By: Justin Lafleur, Lehigh Sports Communications
Former Lehigh women's soccer standout Gina Lewandowski '07 knows what it's like to have a season in limbo.
She just experienced it with Sky Blue FC of the National Women's Soccer League.
The NWSL season typically begins in April, so Lewandowski and her teammates were in the middle of their preseason training when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in mid-March.
"When we went into quarantine, there was such an unknown as to when we could start again," she said. "It's a mental grind to get up, be disciplined and do your workout on your own every single day. I personally live on my own, so I didn't really have the connection to play or train with other girls who may live with other teammates in a household.
"It gets hard after a while where you're continuously doing the same thing every day and you're just trying to be creative and find different ways to train and to get through that day," Lewandowski continued.
Lewandowski faced what the current Lehigh women's soccer program is facing, due to the cancellation of their fall season because of the pandemic. Like Lewandowski, the Mountain Hawks need to find the discipline and motivation to train this fall with hopes of being able to play in the spring.
But it's far from a certainty.
"The uncertainty can be hard, but you have to take one day at a time and not look too far in the future," said Lewandowski. "As a professional athlete, or athlete in general, we always want to grow and be better, so it's about waking up each day to set your daily goal of what you want to work on. It's taking one day at a time and also realizing we're all in this together. Stay connected with your teammates and coaches, and absorb all the resources provided to you to help you get through."
Lewandowski and Sky Blue FC found the motivation in March, April and May to train on their own and continue to improve, despite now knowing if there would even be game competition.
"Our club provided a lot of resources, whether it was training plans, daily phone calls or trivia nights," said Lewandowski. "They provided resources to train, like bands and weights. We had plenty of zoom sessions and meetings. That really helped keep us engaged and involved in a community setting despite not being physically present with each other.
"At the beginning, we were told two weeks then after the end of those two weeks, we were told two more weeks. It ended up turning into about two months. Everyone didn't know what the future would hold."
In the end, that future would hold good news, as in late May, the NWSL announced that the Challenge Cup, which would be held in Utah. The tournament kicked off on June 27, marking the first professional team sport played in the nation.
"We were stoked to hear the news," said Lewandowski. "When we heard that we could come out of quarantine and start training around the end of May, everyone was excited to get back on the field, get into our regular training schedule, see everybody and be in an environment where we could grow as a team again.
"We had a goal in mind and knew we were working towards something – this tournament out in Utah."
Sky Blue wound up reaching the semifinals of the tournament, a strong finish and improvement from its 2019 season.
"We turned the team around 180 degrees," said Lewandowski. "We weren't really sure what to expect, but we all tried to get on the same page and set the bar and standards high.
"We had a goal to be the best team we could be."
That's an important message. At a time of uncertainty, striving to be your best self individually, and as a group, is all you can control. It paid off for Lewandowski. At a time when the country was looking for an escape, her team and league was able to provide it.
"Our commissioner and the league as a whole did a really great job putting the tournament together," said Lewandowski. "There were so many people involved, top to bottom, to make this happen.
"Props to everybody involved for providing such a safe and effective tournament where we could compete and play the game we love."