Bennett, Mirsberger reflect on COVID-19 crisis

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Photo by Jordan Johnson

Head coach Louis Bennett stands on the sideline in Marquette's 2-1 exhibition win over the Milwaukee Torrent.

With the unprecedented unraveling of many events during the coronavirus outbreak, the Marquette men’s soccer team saw its spring season come to a screeching halt.

“My first thoughts were, ‘We’re lucky everyone is safe.’ Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our players,” head coach Louis Bennett said.

Bennett praised the safety measures put in place by Marquette and the NCAA, even if it meant the cancellation of all spring soccer events.

“I’m just a soccer coach, I’m not a health expert,” Bennett said. “We followed the lead of whatever we need to take care of. … I was well in favor of all of that.”

Bennett said University President Michael Lovell, athletic director Bill Scholl and the rest of the athletic department have all been on the same page in terms of combating the spread of the virus.

“There are so many different media outlets saying so many different things,” Bennett said. “We aired on the side of caution because this is a serious affair now.”

However, it hasn’t been easy for the players to stop playing the game they love.

“There’s a lot of mixed emotions,” Bennett said. “Many of them are taking the smart approach to it and are making sure they’re not risking their lives or other people’s lives. Our guys put everything into perspective. They trust what we’re doing.”

Redshirt first-year defender Alex Mirsberger said he’s trying to do as much as possible to stay in shape without access to the facilities on campus.

“You have to improvise at home and do whatever you can to stay fit and keep working on your game,” Mirsberger said. “A day without soccer feels like a whole month without it.”

The Golden Eagles’ roster currently features six international players, most of whom are from European countries severely impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. Bennett said he is doing whatever he can to help them get through this unusual time.

“We’ve got players from Germany, Italy, Sweden and England,” Bennett said. “It’s impacting them emotionally as much as anyone else. They’re a long way from home, and they’ve got loved ones they’re worried about.”

All students were originally advised to stay off campus until April 10.

“When we got the email from the school saying that classes were canceled, my immediate thought was ‘Alright, well what’s going to happen with soccer? Are we just not going to practice?'” Mirsberger said. “It was a little upsetting to know that we’re not going to be able to practice for a while. But you realize our health is more important.”

Both the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee have already announced they will transition to online classes for the remainder of the semester. Marquette eventually followed suit, announcing it would move to remote learning up until May 10.

With the lack of test kits in the United States, it’s likely many more people have contracted the virus than what the current number of confirmed cases — more than 50,000 nationwide as of March 25 — says.

Bennett was critical of the way the situation has been handled.

“No one really knows if they have it, and no one will know until they can get tested,” Bennett said. “Right now, not enough people can get tested. I look at it from the point of: I don’t want to catch it, but really I don’t want to give it to anyone.”

According to a federal government plan obtained by the New York Times, the coronavirus pandemic could last up to 18 months. This could potentially impact 2020-21 fall, winter and spring sports seasons for all BIG EAST teams in addition to this year’s sports seasons that have already been affected.

Looking ahead, Bennett said he is taking a “day-by-day” approach.

“We’re working with it in chunks,” Bennett said. “Whatever is brought forward, we’ll have to adjust. If it goes for 18 months, then it goes for 18 months. There’s nothing much we can really do about it. I just want to get through this without the possibility of myself or our players getting infected or infecting other people.”

With the implementation of social distancing across the United States, Bennett said mental health is just as important as physical health.

“You’ve got a lot of people now spending a lot of time on their own or in confined areas,” Bennett said. “Staying positive and keeping your mind active, that’s something we’re all going to have to deal with.”

Despite the current state of the pandemic, Bennett said he is hopeful it will be over sooner rather than later.

“(The health experts) will find ways to be resolute and will handle (the coronavirus) in the most efficient and effective way possible,” Bennett said.

Bennett added that he’s making the most of his free time by staying connected with his players.

“Whatever normality we can bring to a very abnormal situation, we’re trying to do that,” Bennett said. “We’re trying to keep everyone as calm and as directed as possible without getting too optimistic or pessimistic.”

This story was written by Tyler Peters. He can be reached at tyler.peters@marquette.edu and on Twitter @_tylerpeters_.