With many of its fall athletics programs pushed to spring because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Wisconsin-Superior has found a way to keep its athletes active without risking travel among colleges. It’s all part of what UWS has titled the Yellowjacket Super Series.
Instead of playing their usual conference opposition, the Yellowjackets have played intrasquad matches for many of their fall sports, including soccer, hockey, volleyball, baseball and softball.
The matches aren’t, however, just scrimmages, and instead feature detailed stats, defined teams and a variety of the usual game-day preparations. The matches see the Yellowjacket squads for each program split into two consistent teams, usually black, white, yellow — or Team Built Different and Team Earn It in the case of the men’s soccer team.
Jordyn O’Brien, junior captain of the UWS volleyball team, said the series has provided important opportunities and has impacted her leadership role and ability to maintain her athleticism.
“Being in a leadership role is always a challenge but under these circumstances it's even more difficult, trying to keep everyone accountable while also maintaining a positive and open team culture,” O’Brien said.
Furthermore, O'Brien said it's been an adjustment to get used to the safety protocols in place, such as wearing masks for practice and games, but everyone on the team understands the measures will allow them to play.
O’Brien also talked about how the officials who organized the contests paid attention to detail, which helped. The Yellowjacket Super Series includes a variety of normal aspects for a conference match, with iFAN and KUWS broadcasting matches, players wearing their jerseys and licensed referees overseeing the action.
“Having the super series allows us to feel like we have something to work towards and we aren’t just showing up to practice every day without a goal," she said.
UWS men’s soccer captain Scott Wilson said the pandemic and super series have provided student athletes with a new perspective.
“(This fall) has definitely changed what it's like being a student-athlete,” Wilson said. “There are so many protocols and guidelines that must be followed, and at times it is difficult with it not being like it was in previous years, but we know these guidelines are here for the safety of us and our teammates and our coaches so at the end of the day we can't complain. We're just extremely grateful, like I said, to be able to compete again.”
Wilson also expressed appreciation for the super series and the work that’s gone into it behind the scenes.
The question still remains regarding how collegiate sports will look following the end of fall, with winter and spring sports still on the horizon and some conferences pushing fall sports to spring.
Nick Bursik, UWS director of athletics, said the university is aware of the challenges ahead but is pursuing options to make conference seasons possible.
“At this time we are still working closely with the NCAA and our conference peers to explore ways in which to conduct our conference seasons,” he said. “We are optimistic we can build upon the NCAA’s Sport Science Institute requirements to safely do so.”
Several programs have completed most or all of their super series run at this point, with Team Yellow winning four of five games in volleyball, and the Black and White teams both taking home a win out of two games in women’s soccer. Team Built Different won four of five games in men’s soccer, while Team Black took three wins of four matches in softball.
Baseball played one game in its five-game series, a 10-9 win for Team Black, but had its second game suspended due to weather and have yet to finish the series.
The men’s and women’s hockey programs will begin their participation in the Yellowjacket Super Series on Nov. 24.