“Win the day”: How Northwestern athletes are training in the COVID-19 era

Abbie Wolf drives to the basket in the Cats’ Big Ten-clinching win over Illinois. Wolf’s NU career is over, but she is still training hard in the hopes of playing professionally in Spain.

Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Abbie Wolf drives to the basket in the Cats’ Big Ten-clinching win over Illinois. Wolf’s NU career is over, but she is still training hard in the hopes of playing professionally in Spain.

Greg Svirnovskiy, Web Editor

Even though she’s quarantining at home, Mondays are still quite busy for Julietta Thron. A technical workout at 9:30 a.m., followed by a run before class at 1 p.m. And then yoga, after she turns off Zoom at 5 p.m.

Thron is a sophomore defender for the Northwestern women’s soccer team. She started all 18 games for the Cats this year for a total of 1,639 minutes on collegiate soccer fields. These days, she runs along boulevards and fields in her hometown of Caldwell, N.J., and works on ball skills at a field near her elementary school. 

And she drinks lots of protein shakes. They consist of a cup of almond milk, one scoop of protein powder, strawberries and peanut butter, and spinach if she’s feeling “different.” 

“We’ve been trying to have nutrition as one of our things that we’ve been working on,” Thron said. “So a lot of the time for lunch I’ll have a protein shake or I’ll try to make one throughout the day so I’m getting my protein intake.”

Winter Quarter is gruelling for Thron and her team. It’s when they do almost exclusively strength training and conditioning. Players cope with the intense work by looking forward to the spring, when it’s time to start playing actual soccer again.

Spring never came — at least not in the traditional sense. Neither will summer. The team’s fall season is also in question, which Thron said makes motivation to train more difficult. 

“Now that we’re all kind of on our own and not able to create that chemistry that we’d hoped spring would have allowed for, it’s become hard to see this light at the end of the tunnel,” Thron said. “There is nothing we’re really working for if we’re not playing in the fall.”

Thron and her teammates stick to a motto: “Win the day.” They do technical workouts together over Zoom, some have turned to using milk cartons as weights. 

Motivation hasn’t been difficult to find for Abbie Wolf, the senior center for NU’s women’s basketball team. She just finished up her last season patrolling the paint for the Cats, which saw her average 11.3 points per game and record a team-high 6.6 rebounds per game for an upstart team which won 26 games and a share of the Big Ten regular season title. 

The season ended in heartbreak, with the COVID-19 pandemic causing the Cats to miss out on making their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2015. 

“Growing up as a kid, that’s what you want,” Wolf said. “To play in the NCAA Tournament. We were just kinda in shock that it was all not happening anymore.”

But she moved on — soon after the season’s abrupt end, Wolf signed with an agent. She’s currently in the process of finalizing a contract to play professional basketball in Spain. That excitement has given Wolf a renewed sense of purpose.

“I kind of knew I’m not WNBA material,” Wolf said. “It hasn’t really changed that much for me. Yeah, I’d much rather be training at Welsh-Ryan with all the fancy gadgets but I’ve kind of created a pretty good routine for myself and discipline through the years where I’m still doing therapy every day.”

Wolf has been training in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, where her mother moved two years ago. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, she lifts, bikes and works on dribbling. Every other day, she’ll play on a hoop at a local park.

Ryan Deakin, a junior wrestler, was in the middle of the best stretch of his collegiate career before COVID-19 ended his season. Deakin had just taken home a first-place finish at the Big Ten Championships in Piscataway, N.J., completing a perfect season and sealing his place as the No. 1 overall seed in the 157-pound weight class for the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

He never got to wrestle there, with the NCAA canceling the tournament just days before Deakin was set to head to Minneapolis.

“That’s what you’re training for the whole time,” Deakin said. “It was disappointing. It was tough at first but you also kind of realize there’s nothing you can do about it. Just kind of get ready for the next year, next thing going on.”

But Deakin is thankful his team got through most of its season before the virus shook up the collegiate sporting scene. He still got all those practice duals under his belt, still got to go on all the road trips with teammates and compete in a major postseason tournament. 

Back home in Broomfield, Colo., Deakin has been working out in personal gyms operated by coaches and family friends — using their weight rooms and wrestling three times a week. Along with lifting weights, he runs hill sprints with friends.

“It’s a fun time of the year where you can take your training and get a little creative with it,” Deakin said. “We’ve got some great resources at Northwestern. Our strength coach is sending us workout plans and speed plans and stuff like that.”

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