Samuel Buzzas and CC Uche were putting on their soccer cleats for the first official practice of the preseason when one of their coaches told them something devastating but not entirely unexpected.
“As we were putting our cleats on, our coach walked over and was like ‘Hey guys. Don’t even worry about putting your cleats on. We’ve got to head into a Zoom meeting with Gene Smith,’” Buzzas said. “And we looked at each other and we were just like, ‘Welp, here it is.’”
Fifth-year senior defender Buzzas, like the other student-athletes at Ohio State, would receive the news that Ohio State and other Big Ten teams would not have a fall sports season. The postponement of the season to the spring, announced Aug. 11, has required the men’s soccer team to adjust its routine amidst uncertainty with spring personnel.
Third-year head coach Brian Maisonneuve said the news was made more difficult because of the team’s willingness to focus and work hard through an unusual offseason.
“You put everything into preparing for the fall, and then now we’re not playing in the fall,” Maisonneuve said. “And again, that’s emotional and that’s hard sometimes, but to be able to get refocused like the guys did and know that now we just have a couple more months to prepare.”
Senior midfielder Joe Ortiz, like Maisonneuve and Buzzas, was not shocked by the Big Ten’s decision but had confidence in the protocols Ohio State had put in place.
“For me personally, if they decided to go through with a fall season, I would’ve been more than happy, more than willing to go through with it because I was very confident with Ohio State’s protocols and their ability and their want to put the safety and best interest of the athletes first and foremost,” Ortiz said.
Since the decision to postpone, Ohio State has scaled back its student-athlete coronavirus testing from twice a week to once a week, Buzzas said.
The men’s soccer team has also moved back to a non-contact practice style, which focuses on technique and spaced-out possession drills, Ortiz said.
Although the change is a step back from playing competitive games, Buzzas said that it is good to still be around his teammates.
“It takes a lot of the fun out of soccer, but I can’t complain too much because I get to be out there with my teammates and always improving and stuff like that,” Buzzas said.
Leaning into the positives, Maisonneuve said the lengthened offseason will provide the team, which has nine newcomers, more time to come together and improve.
Maisonneuve was hired as the men’s soccer head coach in the summer of 2018. With his late arrival and the loss of a spring practice time in 2020 due to the pandemic, Maisonneuve has only had the spring of 2019 to focus on the development of his players.
“I mean, in order to get better we have to train, and it gives us more time to train and really come together, like I said both tactically, technically, in the locker room,” Maisonneuve said. “It just gives us more time to develop and grow.”
The team improved upon its one win in 2018 to win seven games in 2019.
Despite the 7-11-1 record in 2019, Ortiz sees the Buckeyes as a team with great potential. Ortiz, who transferred to Ohio State ahead of the 2019 season, was part of an Air Force team that went 17-5 and lost in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 16.
“That was a very talented team too,” Ortiz said. “They had a lot of grit and guts to them, but I don’t think that team compares to the team that we have coming into this season, and we’re going to be a scary team and a team that other teams in the Big Ten would not have wanted to play.”
Although Buzzas shares the optimism, he is still working out if he will be with the team in the spring. Maisonneuve said that there are several seniors who are on track to graduate at the end of the fall semester that need to make a decision on if they will be with the team for the spring season.
Buzzas said his decision will involve financial considerations as well as how he wants to use his undergraduate degree. Whichever conclusion he reaches, Buzzas said the decision to push the season back to the spring puts seniors in a difficult position.
“It brings up a little mental debate on whether or not you want to stay and potentially start graduate schools or leave and enter the workforce or if you have aspirations to try and play professionally, so I’m still dealing with that right now,” Buzzas said.
Adding to the possible options, the NCAA approved a waiver Friday for fall sports student-athletes to not use a year of eligibility in the 2020-21 school year, regardless if a player participates in a season or not.
This announcement leaves the door open for Ohio State student-athletes like Buzzas and Ortiz to play an additional soccer season in the fall of 2021.
Both Buzzas and Ortiz said the option to play an additional year was intriguing but that their decisions would be rooted in professional opportunities as well as financial considerations.
“I think definitely having that extra year of eligibility would entice me a little more to come back and get my graduate degree as compared to if it was the regular fall season, then trying to go and get professional contracts somewhere else would have obviously postponed me coming back for an extra year,” Ortiz said.
Although decisions will be made that will impact the team’s roster, the current focus of Ortiz is to improve and have the team grow closer.
“This gives us more time to get to know our incoming freshmen. To get to know our incoming transfers,” Ortiz said. “So at the same time, getting pushed back to spring is kinda a disappointment, but at the same time, you’ve got to look at it [with] as many positives as you possibly can.”