The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference helped keep hope alive for a fall sports season on Sunday night when it released its latest update, stating that it had formulated a new plan for all fall sports, and would discuss that plan with the Department of Public Health in an effort to gain DPH’s approval for a fall season that would begin on Oct. 1.
But the fall season, which will already be delayed by nearly a month should the CIAC’s current plan materialize, will look a lot different, particularly for high-risk sports like football and girls volleyball. DPH recently suggested to the CIAC that changes to those two sports be made in an effort to maximize safety from Covid-19, including pushing girls volleyball to outdoor venues. CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarini said that while he doesn’t feel those suggestions were necessarily mandates or commands, he and the CIAC are considering all options for the fall season, except moving fall sports to spring.
“We didn't take that as they recommended that those particular options be implemented,” Lungarini said. “When they wrote their letter, they suggested that we explore options that would reduce the risk for football and girls volleyball. I didn't take that as that's what they were directing. They were just trying to be detailed and helpful in examples that maybe could lower the risk.
“I think everything would be considered, and certainly everything is an option,”
What would a girls volleyball season look like if it was moved from gymnasiums to open air? Minor changes to the game, such as eliminating the switching of benches after each set, have already been planned, but a move to the outdoors would be one that would take a lot of organizing in a short amount of time before the season begins on Oct. 1, if the CIAC’s latest plan is indeed carried out.
“I go with whatever the CIAC and I support whatever they're going to do, but I don't know how that would be done,” New Britain girls volleyball coach Michelle Abraham said of an outdoor season. “It's very different. Being grass and the kids diving and going for the ball, and if it's sand, it's very difficult to jump in the sand.”
Playing on grass or sand would be just one of many decisions the CIAC would have to make before the season begins, and it would be a big one, considering just how different the sport is played given the surface. If the CIAC elected to go the route of playing on sand, Abraham would have concerns on pulling that off, particularly when it comes to her Hurricanes.
“I don't even think we have the means to do that in the inner city,” Abraham said. “I'm 100 percent for indoor volleyball to be played, but if we have to go a year with modifications, then we'll do what we have to do so the kids will have some sense of normality in their life. But outdoor volleyball would be challenging. We'd have to have different volleyballs, the weather conditions, so many other things would factor in with the kids and the game. It's a thought, and they're thinking outside the box, but I think it would be pretty challenging.”
It would be a major change for the student-athletes, though their adjustments aren’t a concern to Abraham, who knows her players have been itching to get back to volleyball, whether they be standing on hardwood, grass or sand.
“Of course, our kids are resilient,” Abraham said. “They would do pretty much anything. You could tell them to put a snowsuit on and they would do it.”
Abraham, who was in favor of pushing the season back to spring to avoid a potential shutdown in the fall that would likely spell the end of a season that wouldn’t be resumed, was disappointed to hear the CIAC nix the possibility of a delay to spring, knowing that should girls volleyball be interrupted in the fall, her seniors will have likely played their last match in a New Britain uniform.
“I lived through it with the boys in volleyball in the spring, and it's heartbreaking,” Abraham said. “The kids were devastated. They looked forward to it. With the girls, they all remember previous matches in the previous season and can't wait to play a certain team, and that might not occur. If we shut down, we're shutting down, and not making up the season. It's tough, and it's in the best interest of the kids, coaches, officials and everyone involved, but it would be disappointing. You don't know how they'll react to the rest of the school year.”
Outdoor volleyball, at the moment, is nothing more than a suggestion at this point, though one that will be considered. If it is agreed upon, it will be a drastic change that even Abraham, who has been around the sport for decades, has never seen before.
“It's really challenging for everybody,” Abraham said. “I wouldn't want to be the one making the decisions. We'll just go ahead with whatever the powers that be say and make the best of it.”