Preparing for different kind of volleyball season

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By Ken Morse, Citizen’s News

Naugatuck players Jordyn Hunt (35), Hailey Russell (4), Kaylee Jackson (12), Alyssa Roberts (37) and Felicia Salvati (11) celebrate after scoring a point against Seymour during the Naugatuck Valley League championship game in November 2019 at Kennedy High School in Waterbury. The volleyball season is moving forward this year, but players have to wear masks during matches. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

Six months have passed since the CIAC canceled winter postseason tournaments due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools are back in session this month — albeit most in some hybrid form — and student-athletes are hoping fall sports will bring back a little bit of normalcy to the daily routine.

That endeavor hasn’t been without its challenges.

The CIAC cleared teams to begin conditioning practices in small groups in July and put forward a plan to play fall sports. Since then, preparing for the fall season has been a rollercoaster ride for athletes and coaches, and many questions remain unanswered with the season tentatively set to start Oct. 1.

The two sports labeled as carrying the highest risk of COVID-19 transmission under the CIAC’s reopening plan are football and volleyball. Earlier this month, the CIAC canceled 11-on-11 tackle football based on recommendations from the state Department of Public Health.

Volleyball was also in the crosshairs. The DPH recommended canceling volleyball, as well.

Health officials also proposed playing volleyball outdoors, which was deemed not only unlikely but highly improbable due to concerns over the lack of facilities to play outside and the weather.

“It’s pretty hard to spike a ball wearing a parka,” Woodland volleyball coach Jim Amato previously said.

The CIAC ruled volleyball will be played indoors, but players must wear masks.

“This is new to everybody,” Naugatuck volleyball coach Kevin Wesche said. “We want to be sure we are doing what is in the best interest of the athletes and the coaches.”

Wesche anticipated the ruling.

“We have been working in groups of ten with face masks well before the DPH made that decision,” he said. “We wanted to make sure the girls were prepared just in case that did become a requirement.”

The plan for volleyball is to play a limited schedule of 12 games. There will be no state tournaments, and postseason league tournaments are up in the air.

With everything going on, Naugatuck senior and volleyball tri-captain Alyssa Roberts said players are thankful for the chance of a season.

“As hard as the adjustments might be with masks and social distancing, we are just grateful that we have the opportunity to have a season,” Roberts said.

Roberts said wearing masks while practicing has been an adjustment for the defending NVL champion Greyhounds.

“It would have been nice to defend our NVL title, but at this point we are just happy to be back on the court,” she said. “We have been wearing masks for the past six months everywhere we go, but honestly I didn’t think it would be this much of an adjustment to play with one on. It’s a completely different challenge.”

Through it all, and despite the many guidelines and constant changes, Woodland and Naugatuck are gearing up to have a season. The first full practices were scheduled to start Sept. 21.

“I have been impressed with the way the girls have been persevering through all of this,” Wesche said.