GOSHEN — It’s been a long time coming for Victor Newberg.

The second-year Goshen College men’s soccer coach can’t wait for the season to start this Saturday when his team takes on Lourdes University in Sylvania, Ohio. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

After a lot of uncertainty, if the season was going to be played due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Saturday will almost feel like Christmas morning for Maple Leaf athletes and coaches.

“It feels awesome; it feels so great,” Newberg said. “I’m so excited. The boys are excited. We can’t wait for (Saturday) to come. There were a lot of things up in the air whether we could play or not, and I’m just glad we can.”

While the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) has postponed all fall championships until the spring, it is allowing schools to still play its fall schedules if they choose to do so. The Crossroads League — which Goshen College competes in — is one of the leagues deciding to play. Even though most of GC’s contests will be against fellow conference foes, some like the soccer game against Lourdes will be non-conference affairs.

One sport not affected too much by the news is tennis. Its championships are in the spring already, so playing a fall season and waiting for spring championships isn’t out of the ordinary.

“The goal is to play hard in the fall and get some self-improvement, and then in the spring, we’ll kind of evaluate everyone’s health and see if we can make a run for nationals,” Goshen College men’s and women’s tennis coach Evan Atkinson said.

There have been many coronavirus-related restrictions for Maple Leaf athletes since returning to campus. Practices weren’t allowed to start until Aug. 15. Face masks must be worn by coaches at all times and by players coming and leaving from practice.

The game schedule has also been altered due to the pandemic. Soccer teams can only play 14 regular-season games as opposed to 18. The Crossroads League also split its 10 soccer teams into two, five-team divisions based on geography. Teams will play against their division teams twice and cross-division opponents once, creating a 13-game conference schedule.

Newberg said his team hasn’t even been able to scrimmage yet, making Saturday the first time his team will play two full, 45-minute halves of soccer.

“We don’t do anything for more than 10-15 minutes at a time (in practice), and then they break up,” Newberg said. “We just try to limit that contact, so it’s changed how we do things. The game is 45 minutes non-stop, and we can’t really do that in training. That’s been the biggest challenge: trying to adapt those training sessions.”

While in-person contact wasn’t allowed during the summer, teams were able to stay connected through online channels. Newberg credited his team for bonding together despite not being with each other.

“It was really nice because I think, in a traditional year, that might not have been done to quite the extent that it was,” said Newberg of the contact in the offseason. “We took extra pride and extra emphasis on staying in contact with everybody.”

A factor hurting Goshen College is the loss of international players. Newberg said he has four players stuck overseas that will be missing this season due to travel issues related to COVID-19.

The tennis team will also have a smaller roster this season.

“Two of our international students on the men’s side decided to stay; not come back in the country and do remote learning,” Atkinson said. “We have a smaller roster than we’re accustomed to. One of our women’s players decided to not come back for similar reasons due to the virus, and so we’re just doing our best under the circumstances.”

Tennis begins its season with a doubleheader against St. Francis and Huntington Saturday in Fort Wayne. They will be the first official Maple Leaf teams to play this fall, as the first match against St. Francis begins at 9:30 a.m.

“It’s fun; it’s going to be good,” Atkinson said. “I think everybody’s looking forward to it. We’ve been here since early August, so it’s kind of been a 20-day grind of practice before you can get into competition. So, I think we’re looking forward to it.”

Other start dates for Goshen College teams are women’s volleyball on Sept. 9, men’s and women’s cross country on Sept. 11 and women’s soccer on Sept. 16.

Austin Hough can be reached at austin.hough@goshennews.com or at 574-538-2360. Follow him on Twitter at @AustinHoughTGN.

Austin Hough can be reached at austin.hough@goshennews.com or at 574-538-2360. Follow him on Twitter at @AustinHoughTGN.

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