After a spring that saw sports across the state - and the nation- largely canceled, this fall was a true breath of fresh air for Christian Brothers Academy student-athletes.
Nearly 300 CBA students were involved in five interscholastic athletic teams - crew, cross country, rugby, sailing and soccer - that encountered unique differences in their seasons due to COVID-19 precautions.
These excited young men were carefully guided by a coaching staff that cared about the health and enjoyment of their athletes.
"This fall season, our coaches and student-athletes came together to ensure that CBA's tradition of athletic excellence stayed intact," said Director of Athletics Mike Mazzaccaro. "Athletics at the Academy help build and strengthen our community and this season was no different. Our young men became better players, more disciplined athletes, gracious competitors and lifelong friends."
Ultimately, the fall season ran for just over 10 weeks. It was not without a few difficulties that coaches needed to steer their teams around.
"This fall was one of the most challenging of my tenure so far, with so many factors that were beyond our control," head soccer coach Tom Mulligan said. "We entered our first week that featured three games with one day of practice, eight players that never started a varsity contest, and three goalkeepers that were brand new to varsity soccer."
The Colts weathered the "storm" on the pitch, finishing the season with the third unbeaten record in program history at 13-0-1 and defeating St. Rose in the sectional tournament final.
"The season will always be appreciated by both the coaches and players for simply getting the opportunity to play, practice and compete for a championship at CBA during a pandemic," Mulligan said.
On the cross country trails, the nationally-renowned Colts were simply searching for quality meets to enter, something head coach Sean McCafferty took control of by organizing the Colt Invitational in late October. CBA won that meet, which featured six top-ranked teams at Holmdel Park.
Christian Brothers ended the running season by winning the first-ever sectional championship in the non-public division. With no state championship or Meet of Champions, it was the biggest event that the Colts could win this year.
"The boys could have backed down, as many of the races we normally attend were canceled," McCafferty said. "Instead, they put together one of the best season in recent memory. Our seniors forged ahead and prepared our program for the future."
The two open water-based sports, crew and sailing, saw their own challenges trying to keep the student-athletes on schedule and in the boats.
The crew team did not enter a single true regatta this fall. In a typical season, the Colts are racing in multiple weekend regattas that can feature hundreds of boats. Thankfully, they were able to improve and challenge themselves by organizing dual and tri-meets against some top teams in the area.
While their competition schedule was different, head coach Scott Belford and his coaching staff were able to keep the student-athletes on track with the one thing they could control: practice.
"The success of this season for me centered around the fact that we were able to give our guys a sense of normalcy when we were on the water. For a few hours each day, life was about how hard you could push yourself and how many miles you could log. I think we have all learned quite a bit about adaptation and resilience," Belford said.
For the sailing team, it turned out to be a successful, albeit short, regatta season. After missing the first scheduled regatta due to a temporary pause in sports, CBA was able to sail in three consecutive Saturday events, winning two of those regattas. The fourth Saturday, primed to be the fall championship, was canceled due to poor conditions. The Colts also won the three-week Wednesday fall series over 15 schools.
While there was success on the race course, CBA Sailing faced an inconsistent practice schedule that saw the team enter regattas after more than a week since they last held a practice.
"I always wanted to get our boys on the water as much as possible, but a combination of virus precautions and poor sailing conditions were our achilles' heel for sure," head coach Jason Lutz said. "Regardless, it was great to have our team back together and also have regatta success, which collectively helped our team morale during this different season."
One of the toughest sports to manage during a pandemic was rugby, but head coach Pat Moroney did his best to keep the Colts on the field. The team started its season with no contact and no ball drills, something that is a stark change from normal practices.
The team had several "false starts" prior to actually getting matches scheduled against other schools. CBA was finally able to enter three varsity team and three freshman teams into a St. Augustine tournament on Halloween Saturday. While the season's structure was not ideal for the sport, Moroney was proud of how the student-athletes responded.
"Rugby is a complex game where it can be chaotic, so we have to practice in environments where the athletes are faced with decisions repeatedly to prepare for similar situations in games. With a more sterile approach, I was concerned that they would not be at the level of years past; however, they excelled," Moroney said. "It may not have been the season they all wanted, but now we know that playing rugby with the correct protocols is possible and we can target the spring fifteens season for even greater success."