MOORHEAD — Everything is up in the air for high school volleyball teams in Minnesota, but Moorhead volleyball coach Char Lien says that’s just the status quo now.
After months of seeing their lives turned upside down since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the script was again flipped last Tuesday when the Minnesota State High School League voted to move the volleyball season from fall to spring.
Now, coaches and players across the state are waiting for direction about what that season is going to look like.
“We’re still in a more questioning mode than not,” Lien said. “It seems like that's been typical since the spring: this whole mentality of — we’ll give you more answers — wait two weeks, wait however long. And then once they do give up that information, it’s up to the school districts to decipher.”
One thing the teams do know is that the new spring volleyball season — part of a four-season sports schedule — will, along with football, take place directly after the traditional winter season and last from mid-March to mid-May. And the traditional spring season will be moved back on the calendar and last from May to early July. But, they don’t know any of the other specifics yet.
“After the shock and awe of hearing the message, the wheels started to turn about what this is going to look like,” Lien said. “At this point we have more questions than we do answers. We’re not sure exactly what we’re doing. Our coaches association has put out a memo telling us to be patient.
“My kids are waiting in limbo. We had more things going on this summer in terms of skill than normal, and they’re feeling like they’re ready to go. But now the brakes are on. They’re wondering and waiting for direction.”
Lien says that there is an expectation that the number of games each team can play will be limited to one or two per week and that multi-team tournaments and invitationals will not be allowed. She also says it sounds like the MSHSL is encouraging teams to localize schedules, limiting them to only conference opponents or opponents within 75 miles.
But Moorhead doesn’t play in a conference and relies on long road trips to find opponents from similar-sized schools.
Without those tournaments or road trip opportunities, the Spuds will miss out on a chance to play top competition — especially since there has been no decision made on the status of any postseason play this spring.
Lien says eliminating weekend tournaments came as no surprise, but she hopes they can figure out how to make a trip to play a regular match with one team even if they can’t face many in one weekend.
“But that’s a lot of travel — one day there and back without staying overnight while kids are trying to go to school is not super ideal either,” she said. “We would love the best competition we could get. Who are we going to be allowed to play?”
Lien says it's also not clear whether the March 15 start date for volleyball is the date for the start of practice or the first day for games. Normally, teams have multiple weeks to prepare between the first day of practice and the first game. But as of now, the winter season is still scheduled to last in full, meaning the girls basketball state tournament will conclude March 13, and athletes could have volleyball games scheduled two days later.
“We’re usually the start,” Lien said. “We don’t have to worry about kids coming off of another season. But now we’ve got multiple kids playing either hockey or basketball, and if they get done March 13 and then all of a sudden we have to switch gears and go right into our season, what is that going to look like?”
The MSHSL voted to allow volleyball and football, as well as all spring sports which had their seasons canceled last year, to hold practices this fall. But coaches are still waiting for guidance on what those practices can look like and when they can start.
“Does that start when school starts?” Lien said. “As long as we stay in our hybrid school mode, are we OK to practice? If we go into distance learning, does that shut things down? They also said spring sports can do some practice this fall — we’ve got kids who are multi-sport athletes — what do they do? Are they giving us parameters or is that all up to us?”
The Spuds coach said her program held summer practices, a summer camp, and had a few scrimmages against other area teams, all without incident. Players had their temperatures taken before every practice, each player had to bring their own ball, drills were conducted with physical distancing and for the most part, were done against a wall rather than with a net. And when they held scrimmages, the numbers of participants were limited to only varsity and some junior varsity players.
“It went really well and we were anticipating that since we had such good luck with that — all that data we collected — we wrote down everything,” Lien said. “We hoped the league and the Department of Health would see we were doing everything we could to keep that virus at bay.”
In the end, those efforts weren’t enough to save the fall volleyball season.
“But,” Lien said. “Some season is better than no season.”