The coronavirus pandemic has impacted the lives of virtually everyone around the state, nation, and world.
In an attempt to contain the disease, numerous measures have been implemented.
That holds true for the world of high school athletics in Louisiana as the status of various phases to limit exposure has seemed to turn everyone’s world upside down.
The state currently is in Phase Two which limits activities and gathering sizes of athletic teams. All things considered, volleyball is faring better than other sports in the current phase.
“We are exactly where we normally are,” said Teurlings Catholic coach Terry Hebert. “At this time of year, all we do is strength and conditioning. We are not in the gym doing any ball work. We don’t do that until the last week in July. But we did have a three-week hiatus. We had somebody in our 25-person pod that tested positive. Following protocol, we gave the girls off for two weeks. The following week, we came in and we had another girl test positive but it was a false positive, so we were allowed to come back in the following week and not go the full 14 days.”
“We are actually starting practice this week,” said Cabrini coach Kasey Laird Dennies. “We had tryouts following all the protocol that was given to us. The biggest difference for us, moving forward, normally our program has a big emphasis on team bonding and really getting to know each other at the beginning of the season. I think that will be the biggest difference for us, at least in preseason, because we have to work on smaller groups.”
Other than the safety protocols, the biggest impact on volleyball thus far has been the inability to attend camps and tournaments, which usually takes place earlier in the summer.
“Practicing is legal in Phase Two and intra-squad scrimmaging, just no scrimmaging against other teams. We would be gearing up to go to other camps right now, which we can’t do. We would maybe be going and play 20 matches at a camp, but instead, we can just practice with each other,” said Danny Tullis, coach of Pope John Paul.
“I usually host a summer league in June and usually play two nights a week. We couldn’t do any of that,” said Lutcher coach Ricky LeBlanc.
“Normally, we would be going to team camps about this time, but they have been cancelled,” said April Hagadone, coach of Mt. Carmel.
Timing has had a lot to do with it for volleyball. When the state was in shutdown status, no volleyball activity was scheduled, so there was no disruption of their season like the spring sports.
Still, things are far from normal, especially as it concerns the safety protocols.
“We have a question list for the kids as they come in and a fever check,” Tullis explained. “We have to take the balls between practices and wipe them down. Depending on how many kids you may actually have on the team, you may have to have two or three waves of practice, where in the past, we only had one. Because of our numbers, we have to have two waves and we clean between the two waves.
“The idea of not being able to have everyone in the gym at once. It’s basically twice the work, and not being able to bring some of the younger kids in, they can really learn a lot from some of those older kids. We don’t have them in there with them.”
“Our jayvee and eighth grade are practicing in the morning and then we are sanitizing the whole gym and all the balls that we are using before (the upperclassmen) come in,” said Laird Dennies. “We can only have 25 in the gym at one time.
“We are able to practice and do pretty much we need to do with the two groups, it’s just keeping the two groups smaller. We rely on our upperclassmen to teach our new incoming eighth and ninth graders the ropes and teach the drills. We are not able to do that this year. That will definitely look for us.”
“The girls know that every water break is a hand sanitize break as well and spraying down the balls every hour. They can’t use the locker room. They have to wear masks when they are not in drills,” said Hagadone.
For a “contact” sport like football, the state would have to be in Phase Four for teams to participate. Speculation on the ultimate status of football has ranged from a delayed start to the season, a move to spring, or no season at all, among other considerations.
For a sport designated as “non-contact” like volleyball, a move to Phase Three would allow for competition.
“Phase Three would be the goal for volleyball as far as us playing competitions against other teams,” said LeBlanc.
“We have the green light and the season should start on time,” Hagadone said of going to Phase Three.
Like football, volleyball has had its share of speculation as well.
“The problem is I don’t know where all the speculation comes from,” said Tullis. “I don’t want to say we’ve heard anything specific with the LHSAA that we will not have fans but as far as people speculating on things, we’ve heard everything from no fans to we will have a season and a certain amount of capacity depending on gym size. We may have district and nothing else. We’ve heard no season. We’ve heard so many things.”
The current Phase Two period is scheduled to expire on Friday. Governor John Bel Edwards is expected to announce Tuesday what status the state will move into going forward.
A move to Phase Three would basically allow the volleyball season to get off to its traditional start.
“It may back it up, but I don’t think we would have to. I don’t know what COVID has done to transportation or referees associations and things like that. If it doesn’t affect any of that, in Phase Three, we can play,” Tullis said.
Coaches live by a never-say-die mantra, so going on with some semblance of a season, remains the ultimate goal.
“I’m just praying that we can get back to a sense of normalcy. I told our team that I think we will have a season, whether it’s shortened, whether it’s without fans. I’m just being hopeful and hoping for the best,” said Hagadone.
“I’ve been saying this all along, I think whatever we can get, we are going to take it. At least that’s how I’m concerned. I think that’s the way my players are, too. If we have to show up and play a match after we’ve been off for six weeks, then I require them to work out as much as they can on their own, and at least we’re playing,” Hebert said.