TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Jaelin Howell’s first instinct might have been to just go home.
With the novel coronavirus sweeping its way around the world, disrupting life in Tallahassee and beyond, no one would have blamed Florida State’s star midfielder if she had packed her bags and headed back to Colorado, where her parents and all the comforts of home awaited.
But before she did that, Howell took a look around at what she would be leaving. And what she saw gave her pause:
Five teammates on the Florida State women’s soccer team – including three international student-athletes and another who hails from the other side of the country – who, for one reason or another, couldn’t make it to their own homes.
Who were planning to ride out this storm, for however long it lasts, in Tallahassee.
It was then that Howell called her folks and floated the idea of staying put.
“I obviously miss them. I haven’t seen them since Christmas,” said Howell, a sophomore team captain who had five goals and four assists last season. “But I thought that, at this point in my career and at this point for the team, it would be best for me to stay. And that’s what I told them.
“They were supportive of that and thought that it was good as a leader to stay and help.”
So she did, by opening her apartment and fostering something of a quarantine community for those remaining in Tallahassee.
Yujie Zhao, a junior midfielder from Shanghai, China, moved in with Howell outright rather than live alone.
And four other teammates – junior Emily Madrill (from Navarre, Fla.), sophomore Makala Thomas (Los Angeles), and freshmen Leilanni Nesbeth (Bermuda) and Heather Payne (Ireland) – are over so often enough that it might sometimes feel like they live there, too.
The group studies together, lifts weights together, trains together – when possible, at least – and cooks meals together.
“I think it’s a really big help to have some of my teammates still here,” said Payne, an Ireland native who opted to remain on campus while rehabilitating from an injury.
“Because if I was to stay here on my own to do rehab every day, obviously that would be very lonely. But the fact that there are still six of us here, it’s good to have your teammates here to support you and help each other to look out for each other.”
With Florida State’s spring semester drawing to a close, the group has spent much of its recent time studying for finals.
That usually takes place in the morning, with weightlifting or some sort of soccer training to follow.
Howell was able to secure a stock of gym equipment and, thanks to Florida State’s strength staff, each player has a customized workout regimen that they can complete from Howell’s back porch.
“Our strength staff and coaching staff have been amazing through all this,” Howell said.
Finding a way to keep a soccer ball at their feet hasn’t been so straightforward.
Facility closures at FSU and beyond have made it a challenge to train, but Howell said that they’ve been able to find some green spaces with enough room to be useful.
And, yes, the players have all made sure to keep their social circle tight and steer clear of others in order to follow experts’ distancing guidelines.
“We know and hold each other accountable to just stay within our group, and it’s worked out good,” Howell said. “And, obviously, we all love spending time with each other, so nobody has any issues with that.
“And for the players that were here and didn’t know each other very well, it’s worked out great because we’ve gotten to know each other way better. So I think that aspect of it is really cool, too.”
The best time of day usually comes in the evenings, when the group gets together for dinner.
With on-campus dining halls closed, the group has been forced to break out the pots and pans and cook meals of their own.
It makes for a family affair, with a rotating list of responsibilities – someone prepares a main dish, someone brings sides and someone adds dessert before gathering around the table at Howell’s apartment.
Pasta and chicken are typical favorites, with a recent fettucine alfredo bake receiving top reviews.
“It’s super fun because we come up with a meal to make,” Howell said. “We look it up online and cook together. It’s just fun little stuff like that that you don’t usually get to do.”
Added Payne: “My cooking skills have definitely had to improve now that I’ve had to try to come up with different meals every day. Before, I had access to the dining halls and stuff. It’s good to have a variety of things.”
It’s also a way to provide some measure of “home” from hundreds or thousands of miles away.
Howell, for example, said that the group had Chinese food to celebrate Zhao’s birthday.
“It’s all those little things that I think will really make a difference,” she said. “We can’t replicate home for them (the international players) or make the situation any less serious than it is. But we can make it a little easier.
“So I think that’s what we’re all trying to do for each other.”