COVID-19 forced Utah Utes’ Brooklyn James choose between sports. She decided to compete in both instead

James is competing in both soccer and track for Utah this spring

(Photo courtesy of University of Utah) Brooklyn James, a junior, is attempting to compete in both soccer and track this winter and spring for the University of Utah.

Between games, practices, weight training, conditioning, film study, travel and schoolwork, being a Division I student-athlete is a busy endeavor.

Now, consider the fact there are student-athletes that play two sports between the fall, winter and spring seasons. All of the factors above become more hectic and time management becomes exponentially-more important. If the two sports take place in the fall and winter, or winter and spring, there may be some overlap at the end of one and the start of the other, but that doesn’t last.

Finally, consider this unconventional situation: There is a women’s soccer player, who also competes for the track and field team. Normally, soccer is in the fall, while track goes in the winter and spring. The COVID-19 pandemic pushed fall sports to the spring, so now, this student-athlete has to make a choice for the spring between playing soccer and running track.

This is the choice University of Utah junior Brooklyn James faced: play with the soccer team as a forward/defender this spring, or go with track and field, where she is a long-sprinter and half-miler.

Ultimately, she couldn’t choose just one, so the Clackamas, Ore. native chose both.

“I knew both seasons were going to offer championships, so I didn’t want to give myself up to one and not be able to compete in the other,” James told The Salt Lake Tribune recently. “I really just want to compete, give myself every opportunity at competition. I know this is a COVID year, things could be canceled at any time, so I didn’t want to miss out on anything.”

Utah soccer coach Rich Manning remembers James expressing her desire to attempt to play both sports during this academic year around October. Two months before, the Pac-12 axed all sports until at least Jan. 1. The league eventually pushed forward with a truncated football season, but left the so-called “non-revenue” fall sports on hold. Soccer, volleyball and cross country all wound up getting January or February starts after the delay.

(Photo courtesy of Jake Stranzl | University of Utah) Brooklyn James, a junior, is attempting to compete in both soccer and track this winter and spring for the University of Utah.

James remembers Manning, track and field head coach Kyle Kepler, and track and field associate head coach Chad Colwell having reservations about the arrangement, specifically the workload that James would take on.

Kepler remembers both coaching staffs pushing James to do one or the other. At the same time, Kepler was clear that everyone involved wanted to try and side with whatever James wanted to do, within reason, so they did. She wanted to try competing in both, so after discussing logistics and training plans, everyone got on board.

Things were made easier given that Manning and Kepler have shared student-athletes before. Kepler pointed to Amanda Feigt as a prime example. When Feigt was a junior in 2005-06, she was named Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year in the fall, then qualified for the NCAA outdoor championships in the 400-meter hurdles.

Comparisons to the past are fine, but there is no comparison to what James is now attempting to do, compete in two Division I sports concurrently.

“A lot of the training is not the same as it would normally be,” Kepler told The Tribune. “A lot of it is week-to-week, and we’re obviously on top of it. She has played this much, ran this much, and we’re trying to go off of that in an effort to be very thoughtful of the reps that we give her. If she’s competed a lot, maybe there isn’t as much training in the days that follow.”

Added Manning: “Our kids have mental and emotional challenges just from playing soccer, I can’t imagine doing both. She has a real quiet fire inside of her. She doesn’t show a lot of emotion on her face, she has the fire to do this, no question. She wants this bad, she’s jumping through hoops, walking on coals. She’s created this huge challenge in front of her, and we have to make sure we’re reining her in, making sure she’s going at a speed that is sustainable.”

Both soccer and track and field are underway in the Pac-12, and James’ itinerary has been as expected, busy.

On Feb. 10, the women’s soccer team bused to St. George to face Dixie State the following afternoon. James played 60 minutes off Manning’s bench in a 2-1 Utes win, followed by the 300-mile ride home, which got the team back to Salt Lake City around midnight. On Feb. 12, James flew with the track team to Las Vegas, where she ran the 800 the next day in 2:14:70 to finish fourth at the UNLV Winter Challenge. The team flew back that night and on Feb. 14, James played 60 minutes of a 1-1 tie with Weber State in Herriman.

This past week saw more of the same. James flew with the track team on Wednesday for a dual meet vs. San Diego State on Thursday. After competing in the 800, as well as running a leg on Utah’s 4x400 relay entrant, James flew to Pullman, Wash. Thursday night for soccer matches on Friday and Sunday vs. 15th-ranked Washington State.

“Physically, I feel like I’m doing it,” James said. “Mentally, it’s exhausting, so you have to have your mindset right, whether it’s a track meet or a soccer match. Mentally, it’s more draining. It’s important I meet with the sports psychologist every other week, I’m taking days off when I can, and really taking time for my time.”

Added Kepler: “You have to watch the workload. Now that we’re competing, there’s less of a training aspect, so maybe she’s spending less time at a track practice, but she’s still trying to be part of both teams. It’s important that her teammates understand that. They have all been very supportive as well.”

In between flights, meets, matches and training, there is also the small detail of James needing to juggle all of that with a full workload as a communications major.

Not to say that schoolwork is easy, but the “student” portion of being a student-athlete has maybe gotten a little more manageable because classes are being conducted virtually. That means James is not missing time inside a classroom. Wherever she goes, her classes can come along, too.

“I think no class in the middle of COVID has helped her,” Manning said. “Her days are still very busy, but so far, it’s been fine. She’s very ambitious in wanting to be good at both sports, so doing class online helps.”

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