Editor’s Note: Today is the first of a two-part series chronicling the return of Yuba College sports during the COVID-19 pandemic. Football will follow on Friday. If you’re a Yuba College coach making plans for sports amid a pandemic please reach out to Appeal Sports Editor Jeff Larson at jlarson@appealdemocrat.com

While it was tough to gauge who was smiling, everyone on the Yuba College women’s soccer team seemed to be in a good mood Tuesday as the team was back on the practice field. 

Head coach Cristina Baggio said through her facial covering that soccer was back and she was thrilled. 

“It’s great and I couldn’t ask for a better day,” Baggio said. “We definitely faced some challenges in coming back, but today is a great day and we’re very happy to be back.” 

In order to return to practice amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Baggio said a list of safety protocols needs to be followed, including a daily health screening of each of her athletes. 

She said she runs through it in about 30 minutes, one of the reasons why she asks her players to show up early. 

“It’s a big adjustment but we’re willing to make the sacrifice to be on the field today,” said Brisa Barriga, a River Valley High graduate and sophomore defender for Yuba College. 

Barriga said through her mask that covering one’s face right now is a must, given how easily athletes can come into contact with each other during practice and competition. 

“We’re a contact sport,” Barriga said. “You’re getting bumped, people’s sweat is getting on you, you accidentally spit (because) you’re constantly communicating. It is super important to keep your mask on even though we’re out in the open. We’re just trying to do everything we can to keep everybody safe so we’re able to stay out here.” 

That’s why right now there is no contact at all with any players or coaches during practice. Baggio has instituted games like soccer-tennis where players are positioned to a box similar to one on a tennis court to work on soccer touches while playing a doubles tennis match. 

“We’re keeping up with the rules to keep us on the field,” Baggio said. 

While being on the field is exciting, Baggio said it’s also super odd timing-wise. This time a year ago, she said Yuba would have played five games already. 

“That’s what hurts the most,” Baggio said. 

The now 2021 season, set to begin at some point in January, will feature 15 conference games and one nonconference competition against a regional foe. 

“Within our conference we’re playing  each other twice,” Baggio said. “Whatever we can get we’ll take it.” 

Allison Moreno, a sophomore defender from Citrus Heights, said she’s excited but also nervous about the upcoming season, admitting that she may be more cautious in the games. 

“I’m not sure what other schools are doing,” she said.  “Everybody is going to be on-guard a little more.” 

Moreno said as a defender players are naturally situated in tight quarters with lots of contact. It will be an adjustment at first, she said, on how to defend Yuba’s goal in games. 

“That is going to be a challenge for us to adjust to,” Moreno said. 

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