UGA athletes cheer on their teammates during the University of Georgia volleyball game against the University of Kentucky in Athens, Georgia on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019. The University of Kentucky Wildcats won the match in three sets. (Photo/Taylor Gerlach)

Dalaney Hans was picking up her sister Channing Hans, who works in New York City, from the Atlanta airport when the University of Georgia announced classes would move online for the remainder of the spring semester.

“You’re fine, you’re fine,” her sister told her, trying to console her. But for Hans, that was the moment it set in that she wouldn't be with her Georgia volleyball teammates and coaches for an extended period of time.

“No, I'm devastated,” Hans replied.

Hans’ emotions at that moment revealed part of the impact of COVID-19 on Georgia’s athletes. To help them, the UGA Athletic Association’s Behavioral Medicine Program, which offers mental health resources to athletes on campus, has remained open, offering “telemedicine.” 

“The fact that they can still be contacted by phone, and I think they’re starting Zoom appointments too, is big-time and shows how much the University of Georgia cares about our mental health too,” Hans said. 

For some athletes, such as Georgia men’s tennis redshirt senior Alex Phillips, the new coronavirus outbreak brought an abrupt end to a final season that looked promising. The Bulldogs were on a six-match win streak with a 9-2 record overall.

While packing some of his equipment before heading home to Peachtree City, Phillips looked around the men’s tennis locker room. He was with teammate and roommate Alex Diaz. A flood of “what ifs” ensued. 

“We were talking about what could have been,” Phillips said. “If we could have been on these walls with an SEC title or a national championship.”

Phillips has tried to keep a positive mindset, helped by the fact no one in his family has yet been affected by the new coronavirus. However, “nothing really helps” in coping with having your senior season stripped away from you, Phillips said.

The Behavioral Medicine Program has two full-time licensed professional counselors on staff and contracts with a part-time sports psychologist, according to a statement from Ron Courson, emailed via the UGA Sports Communications staff. Courson is UGA’s senior associate athletic director and director of sports medicine.

UGA is also working to ensure medical care options are accessible for its athletes now that they have been stripped of resources normally available to them on campus. 

"We are communicating regularly with our student-athletes and coordinating medical care as needed on an individual basis, whether that be home programs developed specifically for them or arrangements in their hometown,” Courson said in his statement. 

Coaches and players have also resorted to virtual resources to stay connected and uplift each other. Phillips has stayed connected with teammates through group messages and social media like Snapchat. 

The volleyball team also uses social media to keep in touch, Hans said.  And she has called a teammate on FaceTime every day since she left Athens for her home in Marietta, where she is currently staying with her sister and mother, Calista Hans. 

The use of online resources helps the team communicate on sports-related matters. Coaches and players are using the time to support each other mentally and emotionally as well. 

“We go over academics, with the resumption of online classes, (as well as) what they’re doing, how their families are,” Georgia men’s tennis head coach Manuel Diaz said. “Just connecting with them and taking a personal interest as they do with each other is very important.”

When Phillips received the notification about classes going online, he returned to Athens to move items from his apartment. That marked the last time he saw teammates in person.

“I think leaving campus, that’s when it really settled in for me,” Phillips said. “Because it didn’t feel real at the time, kind of just like a bad dream.”

Even though her team wasn’t in season, the separation was a major disruption in Hans’ life. As for so many others, other anxieties have arisen. Around two weeks ago, Hans’ mother got sick with what seemed like a cold. 

“We still don’t know what it was, but with this whole COVID thing happening, it scared me definitely,” Hans said. 

Her mother also has a broken foot, and she’s scheduled to move into a new home in Marietta. Hans said she feels blessed to be there to help, which would not have been an option without COVID-19 sending her home. 

The volleyball team’s director of operations, David Dantes, sent flowers to the family and offered his help during their move. The gesture from Dantes was one example of coaches and staff reaching out to Hans, she said. 

“My director of ops is reaching out and making it clear how much he cares about what I’m going through and who we are as people,” Hans said. “He is the most amazing human ever, and our coaching staff is all like that.”

Alex Miller contributed to this article.

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