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THE FRONT ROW with MARK NELKE: Doing whatever it takes to have a volleyball season

| August 20, 2020 1:15 AM

Volleyball, perhaps more than any other sport, is a sport where momentum can change with each play, all six players on the court can be in contact with each other between plays, and each play can be celebrated with the enthusiasm normally reserved for the final play of a match.

So, figuring out a way of maintaining that team bonding and enthusiasm, without increasing the risk of someone catching COVID-19 has been challenging for coaches.

“It’s very difficult, to not give high-fives,” said Post Falls volleyball coach Willow Hanna, back for a second stint coaching the Trojans after guiding the team for nine seasons (2007-15). “And having them close together in a huddle, with their arms around each other. That’s part of the game, that personal connection. The loss of that is a challenge.”

Coaches have been brainstorming, trying to replicate that closeness — without actually being as close as they usually are.

In addition to “doing the elbow thing,” Hanna said one suggestion is to have the players tap feet after plays, instead of give high-fives.

“That’s just really hard for our girls,” Hanna said of the adjustment.

Right now, teams are allowed to scrimmage 6-on-6 for only nine minutes an hour.

“It’s hard to get competitive drills going, when you can only get two or three kids on a side,” first-year Lake City coach Michelle Kleinberg said.

“We started in June (with summer conditioning), so we were pretty used to all the cleaning protocols, etc.,” Hanna said. “We were pretty diligent over the summer, maintaining social distancing. The first time we played 6 on 6 was in tryouts in August.”

IN ADDITION to social distancing being required during team huddles, players will be distanced from each other on the bench.

Coaches will have to speak up when instructing their teams.

“Luckily I’ve got a gym voice, from being a P.E. teacher,” Coeur d’Alene coach Carly Curtis said with a laugh.

For the most part, players and coaches wear face coverings entering and leaving the gym. Players keep them on during some drills, but can remove them during high-intensity drills.

There’s talk of some schools requiring others to wear masks when they come to their gym for matches, which could be a challenge.

Curtis said there’s one side effect of the COVID, trying to keep groups away from each other.

“There’s not as much mentorship, with the older kids teaching the younger kids,” she said.

In past seasons, Curtis’s varsity players help out at JV practices, and JV2 practices, building a bond with the younger players.

This season, the older players are texting the younger players — about volleyball, about dealing with school, about handling life in general.

Because of the mentorship program, “the girls know each other better,” Curtis said. “We’ve got more of a family, instead of three separate teams.”

Timberlake coach Michelle Garwood likes to have her teams practice together, for much the same reason.

“We’ve separated our practices, which I don’t like,” Garwood said.

IT’S NOT a COVID thing — other than the fact the phones have to be wiped down with disinfectant before they are placed in the box, and the box is wiped down each day after practice.

Since Brad Veile returned for his second stint as Lakeside volleyball coach in 2016, he’s been collecting cell phones prior to practice. They go in a plastic, Tupperware-style container shaped like a shoe box, which is placed in cupboard in the gym and locked up.

“It’s so they’re not on their phones during breaks,” Veile said.

He said he’s gotten no backlash from his players since he started collecting the phones.

“Even though our breaks might only be one minute or two, that’s long enough, with these kids, to send 86 texts, and 14 Facebook messages,” Veile said, exaggerating only slightly.

Whatever the inconvenience — wearing face coverings, giving up their cell phones, older players texting younger players rather than one-on-one chats — the players are trying to abide by the rules.

They know it’s better than the alternative, if they don’t.

“The girls are willing to do whatever it takes to have a season,” Kleinberg said.

Mark Nelke is sports editor of The Press. He can be reached at 664-8176, Ext. 2019, or via email at mnelke@cdapress.com. Follow him on Twitter@CdAPressSports.