How Fall Sports Teams Handle COVID-19: Volleyball

Volleyball is a fall sport that typically begins for Austin College in mid-August, with a week of pre-season workout and practices before the real season kicks-off and the playing begins. But this year, (and only with tons of precautions, regulations, and negotiations), the team officially began practicing September 23 from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. every weekday in the Hughey Gym, with the fall season being postponed to the spring instead.
Ed Garza, the head volleyball coach, speaks about the postponement. “Yes, it’s devastating,” he said, “but we’re more concerned about the health of our athletes and making sure they’re safe first. Volleyball is always second to our athlete’s safety.”
Shelbi Cook, the senior captain of the team, was excited about her senior season and was rightfully bummed out when it was moved to the spring. “I’m very happy it’s being moved to the spring, but it’s hard to stay motivated because there’s nothing we’re really working for right this second,” she said. “It does give us time to really work on the small things, though.”
Cook, among many others, is just happy the season is just being pushed back, and not completely canceled. Augustine Neininger, a sophomore, said, “I’m really pumped for spring because at least we get to have a season. I’m glad we have the fall semester to practice.”
Practices, however, are extremely different than they have been in the past, and with regulations such as constant mask-wearing, socially distant water breaks, and the discouragement of touching, the girls are struggling a bit to adjust and accommodate from a sport that is usually very-heavily built on close teammate relationships. Taylor Kobza, a sophomore, says that practices seem more mentally challenging now. “You can’t be nearly as supportive as you typically would be,” she said.
Spencer Wynne, a freshman, agrees. “For me, it’s harder to stay away from people during practice, because I just want to hug or high-five them,” Wynne said.
Despite the negatives and the overall disappointment of the season being moved, many girls are enjoying the new-found time and opportunities they have to get to know each other now before the spring. Mari Prazak, a junior, shares how this opportunity has given the team more time to bond before the season. “We have more time to build connections with each other that we wouldn’t have during the fall camp.”
Cook says similar. “I really like that we get to spend more time getting to know the new girls.”
Ali Horton, a junior, speaks about how good it is that they can practice for a semester first before the season to work out any confusion or issues that could have arisen during a typical fall season. “We have a lot longer to work through kinks than we would’ve normally had,” she said.
Neininger also brought up how despite how different practices are, they’re extremely useful in working on skills that could have been neglected during a normal year. “We’re focusing more on fundamentals, which is what we need,” she stated. “We get to really hammer those skills, and get to master them before our season in the spring.”
Kobza agrees. “I do like that we have been working on more technical skills,” she said. “Going back to the basics is good.”
Overall, the joy of just being able to practice and be together outweighs any sort of cons for the volleyball team, who are working hard every weekday to get prepared for their upcoming season in the spring.
“I’m excited to see what we’re capable of doing,” Coach Garza said. “I feel really good about the group we have, and I’m glad we get the opportunity to get together, practice, and be a team.”

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