The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association unveiled Friday its sport-by-sport modifications for the Fall I season, scheduled to begin Sept. 18, after all changes were unanimously approved by the MIAA Task Force during Thursday’s subcommittee meeting.
Among the eight sports set to play this fall — cross country, field hockey, golf, gymnastics, soccer, swim and dive, volleyball, and dance — field hockey received the biggest modification with games reduced to 7 v. 7 play (from 11 v. 11), and penalty corners and “bullies” (faceoffs off non-goal restarts) banned. Players must be 5 yards away on free hits.
Walpole field hockey coach Jen Quinn believes playing on a full-sized field with seven team members all wearing masks will impose a physically demanding challenge for her players. Per EEA guidelines, all players, coaches, and officials must wear masks at all times in every sport except when spacing between players is greater than 10 feet.
“I think it’s definitely going to be challenging because seven aside is physically demanding,” Quinn said. “That’s a lot of space to cover and it takes a lot of skill out of the game and brings it down to who’s more athletic. When you couple that with having to wear a mask on your face it’s going to be hard.”
Quinn also addressed the difficulty she and other coaches will face this fall as they manage playing time with four fewer players than normal allowed on the field at once.
“I have a lot of kids and I want to play as many as I can and get as many kids on the field as I can” Quinn said. “With all that being said, I understand this is a crazy situation and everybody’s just doing the best they can. I get all that but I’d be lying if I said this is going to be a piece of cake.”
Meanwhile in boys’ and girls’ soccer, games will still be played 11 v. 11, but intentional heading, intentional body contact, and slide tackling are violations and will result in an indirect free kick for the opposition. There also will be no throw-ins and the use of a traditional defensive “wall” is not allowed. Games also will be played in quarters instead of halves.
Watertown boys’ soccer coach Frank Cacia said his team played in a summer league under these guidelines with other North Shore teams, and that player feedback was all over the place. Cacia said some players told him it was not realistic to keep a mask on throughout the entire game. Heading, however, was allowed during the summer league, and Cacia said no heading will be news his players won’t like to hear.
“It is what it is,” Cacia said. “The MIAA definitely did their homework and tried everything to be able to get us out there and this was going to be the only way. The players understood it wouldn’t look the same, it was just the matter of how different. As far as the mental aspect of things, the biggest part is getting out there and competing.”
Volleyball’s modifications require all equipment to be sanitized and for a clean ball to be issued after each rally. All girls’ volleyball teams in Districts 2 and 3 (Central Mass.) have decided to postpone their seasons to the Fall II period. The Northeastern Conference, Hockomock League, and Dual County League have also chosen to play volleyball during Fall II, while the Middlesex League and Bay State Conference will meet next week to decide their plan.
Cross country, golf, gymnastics, swim and dive, and dance did not receive any modifications for the style of play or competition, but must adhere to all social distancing and sanitation guidelines.
Now that the MIAA modifications are officially released, leagues will begin to finalize decisions on how they will conduct the fall season in the coming weeks. Both Quinn and Cacia emphasized that they want to get their kids out on the field during Fall I, instead of waiting in uncertainty for the Fall II season.
“My whole thing with the waiting thing is it’s such an unpredictable virus and I want to get out there now,” Cacia said. “We don’t want to wait because we don’t know what the future holds. Let’s get out there and socially distance and continue to build relationships and do the things student athletes need.”