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Still Preparing: Volleyball Coaches Awaiting Start of Season

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HOUSTON – Impatient. Optimistic. Excitement.

Those are the range of emotions volleyball coaches are feeling day-in and day-out as the number of days between now and the tentative start of the 2020 volleyball season gets smaller.

"This life trial everyone is going through has been a waiting game in every aspect," The Woodlands coach Terri Wade said. "It's hard to plan ahead as we normally do. I think everyone is very hopeful we will start on time, but we have to have a back-up plan and a back-up plan to that plan."

The current start of 2020 volleyball tryouts still stand as August 3.

As that date gets closer, coaches are putting together their normal plans, including Friendswood's Sarah Paulk. But it is understood that the "normal" start to the season may not be the same for 2020.

"We haven't been told to do anything different yet, so I am going forward with planning like normal," Paulk said. "However, I could see where we have a delayed start and eliminate tourneys, etc. I haven't been told anything in regards to that yet."

The volleyball season comes fast. August 3 is the first day of tryouts, August 7 are the first scrimmages and first matches – which usually come in a tournament format – start on August 10.

Tournaments in the past, like the John Turner Classic in Pearland – which historically has brought teams from around the state – have been a popular launching point for teams.

"I hope that we will be allowed to play at least one tournament," Wade said. "Tournaments are the only opportunity we get to play other teams around the state and get a feel of what to expect down the road for playoffs. If we return to school at full capacity, I don't see how playing tournaments could be any greater of a risk to attend."

For coaches like Amanda Watts of Episcopal, the fate of their start falls at the hands of the Southwest Preparatory Conference. Episcopal returns as the defending SPC Volleyball Champions.

"The SPC and our administration at Episcopal have been working so hard to try and come up with a plan so our students can safely return to school and sports," Watts said. "I am ready to get back in the gym with my team. They are hungry to have a chance at defending their title, but we understand this is an uncertain time.

"The SPC is currently working on a plan to safely return to sports. They are running through many different scenarios to make sure our athletes can compete in a safe environment."

Each day there seems to be new rumors that surface about when, if and how fall sports could start. As each school district announces its reopening plans, that causes more questions.

"I tell my players to not listen to any rumors," Kingwood coach Christie Mewis said. "I tell them to plan to start on August 3 and I will let them know if there are any changes. I tell them to stay positive."

The coaches, like Mewis has, have been communicating with their players. The messages are ones of positivity and flexibility with each new wave of news.

"They haven't really been asking much, they are showing up and working hard," Splendora coach DaVette McCall said.

Watts added: "We have had some great conversations about how this uncertain time has helped us reflect on so many things we have taken for granted. We are staying positive and focusing on only things we can control."

So, the biggest question is how do we safely start volleyball on time?

"I want to play! So, if they tell me I have to stand on my hands and walk backward to allow us to play I'll do my best handstand," Paulk said. "But in all seriousness. Hand washing, sanitation and cleaning as best as we can. Temperature checks are an easy thing to do. And reminding kids to stay home if they feel sick is what I think we should do!"

Watts added: "I do believe we need to continue to be diligent about washing our hands, not touching your face and practice social distancing when you can. I will continue to pray that numbers go down and that a cure is found not just so that we can play sports and go to school but so our community can stay safe and healthy."

For Wade, The Woodlands volleyball players have not been brought together for camps or Strength and Conditioning this summer.

Club volleyball teams have been doing personal training this summer and have recently been doing tryouts for the 2020-2021 teams. The safety procedures they have followed have provided a bit of a roadmap of how volleyball could look come August.

"Some precautions they are taking that have been successful are: limiting people in the gym, screening with health checks, wearing masks entering and exiting buildings in specific doors, and all spectators in masks (very limited there as well). I think it has been a good practice to keep hand sanitizer at each court. Players are encouraged to clean their hands before they get water from their own water bottles or at any break in play. Volleyball equipment and floors are cleaned after each practice. No one comes close together for a huddle. They stay spread out when gathering."

During play, masks have not been required to wear, which Wade believes a mask wouldn't stay on well during live action. Wade believes other steps could be taken to promote safety, including spreading out practice times, traveling requiring two buses or two trips.

Another part where distancing will be key will be after a point, teams usually come together for a small celebration on court but that won't be the same in 2020.

"We will all miss the camaraderie of coming together with our teammates and encouraging each other with a high five or a pat," Wade said. "We will lose touch of the special moments while growing distance among each other, but the distance will not impact the importance of the competition and experience."