By BILL WAGNERCAPITAL GAZETTE |SEP 12, 2020 AT 9:30 AM
In July, when the Patriot League announced it was canceling fall sports, Navy men’s soccer coach Tim O’Donohue remained confident he could piece together a quality schedule.
Navy, along with service academy rival Army West Point, was granted an exemption by the Patriot League to play games during the fall semester. That was important because varsity athletics helps fulfill the physical mission of a United States service academy.
As time went on, and more and more conferences elected not to participate in fall athletics, the ability for Navy soccer to rebuild its schedule became more difficult.
“There were not a lot of options out there. It’s just very limited in what we can do,” O’Donohue said
Navy began announcing schedules for its five Olympic fall sports on Friday. Men’s soccer will play two games against Atlantic Coast Conference schools, hosting Syracuse Sept. 25 then traveling to N.C. State Oct. 18.
“We’re real excited to play Syracuse and N.C. State. This is a chance to compete and see where we are as a team,” O’Donohue said. “We would not normally get Syracuse at home, so that is a great opportunity. We are fully focused on playing that game later this month.”
O’Donohue noted only 19 schools are playing Division I men’s soccer during the fall semester. Most of those come from the ACC, which has 11 men’s soccer programs. The Sun Belt Conference, consisting of just four programs, is also playing.
Navy, as an institution, made the decision to only play road games against schools within a 5-hour radius of its Annapolis campus. Not being allowed overnight trips meant road games against many ACC schools were not feasible.
“We’re not going to Clemson or Louisville for a day trip,” O’Donohue said. “Also, a lot of the ACC schools did not want to come here to the academy to play.”
Once conference play began in late September, none of the ACC schools were interested in holding a midweek game against a nonconference opponent.
Navy had discussions with Georgia Southern of the Sun Belt Conference about scheduling a neutral-site contest. That idea was ultimately nixed.
“You can’t even imagine how many games were in the mix at one point or another,” O’Donohue said.
Navy women’s soccer coach Carin Gabarra went through the same exercise of scheduling games then having to scrap them. She also had unfruitful discussions with numerous potential opponents.
On Friday, Navy women’s soccer announced a three-game fall schedule that features a home-and-home arrangement with Pittsburgh. The Midshipmen will host the Panthers Sept. 20 then travel to the Steel City on Oct. 11.
“It was a very long process because we had to put together a schedule and then weekly it changed. Every time we had something set, good news would come, then bad news would come,” Gabarra told The Capital on Friday. “So, it was a long process. We didn’t want to include the players and give them hope or feedback or something when we knew sometimes within an hour, a day, a week everything could change.”
Navy women’s soccer will also travel to Virginia Tech on Oct. 24. Both the Navy men’s and women’s teams will play “friendly” matches against archrival Army West Point. Gabarra was happy to finally be able to tell her players something concrete about this season.
“It was hard for the players to stay focused and not really know what was going to happen this fall, but we were positive and the players did what they did to come train every day and get better,” she said. “We’re extremely excited that we have games.”
Both Gabarra and O’Donohue were encouraged that it appears increasingly likely the Patriot League will conduct championship seasons for all fall sports during the spring semester. That likelihood is why Army and Navy did not feel the need to play an official contest this fall.
Dates and locations for the Army-Navy soccer “friendlies” were not announced Friday. The annual “Star” game between Army and Navy will be held during the spring semester.
O’Donohue said the NCAA is slated to meet next week to discuss the fate of fall sports. All the feedback he’s received points to a spring season.
“It’s looking very promising that our championship season will be in the spring,” said O’Donohue, adding Navy would play its usual slate of Patriot League games along with some nonconference contests if that winds up being the case.
O’Donohue noted the NCAA only allows 20 competitions per school year and is confident he can put together a 14- or 16-game schedule during the spring.
“Meanwhile, this is a great opportunity for us to train all fall. We’re not looking at it as a negative at all,” he said. “We get to play a couple games, get organized, get the plebes going. We’re looking to develop our team for the championship season in the spring.”
Gabarra shared similar sentiments, saying there are positives and negatives to what Navy women’s soccer is doing during the fall semester.
“Obviously the positive is there are a lot of teams in the country that aren’t together, that aren’t training, that aren’t back at school, that don’t have games, that don’t have practice,” she said. “We’re fortunate that our athletic department and our medical staff found a way to make that happen, so we’re thankful.”
On the other hand, Navy women’s soccer has now been training for almost a month without a clear plan for what it wanted to accomplish this fall.
“It’s mentally tough. The preseason is generally two weeks and you go hard then you get to play games and everybody starts to settle in and you have goals and ideas in mind that you want to get done that year,” she said. “It’s been over a month already and players have been coming to practice day in and day out ready and focused and working hard.
“It takes a real commitment and it takes a really mentally-tough person to want to be out there every day and to put in the work every day.”
Navy men’s and women’s cross country will each participate in two dual meets along with a service academy tri-meet.
Navy will welcome Pittsburgh for dual meets Oct. 2 with the women racing at 5 p.m. and the men to follow. Competition will be held on the cross country course that meanders through the Naval Academy Golf Club.
Two weeks later, on Saturday, Oct. 17, both teams will welcome archrival Army West Point to Annapolis with the 2020 cross country “Star” on the line. The Star Meet, which is part of the yearlong Army-Navy Star Series presented by USAA, will begin at 10 a.m. with the women’s competition. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, fans will not be allowed to attend either of Navy’s home meets in Annapolis.
The final contest for this fall season is a tri-meet among Army, Air Force and Navy on Friday, Nov. 6, at West Point.
“Every day we get together is a cherished gift, so we are making the most of each opportunity under the restrictive safety measures,” Navy men’s cross country coach Aaron Lanzel said. “Getting to the start line with a full team will be a triumph, but our runners won’t be content with that alone.”
Women’s cross country coach Kim Lewnes thanked athletic director Chet Gladchuk and the academy administration for being committed to “creating a safe environment for our student-athletes to compete.”
Lastly, Navy sprint football has scheduled two games against Army West Point. The Midshipmen and Black Knights will initially meet Oct. 4 in West Point. The “Star” will be on the line during the rematch Oct. 18 in Annapolis. Fans will not be allowed to attend either contest.
Sports editor Tim Schwartz contributed to this article.Bill WagnerCONTACT
Bill Wagner has worked for Capital Gazette Newspapers for 30 years. He served as beat writer for Navy athletics and general assignment sports reporter. He is also the sailing editor.