Volleyball is back, but it will be weird.
Unless the guidelines change later -- and that’s always a possibility -- when the high school sport becomes active again on Oct. 9, area gymnasiums will be much quieter. And feeling slightly cavernous.
The Minnesota State High School League announced on Monday that the two fall sports it banished until spring, football and volleyball, will now be allowed to carry their seasons in the fall. But one of the stipulations is that no spectators will be allowed for volleyball.
Football can have spectators; up to 250 of them, in fact. But volleyball is an indoor sport, this is still the year of COVID-19, and safety is the first priority.
Yeah, it’s going to be weird.
But at least there’s a season. Volleyball players all over Minnesota were thrilled at the news that they wouldn’t have to wait for spring to participate for their schools.
The ban on spectators, however, extends to parents. Only players, coaches, game officials and the people who work scoring tables are supposed to be allowed to be present at events.
Expect a few angry volleyball parents. But only to a degree.
“They should be happy they’re playing. That’s what they wanted from the get-go,” said Murray County Central athletic director James Wajer. “What I’m happy about is now my spring is going to be the way it should be.”
Last-minute scheduling for the upcoming football and volleyball seasons, said Wajer, wasn’t as frustrating as some might think. Red Rock Conference ADs met as a group and finished putting together the volleyball schedule in about an hour and a half, in fact.
“Everybody kind of scrambled together. We kept it within the conference for everybody. That’s kind of what they asked us to do,” Wajer said.
Over in the Big South Conference, veteran Worthington High School head coach Jessica Hogan said she was unable to follow Monday’s MSHSL meeting in real time, but was told that day by athletic director Josh Dale that volleyball was back to fall. She’d been maintaining a conversation with her players for weeks before then, and when the word came down it was a good day, indeed.
“We’re very excited. It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster with the changes, and now that we have a for-sure starting date we’re pretty excited,” Hogan said.
The Trojans will have their first practice on Monday. Hogan said she’s sure that the players will have enough time to get ready for their first match.
“It’s emotional for them, because it’s been a hard time for them, ” Hogan said. “The more they can get back to a normal routine, it’s good for them.”
Issues will need to be managed for practices, however. Coaches cannot allow as many people inside gyms as they used to. There are spacing regulations to follow.
And when the games actually begin, mental adjustments must be made. Volleyball is a sport of communication, emotion and momentum. Players can no longer count on bleachers full of fans to cheer them on; they’ll have only themselves to get them fired up.
At Jackson County Central High School, head volleyball coach Deidre Wierson said her girls are “super excited about coming back to play.” But they’ve been very curious about how the new regulations will work.
The players, Wierson said, are sad that fans and parents can’t watch. “Gut-wrenching,” was how Wierson described her players’ feelings.
It’s not going to be perfect. But it’s still volleyball.
“No matter what, there’s going to be issues,” said Wajer, who pointed out that players who sit on benches while games are happening will need to wear masks. While sitting, they’ll be encouraged to remain at least six feet apart from their teammates -- not such a difficult task, actually, when they’ll be able to space themselves from one end of the gym to the other.
Team huddles during time-outs, though, might be harder to police.