After playing in an empty stadium to open the season, Arizona softball players will see some familiar faces in the stands moving forward.
UA players are now allowed to bring up to four immediate family members to their games. That will also be the case for Arizona baseball, basketball and soccer.
The UA stopped allowing families in November after initially permitting them to attend football and basketball games. They cited the spiking coronavirus case numbers in Pima County as the impetus, but those have been dropping steadily since January, hence the reopening.
Having their families in the crowd is an emotional boost for the players, many of whom haven’t seen their parents in months.
“When I called my mom she was so happy, she was coming immediately,” said redshirt freshman outfielder Janelle Meoño. “Just knowing that they’re going to be there is just a comfort. You look in the stands and you’ll immediately see your family. It’s just something that I look forward to because I also haven’t seen my mom in almost two months. So I’m really excited for her to come.”
“Yeah, we’re pretty pumped about it,” senior Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza said.
Arizona softball coach Mike Candrea was happy to deliver the news to his players.
“It was pretty different playing in Hillenbrand with no fans, and I even commented that the music was being played low, so I don’t know if they were trying to put us asleep or what, but the atmosphere was just different,” he said. “We kind of knew going in that it was going to be different but I know these young ladies are very excited now that their families at least get to come in and watch them play, especially the seniors. It’s their last year and it’s really difficult for parents to live in town and can’t come to the game, and so I’m very excited for that to happen and look forward to the weekend.”
Avoiding COVID-19 cases is still the priority, though, so the players’ interactions with their families will be limited. Many will be coming from out of state to catch the games.
“We know we can’t stay with them,” said Palomino-Cardoza, a SoCal native. “Any interaction will probably be less than two hours. If we go to eat, eating outside with masks on. They will be doing wellness checks every morning before they enter the stadium. So there’s a lot of precautions being taken just to make sure that we are all safe.”
Same goes for Arizona soccer, which hosts No. 4 UCLA on Friday.
“I don’t know how many can come on short notice, but [they] can generate a good amount of noise and help with the vibe and energy, so we’ll appreciate them being there and hopefully we can put together a good performance for them,” head coach Tony Amato said.
“But honestly we’re not going to tell our players that they can’t hug their mom or dad. I’m not going to tell them that. If they can be smart and be outside and be socially distanced as much as possible, that’ll be great. But it’s really important in these times that they’re getting the support they need. If there are repercussions of that, we’ll understand.”
Candrea sees this as the first step to a return to normalcy. He hopes the general public will be allowed in Hillenbrand Stadium by the end of March when Arizona returns from a two-week trip to Florida.
How realistic that is, he has no idea. The UA would have to get clearance from the Pac-12 and local authorities first.
“I think it’s above my pay grade and it’s the powers that be that are working with the county and our medical staff to make sure that it’s a time that’s going to be safe for the fans and for the players,” Candrea said. “I think the first step was to try to protect our players and make sure that they had every opportunity to play because we are testing twice a week and we’re pretty much trying to protect our own little bubble and the more people you bring into that, the more chances you have of maybe finding a crease in the dam that could cause some problems. But I think they’re being very precautious about how quickly they go about this to make sure that it works and we don’t blow things up.”
For now, having families in attendance is a happy medium.
“They’ve been our fans and supporters since we started playing this game, so I feel like it’s going to be more of a moment to go out and play for them and give us more incentive,” Palomino-Cardoza said. “It’s been a long wait for them too.”