Illustration by Samantha Axelrod

Girls volleyball mourns lost season

Before even stepping onto the court, the girls volleyball team was bested by their greatest opponent: the coronavirus. With COVID-19 cases on the rise, the team fell victim to the state crackdown on indoor fall sports. Rather than completely cancelling the season however, the state of New Jersey mandated that all high school indoor fall sports, including volleyball and gymnastics, must postpone their normal fall season to the spring.

This decision was announced only two days before the scheduled volleyball preseason, leaving both players and coaches in a state of confusion and unconsoled heartbreak. Some, including English teacher and junior varsity volleyball coach of five years Kira Wildes, believe the decision was unnecessary considering the immense precautions the team was taking to preserve their season.

“I think it was probably a good decision made by the state; however, I think that it has been shown that the volleyball team is very cautious in following the guidelines,” Wildes said. “We were able to keep each individual volleyball sanitized in between plays and it is not a sport where you need a ton of cardio so it would have been easier to play with masks on. Volleyball is also a non-contact sport whereas high contact sports such as football were allowed to play during this time.” 

Although there is hope to play in the spring, players and coaches are still reminiscing what could have been for their usual fall run. 

“Overall I was really upset because your senior year season is always something you look forward to,” senior captain Anna Rose Mihalik said. “We practiced in the summer expecting a fall season, so it was a bummer to hear that finally being able to play and come together as a team would be postponed until the spring.”

“I think my overall favorite part [of the season] was getting to interact with the kids on a different level than I get to do as a teacher,” Wildes said. “I think it provides you with a little bit more insight into their lives and you get to see them succeed in a different way than they succeed in the classroom. Growing those personal relationships with the girls is something that I really value, but I’m really excited to see how we do in a little bit more challenging environment [this spring].”

Rather than focusing on the negatives, the team has decided to find the silver lining in having a longer off season by using the time to cultivate stronger relationships and get in better shape both physically and skillfully.

 A large responsibility has fallen on the shoulders of the senior captains, who have been responsible to maintain the team chemistry in this unprecedented offseason. 

“As a senior captain, I have taken the responsibility to make sure we can see each other as much as possible,” Mihalik said. “I’ve been coming up with offseason group activities, such as workouts, and a group calendar of things we want to do as a team. I also organized a Sideout Sports league (SOS) in Fairfield where we played against other highschool teams every Saturday.” 

Despite their positive approach though, the team recognizes the inevitable obstacles they will face having an abridged season in the spring, especially considering the lack of information being circulated from higher authorities to coaches. However, they plan to prepare for the worst and hope for the best in the meantime. 

“It’s really different, because we are in such a void of knowledge, we don’t know what’s happening,” Wildes said. “That lack of preparation forces us to prepare for every situation. So it’s like what if we don’t have a season? How are we going to keep the girls engaged? If we have a season, but it gets cut short how do we keep the girls engaged? How do we maintain a strong team chemistry and environment without physically being together?” 

Even with these obstacles in mind, the team is preparing to step onto the court in February and hit the ground running. Despite being months away, Wildes is already brainstorming her adaptive coaching plan to best accommodate the circumstances and provide her team with the best season possible. 

“The main goal for me personally is to maintain the structure of our program and to continue to engage the girls and build onto the momentum we had from last year,” Wildes said. “Acknowledging that the season is going to be different and nothing like we have seen in the past, I want to capitalize on building skills and good leadership within all of the girls regardless of the situations they are placed in.”

From a more technical standpoint, Wildes is preparing a COVID-19 friendly practice plan to ensure that her team can maintain a safe and successful season. To accomplish this, Wildes plans on establishing three separate cohorts distinguished by the varsity, junior varsity and freshman teams as well as enforcing mask use when players are not engaged in vigorous physical activity. In addition, she hopes to space out players when using the gym to prevent as much close contact as possible. Even with extensive planning, the fate on the girl’s volleyball team is heavily dependent on the decisions regarding winter sports.

“I am very curious to see what happens with winter sports like basketball and wrestling because they’re both high contact sports that involve a lot of individual interaction, so I think those will kind of give us a little jumping-off point for what we need to do,” Wildes said. 

Despite the uncertainty in the air, the Girls volleyball team remains hopeful that the West Essex gym will welcome them in the early spring for their long overdue season. Although it will be far from normal, mark your calendars for February 2021 to see the Lady Knights back in action!

“I don’t think it will be like any other season we’ve ever had before,” Mihalik said.

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