The Reality of a Suspended Volleyball Season

by Madera Longstreet-Lipson

Volleyball players face the consequences of the coronavirus

Team USA

As of right now, all USA Volleyball activity–from Olympic level to youth–has been restricted until April 30, 2020. This restriction, however, could likely be extended. The CDC suggested no gatherings of over 50 people until May 10, which is what USA Volleyball is currently using as the predicted “restart” time for the club season. In mid-March, certain volleyball clubs had only suspended activity until March 22, but as the severity of coronavirus has increased, the timing has adjusted as well. On March 13, the outbreak led to the US declaring a national emergency. With the quick spread of COVID-19, volleyball players around the world face major tournament postponements, practice cancellations, and season suspensions.

Club volleyball seasons usually start in late October or early November and continue into May. Players practice two to three times a week for two to three hours to prepare for tournaments and qualifiers. Two major tournaments are Winterfest, held in New England during mid-January, and the Capitol Hill Classic, held in Washington D.C. in February. This year, over 1,000 teams attended Capitol Hill, and the convention center was full of players running around while spectators caught a quick break in the lobby area before going to another game. During these events, the coronavirus was not a major concern, as it had not affected America. However, during the tournaments in March, conditions changed.

NERVA (New England Region Volleyball Association) tournaments occur five times from March to May and normally are held every other Sunday. During NERVA 1, on March 1st, officials, participants, and coaches took sanitation more seriously compared to past tournaments. Instead of the conventional high fives interchanged between the two teams at the net before a game, many teams chose to fist-bump their opponents. The coronavirus situation seemed mild at the time, but it was still important to take precautionary measures. During March 6-8, top teams at the Mizuno Boston Volleyball Festival were offered bids to nationals. At this tournament, hand sanitizer bottles were placed at each court, and elbow bumps were prevalent instead of high fives at the start of each game. Later that week, practices were cancelled and the season was suspended.

Looking into the future, the Big South Qualifier, held in Atlanta, has been postponed from early April to June 5-7. Additionally, Rhode Island Rumble, which was originally a two-weekend event, will be slotted into the one weekend of May 23-25. Lastly, NERVA tournaments, which were planned to be held over a two month period, will be crammed into weekends, in which one NERVA tournament is on Saturday and the subsequent NERVA is the next day. The cramming of tournaments likely will affect a player's ability to perform as well as make the recruitment process more difficult with the limited time left in the season. Additionally, players will be deprived of time they need to practice and rest, so putting two major competitions in the same weekend would be a risk to the players’ health. The abundance of changes to all player’s club seasons is devastating and stressful. Many players put hard work into their training, and for their travel plans to be postponed and possibly canceled is difficult to grasp, as well as expensive.

The effects of COVID-19 are especially shattering to the many teams that have worked extremely hard to qualify for nationals, only to have to cease practices and not know if they will have the chance to play. A volleyball player can only hope they will have another opportunity to get on the court, even if it means skipping the high five before a game.