Inline rollerblades glide confidently above the hot pavement. The scenic Back Bay provides an ocean breeze to cool down those who are exercising along its trails.
While it is almost idyllic, it lacks a certain artificial lighting and icy coldness for Long Beach State Hockey’s third-year forward Nico Santoro.
When the coronavirus pandemic put a halt to sports, it kept ice hockey players away from the place they love the most, the ice rink.
“It is definitely heartbreaking because as you get into our level of college hockey, you’re likely not gonna play after you graduate college, at least competitively, so it is pretty heartbreaking to not have a season, especially in my older year,” Santoro said.
While it’s been a lonely semester for all student-athletes, those on club teams are feeling the effects even more intensely.
When the Big West decided to postpone the season for spring athletics on March 12, competitive club sports were no exception. Santoro is the president of the ice hockey team, a Division II member of the American Collegiate Hockey Association.
Team fees may cost from $1,500 to $2,500 depending on the season. Without the ability to receive scholarships and being required to pay team dues, the love for skating is what Santoro says keeps him motivated.
“I’ve been playing hockey since I was three years old, and never stopped loving it. It’s been a passion of mine since I first started playing,” Santoro said. “It is an expensive sport, especially in Southern California. So if you don’t really have a passion for it, then you’re kind of just wasting your money.”
A month prior to the lockdown, Long Beach State Hockey had just been defeated by the University of San Diego in the West Coast Hockey Conference playoffs quarter-finals.
Since then, hopes for a stronger 2020-21 season have looked as melted as the rink’s ice layers after a three month closure. There are currently no team activities taking place, and players are encouraged to stay fit by following an exercise routine in their homes.
Players have the option of signing up for individual skate sessions at any of The Rinks, which reopened in June with limited capacity. Limited time slots and an excess of skaters searching for a place to practice has made accessing the rink difficult.
For his canceled junior season, Santoro returned to his hometown of Costa Mesa and hasn’t seen his teammates since the March lockdown. Santoro tried signing up for individual skate sessions at his local rink but cannot often go as spots are limited.
Along with losing his junior season and ability to play with his teammates, Santoro was also furloughed from his part-time job coaching youth skaters at Great Park Ice & FivePoint Arena in Irvine. Santoro has hopes of a career as an ice hockey coach after graduation.
“Not having a season swayed my decision on double majoring. Before COVID, I was planning on taking the fall semester of my fifth-year to get the first half of a season in, but now that I’m missing this entire season, I decided to double major and do my full fifth-year of school so I can get that extra season.”
Santoro now finds comfort in inline solo skating through his local Back Bay. Skating is just part of his routine, if not in the morning, then at night. He usually skates an intense 4 miles in a 15 minute session, then a slow and relaxing 1 mile session at dusk.
“It’s just one of those things,” he said. “Hockey is a big stress reliever for me.”
All ten universities who are part of the WCHC are located in California. In light of the COVID-19 situation, none of them are practicing.
“The WCHC does have plans to allow teams to return to play, but it is currently deferring to the universities,” general manager Adam Stanovich said. “As of right now, there are not any California schools that are allowing hockey teams to practice and play games.”
On the rugby field, the Long Beach State men’s rugby team’s performance was going strong in their spring season with a record of 3-1. The team had hopes of playing a championship game against Arizona State University on March 21.
However, the March lockdown abruptly canceled their season and resulted in the Beach having to share the conference title with ASU.
The team’s spring national playoffs and fall pre-season ultimately suffered the same fate. The Beach is hoping to return to practice by spring 2021.
The Gold Coast Conference Intercollegiate Rugby is planning to host a Sevens Rugby tournament in late April or early May, based on the availability of a vaccine.
“The best-case scenario is that we will be able to practice in some way by late February or early March,” head coach Jason Reynolds said. “We are currently working to keep our 40 players engaged and motivated as best as we can. But it is very difficult to do with the current situation.”
Sophomore Jacob Cortinas has played Rugby since he was eight years old, starting at U-10 level.
Unlike the ice hockey team, rugby players have a stronger chance of going professional after graduation as some of their graduates go on to play for the local Belmont Shore Rugby Club.
Cortinas begins his mornings by attending his online classes. Once he finishes school work, he spends about two hours with his free weights, ending his day with a night run after dinner. Cortinas said he finds it challenging to keep the motivation when alone and misses the team aspect of everybody pushing each other.
“It might be a little hard to get back into the rhythm, but after a few weeks of practice, I think I’ll be alright with it and be back to normal,” Cortinas said. “Everybody is willing to push each other so much further when we are together rather than if we’re all just trying to do it separately.”
Men’s rugby also travels internationally every summer for tours. Prior to the pandemic the team was slated to play in England. In 2021, they hope to be in Spain.
Santoro, the international business and management major, can’t wait to return to the ice, to his team and to his junior pupils.
With no certainty of when ice hockey or any other sport besides men’s and women’s basketball will be able to return to activity, Santoro can certainly be found blading away through the Back Bay, with nothing but the sun as his companion.