No fall sport was asked to make more changes to accommodate the coronavirus pandemic, and do so successfully, than volleyball.
Deemed high-risk over the summer by the Department of Public Health, many of the sport’s logistics needed to be amended to make high school volleyball a safe activity this season.
The greatest stipulation imposed on the players is the requirement to wear a mask at all times during matches and practice. Coaches were also given the ability this season to extend timeouts by 30 seconds so players could have a little bit of extra time to catch their breath and get water before resuming play.
Anyone who has worn a mask knows it can be somewhat restrictive to breathing, which bothers each person to a different degree. Regardless, the discomforts of breathing in a mask are automatically compounded by increased physical activity, so players were not excited about the mask requirements, but obviously complied because of how badly they wanted to play.
“It feels absolutely amazing [to be playing again], we’ll never take anything for granted,” Bristol Eastern senior Zoe Lowe said after the Lancers’ second match of the season. “The masks, they are a little bit of a struggle, but we’re playing so that’s all that matters to us.”
Wearing a mask was a distraction and hindrance for many players early in the season because in addition to its effects on breathing, players are constantly adjusting their masks after they move around on their face during each point.
“I was huffing and puffing during the game today,” New Britain senior Audrey Belliveau said. “We’ve been practicing a lot with them on so it definitely helps and we’ve gotten better with it since the start of the season.”
New Britain head coach Michelle Abraham did not expect the masks to be bothersome because of how normalized it’s become since the start of the pandemic. She would not expect anything to impede her player’s excitement about playing.
“At one point I’m looking and wondering if we’ll be doing this again next year, I don’t even think it matters,” Abraham said. “They’re used to it, they wear them all day long, we’ve been doing this since March. I don’t think it’s a huge factor.”
For a dominant team like Bristol Eastern, which won seven of its first nine matches by sweep and only lost two sets in that span, the restrictions from wearing a mask never came to the forefront as much as they did for other teams. That was until Thursday night’s meeting with Bristol Central, when the Rams pushed the Lancers to the brink in each set and forced Eastern to play a fifth set for the first time this season.
“This is the first match that I’ve actually had to use the second timeout, the mask break timeout,” Reay said. “During practice, I’ve made sure that we were practicing six-on-six at the same level as a game would be for the length of time of a game. So they hadn’t had any issues so far, but this is the first time they were tugging at their masks asking if we can use the extra 30-second timeout, and I think I only had to take it twice.”
With the final week of the regular season approaching, players are more used to playing with a mask on as they have now played or practiced with a mask on almost every day for more than a month. While it could have been used as an excuse at the start of the season, that window is long closed.
“I think we’ve definitely gotten adjusted to it,” Central coach Lance Pepper said. “Earlier in the year, it was tough going into the season with the addition of the mask, but whatever we can do to get these kids to play and have fun and have a great season, then will do.”
Matt Hornick can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org