Like most Gonzaga students, GU’s student-athletes depend on Thanksgiving break for a chance to relax after a chaotic semester. This year, in particular, has been overwhelming for most everyone with Zoom exhaustion, more assignments than past years, sometimes work and trying to maintain some sort of social connection in the midst of a global pandemic.

Typically, some athletes would have to endure endless hours of practices and competitive games on top of everything else 2020 has thrown at them. For those athletes whose season is usually in the fall, this break feels very different from others. Rather than being a sort of culmination of their season or having to play through the week, the break comes before the season even begins. This contributes to a new vibe for the Thanksgiving season, but it still remains a time to enjoy family and catch a break from looking at a computer screen all day.

Katelyn Oppio, a redshirt senior on the GU volleyball team, has a typical Thanksgiving every year. It involves dinner with her family in Reno, Nevada, and the less common tradition of eating prime rib instead of turkey for dinner. Since her family doesn’t usually go out or participate in any kind of extreme traditions, Oppio didn’t anticipate the holiday being too much different this year.

“I am looking forward to having Thanksgiving and seeing my cousins and my grandpa and just having dinner,” Oppio said.

In past years, the volleyball team has shown their enthusiasm for Thanksgiving by writing notes to their teammates saying why they’re thankful for one another or having a player each day post what they’re thankful for on the team’s Instagram page. Though they didn’t do that this year, they did do their Secret Santa early to bond as a group at least a little bit.

Brody Jessee, a freshman on the GU baseball team, also has a pretty typical Thanksgiving most years. He gets together with all of his extended family, which is actually only about eight people and has a big dinner for which everyone prepares their own dish.

“I really value the family time because we kind of just disconnect from everything,” Jessee said. “TVs off, phones away and it’s just like five or six hours of just talking with my family and catching up.”

Unfortunately, the pandemic prevented his grandparents from traveling to be with the whole family, but Jessee is joining the two of them in Arizona this year, so they are still able to have some family time.

“It’s kind of a chance to just get away from the world and just have that quality time,” Jessee said.

GU junior rower Jacky Allen never has a typical Thanksgiving. Every year, her family switches between her dad’s side, her mom’s side and their closest family friends, so it ends up being a three-year rotation.

On her Dad’s side, they play tons of games and eat a traditional Turkey dinner with sides and desserts whipped up by her grandma, who attended baking school.

Her mom’s side, which is Italian, is all about food and family. There are several people in the kitchen all contributing to the meal they are preparing for. This dinner features an interesting side of lasagna to go along with the turkey.

“It’s fantastic,” Allen said. “I don’t know why more people don’t do lasagna and turkey for Thanksgiving.”

When Allen’s family gets together with their close friends for the holiday, there is always a theme for the gathering. Last year, it was Cougar because her parents attended Washington State University, so everyone showed up in red gear with cougars plastered on.

“It really is not so much about the food, but it’s about the people you’re with,” Allen said. Each time we do thanksgiving with different family, it’s always a different experience and it’s just so much fun being around people who I truly do care about and who are truly some of my favorite people on this planet.”

This year, Allen wasn’t able to do any of that but instead, went to Montana to celebrate Thanksgiving with her boyfriend’s family.

The rowing team was also not able to celebrate the Thanksgiving season together as a result of Governor Inslee’s new COVID-19 restrictions. They had tried to pull something together earlier, but their only option at that point was to connect through Zoom. However, they still managed to make the most of it. Everyone cooked their own dinners, they joined breakout rooms to socialize more easily and Allen even created a Kahoot about their teammates for everyone to play.

In past years, they have had Friendsgivings with the whole team, which is nearly 50 rowers, crowded into one person’s house. This gave them a chance to bond and get to know each other, especially considering how many walk-ons there typically are. Their dinner is usually revolved around a Costco rotisserie chicken rather than a traditional turkey.

“It’s a really good time to get to know them on a non-rowing level,” Allen said. “It’s really fun and I’m really sad that we didn’t get to do it this year.”

Thanksgiving has looked at least a little different for everyone in 2020. COVID-19 has affected people’s traditions, but more importantly, it is preventing some people from being able to spend time with those they love.

Most GU student-athletes, like nearly everyone else, really value the time they get to spend with their family considering how insanely busy they are throughout the year. This break seemed to come at the perfect time to refresh everyone for the last couple weeks of the semester, at the end of which they may get the opportunity to return to their families.

Samantha DiMaio is a staff writer. Follow her on Twitter: @dimaio_samantha.

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