It’s been nearly six months since USC men’s water polo head coach Marko Pintaric has been able to see his team treading together.
After a two-week hiatus from training due to nine positive coronavirus tests throughout the men’s water polo and football teams on Aug. 26, the two teams were cleared to resume practice Monday.
The water polo team pool at Uytengsu Aquatics Center is open after being closed for six months due to COVID-19 and construction. A few weeks ago, both the dive and long-course pools were resurfaced, and campus officials recently approved the pools for use.
Before training paused, the team focused on weightlifting and out-of-pool workouts. Now, the team can finally hit the deck running.
Or swimming, for that matter.
After arriving on campus and passing Trojan Check — USC’s digital wellness assessment all individuals must complete in order to enter campus — six water polo players walked into Uytengsu Aquatics Center after lowering their foreheads to a thermometer.
A normal body temperature earns each player a wristband, informing security guards and university employees that they aren’t exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms and are allowed to use the outdoor pool and gym.
It’s the first time in a long time the team can use its home pool at Uytengsu Aquatics Center.
“The last time I was in that pool was just prior to spring break in March,” junior driver Matt Harrison said. “Prior to when we all got sent home before spring break.”
For Pintaric, it was only his fourth time back at USC’s pool since the coronavirus pandemic cut the spring semester short, and he was ecstatic to see his players in person again.
Or the unmasked half of his players' faces, at least.
“It feels great,” Pintaric said. “We don’t have all of our team cleared. So, we have a very small group, very small cohort. Still, it was a great feeling. All of our coaches were there. We’re kind of looking forward because we were out of the swimming pool for way too long.”
Upon entering the stadium, each player makes his way to a personal shopping basket, filled with a water bottle, towel and other training supplies.
“They kind of give everything to us so that you don’t have to bring much in from outside just to prevent you from bringing anything that might have been, you know, I don’t want to say contaminated, but they just want to make it as easy as possible for us,” Harrison said.
Stretching aside the calm of the pool, next to his five other teammates in front of their placards arranged six feet apart on the floor, Harrison was excited.
“It was pretty awesome to get back that first time Monday and just be together jumping back in our pool,” Harrison said. “There was just a sense of normalcy that kind of returned that was very welcomed, I think, for all of us.”
The team jumped into the pool together, each in their own lane. Six feet apart, again.
Observing all the COVID-19 protocols in Uytengsu Aquatics Center, Harrison is confident in his decision to return to practice.
“There’s almost no other place that I would think is safer than that,” Harrison said. “You know, the amount of protection and precautions that are in place. I mean, you get there and you don’t even feel worried at all about the virus just because of how robust everything is and how seriously everyone takes it.”
Pintaric and Harrison are confident the team is taking every precaution possible to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and help get athletes back to campus for competition.
Now that practices have resumed, athletes who choose to participate will be tested for COVID-19 every Monday and Friday, as opposed to the once-a-week testing that was in place before the two-week pause.
“All these trainings and returning back to training, it’s all voluntary,” Pintaric said. “If players feel safe, then they’re getting cleared by our health team, by game management team, compliance team and then they’re welcome to join us in our trade.”
Pintaric said he’s aware of the recent Pac-12 deal with Quidel to provide daily rapid testing for athletes but has not received further details from the University.