There still aren't manuals on coaching through COVID. But Anthony Pellicano could put one out once things are all said and done.
Pellicano, a Class of 2013 graduate of Lockport High School, is getting adjusted as Hilbert College's interim women's soccer coach following the departure of Jenna Castricone in February. After helping the Lions claim three Niagara Frontier League title shares from 2010 to 2012, Pellicano played four seasons for the Hawks men's soccer team from 2013 to 2016.
Once his collegiate playing days ended, Pellicano went back to Lockport to help with their JV boys soccer program. He would then return to Hilbert in the fall of 2019, working under Castricone as an assistant coach. Pellicano was looking forward to being in this role for the 2020 season.
Of course, that's when the pandemic hit, and like many other Division III programs, the Hawks' season was put on the backburner. The plan was to have a fall 2020 season, as everyone assumed would be the case, but Pellicano noted that he and the Hawks were told the season would be a no-go just two weeks before fall camp.
In the meantime, Pellicano and his Hilbert squad were able to practice two to three times per week for about seven weeks in the fall.
Although it was nice being out on the field, Pellicano knows it was far from giving the real feel of a traditional soccer season. Especially compounding that with not being able to work with the team last spring.
"The way college soccer runs, you have this traditional fall season and then you get an unofficial spring season where you get to practice a few weeks," Pellicano said. "And then you get to play, I believe it's one game, during the spring for D-III. So we were about a week into our unofficial spring season and then everything shut down, all the girls left and everything. We had a scrimmage lined up and everything, we were ready to go for the spring, then everything just got shut down."
Once Castricone headed to Virginia to take over Richard Bland College's program, Pellicano was next in line to step up in her absence. Although things have been a whirlwind in terms of taking on head-coaching duties, the constant changes due to COVID have also been strenuous.
The Hawks intended on playing an Alleghany Mountain Collegiate Conference-only game schedule this spring. But just like the fall, Hilbert was denied, which Pellicano said he was told just a month before the season.
Thankfully D-III approved the Hawks and other programs to practice this spring. With that, Hilbert has made up for the lost time, already playing two scrimmages against Medaille College, with another left on the docket against Genesee Community College on Monday.
But it hasn't gone off without hitches. Seeing if the grass fields are too wet to use has been one challenge, but Pellicano has an even more unique circumstance with his players. Of the 16 women on his roster, Pellicano noted that three play basketball, two play lacrosse and two play softball.
Generally this wouldn't be a huge deal in terms of overlapping, but with the D-III ranks trying to backtrack on lost time, all sports seasons competing at once has created a log jam. Coaches like Pellicano have been jostled the most with those changes.
With practices off the checklist for now, Pellicano is looking ahead to the fall. Knowing how recruiting has been affected in the 2020-21 school year, he's not taking any chances of falling behind any further.
"Once I became the head coach, it was like hit the ground running with recruiting just because I want to make sure that, especially for the fall, that we have a recruiting class," Pellicano said. "I think coming into when I became the head coach just a few months ago, we only had four committed players for the upcoming season. And for soccer, that's not a lot. ... I had about 11 incoming freshmen (in the fall of 2020) and once they found out we weren't playing this fall, I think about four of 'em decided to not come to the school."
Pellicano said several cited the drawbacks of attending school on full tuitions, as they decided to save money at junior colleges while most Hilbert classes went virtual for the fall. As of now, he is up to six definite commits, but he said there's also roughly five other recruits that are strongly considering Hilbert.
The interim head man has been taking advantage of the available information on recruiting databases as well. That's as close as things can be for coaches right now, as Pellicano shared that most of his prospect evaluation is being done through videos online and player highlights.
Although things aren't perfect, Pellicano has seen the benefits of this spring. He believes it's peaked the interest level of the team, giving them an outlet outside of their online class schedule.
Seeing how well the Hawks handled Medaille in their first two scrimmages, Pellicano sees a turnaround coming. He hopes to revitalize the program, as Hilbert comes off a 1-13 record in 2019.
And there's not another group he'd rather make the change with.
"This is the first women's team I've ever coached. I've always coached guys up until I came back to Hilbert," said Pellicano, whose also coached in the travel soccer ranks in Lockport and Orchard Park. "It was different for me at the beginning but now that I've done for almost two years, I actually prefer coaching a women's team over a guys team. ... It's a completely different dynamic. Like when you talk to them, you can just feel that they're listening to you and actually soaking it in."