COVID-19 was an unexpected addition to the night the Desert Ridge volleyball seniors dreamed about for the past four years.
That didn’t stop the rest of the program from rallying together to give the seniors a memorable final send-off, despite a 3-1 loss to Queen Creek.
“They're like our older sisters,” junior Madison Moran said. “So we just wanted to have things to remember the time and memories we had together.”
Planning began two weeks in advance of Senior Night, but the pandemic prevented the players from gathering together in large groups, causing new difficulties. The players in charge often spent hours after practice in the gym to make posters for senior night.
The freshman and junior varsity teams also helped make posters. Parents of all teams were involved, too, by helping create banners and buying balloons.
COVID-19 also made some of the usual traditions look a little different.
Players were allowed fewer people with them on the court, masks were often required during the ceremony, and the team dinner needed to be spaced out.
The juniors still found a way to separate players and their families from the rest of the team to be able to take a picture together without a mask.
“It was very surreal and it’s marking the end of our high school careers pretty much,” senior Averie Blake said. “I think it was pretty emotional, and it was just a very nice night in general.”
Head coach Anthony Millanes also helped by funding the project, along with organizing the junior varsity and freshman teams to help make posters.
Then came the big day. Arriving more than five hours before game time, the team blew up balloons, set up posters, created playlists and hung banners all over the gym.
Before the game, the whole varsity team met up for a team dinner with homemade cooking by a parent on the JV team. Socially distanced but still together, the team enjoyed a home-cooked meal together.
“That made it just even more personal,” senior Jada Blake said. “It wasn't something that was bought from like the pizza shop or something, it was homemade, and they took even more time.”
Once game time began, the team gave the seniors candy leis and roses, then ran through a poster together and started to warm up.
Then came the special surprises. Each senior had a table with baby pictures, their number and position, along with a gift basket with personalized items such as signed game balls.
“It was very personalized and that's what I think made it so emotional for us,” Jada Blake said. “Because we could see how much work they had put in.”
The seniors then lined up with their families and walked out together while a speech that each senior wrote played over the loudspeaker. After the speeches, the players were ready for to play
The seniors all feel grateful for the work everyone did to make their night special.
“I feel like formal appreciation would be amazing,” Jada Blake said. “The juniors deserve it because I know how stressful that was and the fact that they pulled it off especially with the extra hard circumstances this year with COVID, they took the rules and they made something beautiful out of it.”
Noah Velasco is a sports journalism major at Arizona State University covering Desert Ridge High School.