Volleyball Back in Action: A Dive Into Practice in a Pandemic

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CCSU Athletics

Volleyball is the first team back practicing at Central.

Ryan Jones, Managing Editor

The fall season is postponed and having one in the spring is merely speculation to this point. Still, CCSU volleyball is working like they’ve got a game tomorrow. In these extremely abnormal times, this might be the most normal thing we’ve got.

Last week, volleyball started practice on campus in small groups of 3-5. Though the plan is for all fall sports to do the same, volleyball is currently the only team to get fully cleared by health services.

Because the process of getting fall athletes cleared normally is done from spring through the summer, having to do it all at once has caused some bumps in the road in terms of getting everyone cleared.

Sagnelli said that health services “did a phenomenal job in such a surreal environment. They were able to methodically go through their checklists and clear everybody.” This year, there were multiple stages of the testing done online.

When the athletes returned to campus, they quarantined together in a dorm for two weeks. Sagnelli said this was critical for the team’s bonding and chemistry, something she has instilled as the standard for her teams.

In a normal year, volleyball would have been having team dinners, team building exercises and other off the court activities. “That’s when you really learn about each other,” Sagnelli said. However, through the “quarantine dorm,” Sagnelli said the team was still able to find that connection.

“They were bonding with themselves for 14 days,” Sagnelli said. “It just presented itself in a different fashion this year, that’s all. Our players are still our players and they’re very warm and welcoming. The bonding just came in a different manner, a quarantine dorm, as opposed to what we normally do.”

Even with all of the planning, the idea of practice during a pandemic is still hard to imagine. What could that possibly look like?

Well, it all starts from the schedule, and it is certainly a tightly run one.

First, the team had to be broken up into bubbles. Sagnelli and assistant coach Matthew LaSance both run groups of five on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Both groups meet at separate times so that the gym and equipment is all sanitized. Greg Shell, also assistant coach, holds practice on Tuesday and Thursday with a group of three players who live off campus.

As the athletes walk into Kaiser Hall, they should have already completed their daily symptom test, which is subsequently shown to their coach.

From there, there is less of a schedule and more so guidelines the team abides by. Coaches stay 6+ feet away from the players and masks must be worn for the entirety of practice.

Players are given a mask and water break during practice as well. After sanitizing their hands, they leave the building and space themselves out to safely drink and get some mask-less outdoor air. Throughout practice the balls are sanitized frequently.

Once the second week of practice is complete, the team will be moved into the next phase, which allows them to practice in larger groups of about 12-13. For volleyball, this means the full team will be practicing together (13 on roster).

A season without games is a strange one for sure, even for Sagnelli.

“Even if it’s a normal year, each year is different than the one before it. As coaches we always look at years as separate,” Sagnelli said. “With that said, this year brings new challenges. We are very hopeful that we will have a season, albeit in the spring, but that’s hope. When you have hope that can really be inspiring.”

Apart from the safety measures, what teams are doing in practice also differs this year than others. The goal is to improve on strength, conditioning and individual improvement while also putting an emphasis on getting out there and having fun, according to Sagnelli.

“We don’t have to work as much on systems because we don’t have a game coming up in a week or two,” Sagnelli said. “Through it all I want them to have fun and I think thats really important. The players love to scrimmage and play in competitive games so we’re gonna be doing more of that and a lot less coach controlled drills.”

Sagnelli also said there are plenty of benefits to taking this approach. “There are more unexpected things. You can learn so much through play and that’s what we’re gonna focus on this fall. We want everyone to stay engaged.”

So far, so good for Sagnelli, who said the team’s intensity has not changed in the slightest.

“You would never know it if you walked into the gym that anything was different,” Sagnelli said. “They are practicing with the same intensity, the same love for the game, they’re great teammates to each other, they’re wonderful to coach and I think thats inspiring.”

Across the country, the blame for the uptick in COVID-19 cases has been lumped onto college students. Sagnelli explains how her players hope to change that stigma.

“They’re doing the best that they can given all of these parameters that they have to deal with,” Sagnelli said. “You see a lot of news that is negative towards the college aged student but it’s also an opportunity for college age students and specifically our student athletes to actually lead the way. This can be a positive.”

Sagnelli has no doubt in her mind that her team will remember this strange season for the rest of their lives. She is also confident their actions will be remembered for good. “To look back and remember how positive you were through adverse situations can really say a lot for your character and the character of the team.”

A season in the spring is only speculation at this point. Still, CCSU volleyball is hard at work like they’ve got a game tomorrow, perhaps the most normal thing we can look to in these increasingly abnormal times.