BY CHARLIE MAURER | Ball State Sports Link
As students at Ball State University enter their sixth week on campus for the 2020-21 school year, student-athletes continue to struggle with potentially not having a season and staying prepared when the time does come.
As part of Ball State Sports Link’s coverage, two athletes — field hockey’s Rachel Pereira and cross country’s Cayla Eckenroth — discussed the offseason, the possibility of playing this fall and the focus on a spring season.
For Pereira, her journey started long before the struggles of 2020 and Covid-19.
Born in Howick, South Africa, Pereira’s success in field hockey came first while she was in high school at St. Anne’s Diocesan College near Howick.
Coached by her father, Carlos, Pereira set a school record for most goals as a defender and was a two-time recipient of the Best Defender Award. She also won a conference championship for field hockey, while competing in basketball, cross country, and track and field.
When it came time to decide where she would go after high school, Pereira wanted to try something new, and coming to America seemed like the smartest choice.
“America stood out to me because the recognition you get here as an athlete is miles above anywhere else I’ve seen,” Pereira said. “I thought that was kind of neat and something I wanted to try out.”
As of August 8, the field hockey season has been postponed to the spring 2020 due to Covid-19.
When asked about this, Pereira had a lot to say about the Ball State coaching staff and their overall preparation for the season.
“A lot of MAC teams haven’t been able to practice, but our coaches have been great trying to get us back on the field,” Pereira said. “Each day our coaches put together some kind of program. I don’t know how they do it because we obviously have to stay six feet apart, so they come up with new drills and exciting things that can keep us motivated through this time.”
As much as Pereira has accomplished on the field, her successes in the classroom has made her a true leader on this young team. Pereira earned the honors of Academic All-MAC in 2017 and 2018, while being named to the Zag/National Field Hockey Coaches Association Division I National Academic Squad in 2019.
Cayla Eckenroth, a Northville, Mich. native, has found success on the track and cross-country course ever since her freshman year in high school. She owns a 3.4 grade-point average at Ball State as a three-time all academic conference selection.
“It makes me proud, because it makes me see that I can juggle cross country, track, running, social life, sleep and recovery,” Eckenroth said. “Managing all those things, plus still be ok to do the collegiate aspect of things like college and classes. That’s really what I am here for.”
Eckenroth helped guide Northville to the Michigan School Athletic Association Division 1 State Championship in cross-country as a freshman and ended up winning the team’s Best Newcomer award that year. She was named All-Conference in cross-country all four years in high school, and team MVP as a sophomore and senior.
Carrying her successes from high school with her, Eckenroth came to Ball State in 2017. As a freshman in cross-country, she finished top five in all seven meets she competed in, and third overall on the team.
Similarly, she finished top five in all her meets the following year, and was selected to the Academic All-MAC Team during both her sophomore and junior years.
After all the success Eckenroth found in her first three years, she is now eager to make her senior season count.
“Everyone has been itching to compete for a really long time now,” Eckenroth said. “We’re sad competition was taken away, but when we do get the chance to compete we’re all going to be there for each other. I’ve been very consistent with my times, both running-wise and workout-wise. It’s just nice to be back on campus with my team.”
The fall season for most sports and universities in the MAC have been postponed to the spring semester, along with respective NCAA Championships for each sport. Although football is returning Nov. 4, it’s apparent all athletes will be prepared both mentally and physically to hit the ground running.