At this point, the COVID-19 pandemic has seemingly impacted everyone — and the Arizona Wildcats are no exception.
On Thursday, Oct.15, Arizona baseball held a press conference, allowing head coach Jay Johnson and a few of his players to discuss the upcoming season and the first week of fall baseball with the media.
A hot topic discussed was how COVID-19 guidelines will affect this season’s baseball. The team had been working in small groups for the past seven weeks and were finally able to begin team practices this past weekend.
“For the first time, it feels a little bit like normal,” Johnson said.
The Wildcats had lost three to four months of game opportunity in the 2020 season, forcing them to focus on basic fundamentals when returning. However, in terms of practices, everything looks relatively the same other than following basic guidelines like wearing masks and social distancing.
Outfielder Donta' Williams says the Wildcats have not missed a beat on what needs to be done on the field. Players are receiving COVID-19 testing twice a week every Monday and Thursday to ensure the safety of the team.
Johnson is hopeful in moving forward with the regular season schedule. With baseball being a sport with natural social distancing, it seems as though it will be easier to press forward as a typical season with obvious precautions to help stop the spread of the virus. However, Johnson along with the rest of the team are prepared for things to change at any moment.
As for the Wildcats’ roster, the finalized version will not be available until game one of the season. This year, the roster has no limitation in size.
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Johnson explains the current recruiting cycle as a learning experience. With Arizona’s careful selection of players, they have had to make tough cuts that may not have been made in previous seasons since they were unable to see the players play. With a solid foundation of talented freshmen and some returning players for their extended one year of eligibility, Johnson said that there is a lot to be excited about.
“I just want to be very sure about the guys we bring in.” Johnson goes on to explain, “I think if there was ever a year, not for the coronavirus but to be disrupted in recruiting where it was maybe okay for us, it was this year. Because we had a great recruiting class of 2020.”
Johnson commented on some experienced players that he believes are going to be a great asset in terms of leadership.
“As a coach who appreciates experience and appreciates leadership, it is very valuable to have Donta' (Williams), Vince (Vannelle), those guys in the fold. We are working continually with them on how to be a good leader. It’s a skill you have to learn. They’re doing a good job with that.”
With these older players stepping up as leaders, Arizona is eager to get the team where they need to be this season. Especially under current circumstances, it is important for the players to keep each other accountable.
Williams describes himself as leading by example versus being a vocal leader. Making connections with the younger players is expressed as an important aspect for this upcoming season. Vannelle shares the same thoughts.
“I want to leave my fingerprints all over this program,” Vannelle said. “Through all the hard work and all the extra hours that can be taught to the younger guys in how to do certain things that can really benefit other teammates.”
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