad is poised to race back into winning form. The high hopes, though, must be met with some apprehension. “As of right now, we are hoping that there will be a spring season but we really are not sure what to expect,” said Smurla.
The NCAA has made it so that each athlete affected by the pandemic can opt in to an extra year of eligibility if they choose to do so, but for many, the time, funds, and overall logistics needed to pull that off are not possible. For some, it is not even an option they can consider. “I have not thought of exercising any extra years of eligibility, but I know some people have thought about it,” Smurla stated.
For now, the track team will continue with their weekly Zoom core sessions, and train on their own. Reuniting for practice in the Spring will certainly be something the Track team, and each Muhlenberg team, will look forward to. But given their form in the early stages of 2020, this team is clearly striving for more.