After a year of challenges, St. Mary’s athletics are set to return to normal



With 11 sports in one season, several home sports events scheduled each day, and preparations for the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, St. Mary’s Sporting Director Robert Coleman began to worry about burnout.

The Division II program has minimal staffing levels, which poses challenges for all areas of the department. A group of four sports coaches were responsible for taking care of the typical injuries while balancing out the evolving COVID-19 protocols.

“It was difficult. I can’t tell you it wasn’t,” Coleman said. “I’ve been doing this for 32 years and it’s been the toughest time I can remember.”

Despite the potential pitfalls, Coleman described the spring semester at St. Mary’s as “super fantastic.”

The Rattlers’ enrollment held strong, teams thrived in the field and COVID-19 cases were sparse, Coleman said. The outlook for 2021-22 is even clearer as staffing levels remain stable across the department despite financial hurdles and vaccinations.

“We ended this bad, crazy year really well,” said Coleman. “We made it through and hopefully we are moving towards the new normal. We are moving towards it. “

After St. Mary’s used last summer to draft protocols and schedule the spring game, St. Mary’s began training in September. As basketball teams headed for the clues in December, the rest of the sports were suspended from the Thanksgiving break until the beginning of the spring semester, with competition starting in late January or early February.

Coleman said spring turned out as well as we’d hoped. The women’s tennis team won the NCAA Division II South Central Regional and the women’s golf program won the NCAA Division II West Regional and finished third in the NCAA Division II Championships.

The schedules were deliberately reduced and the Rattlers navigated the calendar without losing any of the additional data due to COVID-19 outbreaks.

“Not only did we work on it, we were also aware of the mental challenges our students were going through with their families,” said Coleman. “We really had to be aware of these things.”

St. Mary’s also hosted six games in the first round and four games in the second round of the Division I basketball tournament, held entirely in San Antonio.

While the matchups at Bill Greehey Arena went smoothly, Coleman said the challenge was laying the groundwork in the months leading up to the event. Media coverage was coordinated with ESPN and the venue had to be reconfigured and re-signposted to meet NCAA clearance guidelines.

“It was really tough to set up, just to organize logistically,” said Coleman. “It was a lot. Burnout was certainly a problem there, and it is now. I hope people take this time to take a vacation and really recharge the battery. “

The program’s next focus is COVID-19 vaccination, Coleman said, estimating that 75 to 80 percent of the department has completed the process.

Coleman set a goal of vaccinating 85 percent of every team and found that some cadres are already fully vaccinated.

“Our athletic training staff strongly recommend it,” said Coleman. “We probably won’t do 100 percent, but we hope we can get 85 percent on each team.”

Coleman stepped into the 2020-21 season expecting a 10 percent reduction in the athletics budget, and he said the real number was steeper. With an expected multi-million dollar cut in the university’s overall budget last summer, layoffs, vacations and wage cuts became a reality across campus.

Still, Coleman said athletics had dodged significant changes. Some employees were given summer leave but returned for the entire academic year, Coleman said, and salaries cut earlier in the year were paid back in April and May.

Strong recruitment and retention kept the number of athletes in the department at normal levels, Coleman said, although some revenue was lost to less life on campus compared to a typical year.

Coleman said athletics fundraising has also declined nearly 50 percent, but not enough to affect St. Mary’s scholarship offerings in any sport.

“Financially, we’ve come out pretty well,” said Coleman. “We assume that it will go back to the pre-COVID numbers. … I don’t see we’re being circumcised the way we were recently. I think we’ll be back where we were and move on. “

St. Mary’s plans to test athletes for COVID-19 when they return to campus in the fall, Coleman said, but otherwise the protocols are expected to be lifted for those who have been vaccinated.

The athletics calendar is also expected to return to standard, with viewers allowed in regular capacity.

“We’re going to be playing full schedules and we’re going to have fall, winter and spring seasons,” said Coleman. “We’ll be 90 percent normal again.”

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Twitter: @Greg_Luca


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