With the COVID-19 pandemic casting doubt on the season, the Desert Ridge volleyball seniors hoped for one last chance to play together.
The pandemic presented high schools with the difficult decision of whether to cancel fall sports. During the summer, many of the incoming seniors were staring down uncertain futures.
“We heard a lot with the mindset that there was going to be no season,” senior outside hitter Averie Blake said. “We'd heard a lot of negatives and so I think we all just kind of expected it not to happen.”
But doubt didn’t stop them from training, which had to be adjusted into phases. At the beginning of the summer, the team was allowed to do simple workouts and cardio all without a ball. The next phase allowed for players to use their own ball that nobody else could touch. After that, two players were allowed to share one. Eventually, the whole team was able to share a ball with proper sanitation.
A couple weeks prior to scheduled tryouts, the team got a definitive answer that a season would happen.
“I think it was a lot of emotion, like super happy and excited and ready to just be able to play and compete with other teams,” Averie Blake said.
With the promise of a season came strict protocols to protect the health and safety of the players.
During practice, players aren’t allowed to high five to avoid spreading germs. Players are also recommended to take their temperatures every day to ensure they don’t have a fever.
Games look different too. Masks are required when entering or exiting the gym and while sitting on the bench. During play, masks are optional. After each set the teams remain on their side instead of switching sides as they normally would. Every time the ball drops, it must be taken out to be sanitized.
Additionally, the season was pushed back, causing the games to pile up each week and leaving less time to practice and rest.
“It definitely takes a toll,” senior libero Brandi Worthington said. “We definitely feel super tired at the end of the week, definitely very kind of done playing.”
Balancing a new schedule with school has made the season more challenging.
During online classes, the players found balancing their athletics with academics more difficult than usual.
More assignments piled up and to the players it all just felt like busywork.
“Even though we didn't have a lot going on so they would just give us a lot of assignments.” senior middle blocker Makenna Kinkead said.
There is a positive side to all this, though. The relief after learning volleyball would return created a stronger appreciation and bonds between the players and coach.
“We would be nervous to look over at him and now I definitely feel like we're moving into a point where he gives us confidence,” senior right-side hitter Jada Blake said. “On the court, confidence is a big thing for him and I think that we all like that.”
The joy of one more season has made this one unlike any other.
“This is our last year, and we have played [together] for four years plus club and I think we wanted it to happen and we needed it to happen,” Averie Blake said. “I think if it didn't happen, it'd be the wrong way to end our high school career."
Noah Velasco is a sports journalism at Arizona State University covering Desert Ridge athletics.