FARGO — Gone are trips to the University of Minnesota, University of California and Kansas State. With the Summit League canceling nonconference competition, also lost for the North Dakota State volleyball team is the chance to ready the team for conference play.
So when the Bison play Summit League foe Oral Roberts on Sept. 25, their season opener, the wiggle room for experimenting with different lineups will not be there.
“It’s something we’ll have to navigate,” said NDSU head coach Jennifer Lopez. “There are no playbooks in how to approach that other than it is what it is. We’ll have to be ready to go.”
The Summit not allowing its teams to play before Sept. 23 means preseason practice will more than double in length. It’s possible that could get expanded if the conference alters the schedule even further but for now, Lopez is mapping out a practice schedule to fit the time frame.
So instead of trying to cram a lot of material into two weeks, practice is expected to go at a slower pace. The first day is scheduled for Aug. 7.
“It allows us to almost restructure what preseason looks like,” Lopez said. “Instead of the old way of condensing practices into a two-week time frame to be ready to play, now it’s a month-plus. We’ll slow down, retrain because we lost our spring season and off season and hopefully do a lot more and keep kids healthy.”
What will help is a somewhat veteran team with four seniors and three juniors who have been through the Summit routine. Without the trips to Minneapolis, Berkely, Calif., and Manhattan, Kan., it’s up to the players to try and simulate some sort of high-level intensity that volleyball matches offer.
Lopez said the players have handled the news of a delayed start about as well as can be expected.
“Very mature and understanding of the situation,” she said. “We hope to have a season in whatever capacity it’s going to be, so we’ve had a lot of honest conversations with them. They’ve taken it in stride, have their focus and have their goals.”
Moreover, Lopez said she’s glad the decision to eliminate nonconference play is in the rearview mirror after several conversations between coaches, administration and the Summit League.
“It’s nice just to be able to move forward in a direction, whatever that was going to be,” she said. “It gives us a goal to reach toward and hopefully get there safely.”