In a normal season, Maryland volleyball would be used to close contact. High-fives after every play. Huddles after every set. Hugs after every win.
But this fall, one limited by COVID-19, the Terps have seen their sport drastically change. They can’t fill up water bottles themselves. Foot taps have replaced high-fives. Masks are a necessity.
So, in lieu of full practices, Maryland has been working hard to stay in shape despite the delayed start.
The team is taking advantage of the extra time before the season to work on strength and conditioning and skills. Team lifts and endurance exercises are keeping the players in shape and in touch with each other.
“We are focusing on skills and the tiny little details that we can fix ourselves and on strength and conditioning while we have the chance to do so,” Rainelle Jones, a junior middle blocker, said. “We’re practicing every other day with strength and conditioning every day to keep our bodies in shape and ready to go.”
And with that, the team is being careful to avoid injuries. The Terps suffered heavily last season with injuries to key players, including setter Nicole Alford. More cautious sessions, then, are a priority for Maryland.
That’s also true off the floor. On Sept. 3, Maryland’s athletic department announced that 46 athletes had tested positive for COVID-19, representing a major spike in cases. Maryland shut down all practices immediately, a move university President Darryll Pines later called a “reprimand.”
The volleyball team had been strictly following guidelines prior to the shutdown, and will have to be even more cautious going forward, Jones said.
“We have to wear masks when we lift and when we do practice, and we have to sanitize our hands every water break,” Jones said. “It’s super clean and super focused on what we need to do to follow protocol.”
The team is tested weekly, and is hoping to be able to be back on the court as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, the Terps are finding new ways to keep the team spirit alive when physical contact is limited. Volleyball is a close contact sport, with all players touching the same ball and with handshakes and huddles after every set, so much of the game is changed when players cannot be close to each other.
Since the team isn’t able to hang out like usual, they try to create a bond through patting feet, touching elbows and cheering each other on.
And while the team looks to transfer that chemistry to the floor, there remains no start date for the volleyball season. But Jones remains hopeful it will resume sooner than the spring.
“I feel like because people are so into sports and they want it to be back so bad, and they are a big part of the school and the area,” Jones said. “People want volleyball and football back so they are going to do what they can to start back up again.”